Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"A Follow-Up From Wendy"

During my previous excursion concerning matters comedic, I excluded the issue of “Women in Comedy”, and Wendy was “interested in the lacuna.”  I had to look up “lacuna” – it means “the missing part.”  So thanks to Wendy.  I learned a new word today.  

“Women are not funny,” the late writer/provocateur Christopher Hitchens once opined, perhaps looking for new mischief to get into after previously labeling Mother Teresa “a confused old lady.” 

Dodging the potentially lacerating bear pit of gender adversarialism, let us, following the example of the Supreme Court, narrow the focus of our determination to “Women and Comedy”, steering clear of generating causes and consequences, a topic far too expansive for a single blog post.  Plus, the subject is highly contentious and I assiduously try not to be.  (My initial reaction to Wendy’s “Are women funny?” question:  A deflatingly apprehensive “Oh, Jeez.”)  


“Are women funny?”

First, an always welcome Two-Cents Worth from “Logic Man.” 

“Some people are funny.”
“Women are people.”
“Some women are funny.”

Thank you, “Logic Man.”  That was very sensible.  Yet vaguely unsatisfying.  (Proving that “logic” and “emotion” work distinguishingly different sides of the street.)

How about an illuminating aquatic metaphor instead?  (And here, the issue of “causes and consequences” necessarily encroach, clearly demonstrating that I am less disciplined than the Supreme Court.  Although I know enough to know that  money has an enormous influence on the political process and at least five of those – in this case, gentlemen – do not.  And now, back to our metaphor.)

Imagine “Life’s Path” as a stretch of “Raging Waters” into which each and every one of us has summarily been flung and is trying desperately to stay afloat.  (Perhaps not the “Bowl of Cherries” perspective you may ascribe to but allow me my hopefully illustrative literary allusion.)

There you are, struggling for existence in a teaming maelstrom of watery destruction.  Suddenly, as you are carried along to your inevitable demise, you catch sight of an overhanging tree branch – Catch hold of that branch, and you are saved.  Don’t, and it’s over the waterfalls to inevitable extinction.  (I’ve seen a lot of Tarzan movies.)

Now, literally, that branch would be your traditional arboreal appendage.  And it would randomly appear.  But we’re visiting “Analogy Land”, and in “Analogy Land”, the rules are, although clarifyingly similar, things are not entirely the same.  (Entirely dissimilar, and it’s a terrible analogy.)

In “Analogy Land” the branch you single out to grab on to – letting the other branches go by – will vary with the specific individual, your “Selection of Choice” being the branch that resonates most strongly with your personality, temperament and your natural proclivities.  It makes sense.  Why grab on to an incompatible branch?

For some people, their salvational branch will be “Brains.”  (Including “Street Smarts.”)   For others, the Road to Survival is their “Inordinate Good Looks.”  “Athletic Ability”?  Sure.  Chuck a football sixty yards in the air and you are safely on dry ground.  “Familial Connections” can virtually effortlessly save your bacon.  “A Head for Business”?  That too will pull your survival fat out of the fire. 

“A Gift of Engendering the Illusion of Indispensability”? – You’re out of the water.  “”The Sex Card” – Come aboard and dry off.  “Innate Compassion and Generosity”?  I suppose.  Though some branches are less popular than others.

Included among these branches:  The generic blessings of the “Innately Funny”.          

Although, as “Logic Man” has already informed us,

“Some people are funny.”

Meaning, also logically, but flipped in the opposite direction,

“Most people are not funny.”

You live in the world, you know that.  Being genuinely funny is a rarity.  That’s why its practitioners make good money.   

Grabbing hold of the salvaging branch that best fits you, the “Funny” branch is a minority selection.


That inevitably leaves out the majority of women.  “Logic Man”?

“Most people are not funny.”
“Women are people.”
“Most women are not funny.”

Wait, one more.  So nobody’s feelings get hurt. 

“Most people are not funny.”
“Men are also people.”
“Most men are also not funny.”

Being funny is an exceptional attribute…

Is what I am attempting to drive home at this juncture. 

Now… which is like “So…” only it’s spelled differently…

“Women in Comedy.”

I have known many “civilian” funny women, one of whom was my mother.  I have also collaborated with indisputably funny women writers, who, after pulling themselves up the “Funny” branch, went “professional” with their abilities and flourished. 

I have personally enjoyed female comedic performers, three of my all-time favorites:  Marjorie Main, Eve Arden and Mary Tyler Moore.  (Does this sound like “Some of my best friends are Negroes”?  I hope not.)

As for the subgenre of female comedians


Here’s the trajectory as I see it.  All culturally influenced.  (Related substantially to the standup’s non-negotiable “aggressiveness” requirement.)  All pointing to an increasing opportunity for funny women – of whom there are not many because, as I have mentioned, they are not many funny anybody’s.  (My personal “Roll Call” of funny female comedians:  Elaine May, Anne Meara, the early Joan Rivers and “Moms” Mabley  A substantial list, considering.)

As I see things, the following is the historical trajectory for female comedians.  First it was,

“Women can’t be comedians.”

Then it was…

“Women can be comedians but they are required to be asexual and unattractive.”  (See also in this regard:  Male comedian prior to the sixties.  How provocative was Pinky Lee?) 

And today?

As my insightful and extremely funny daughter Anna, after seeing the film Trainwreck, recently complained,

“Why do female comedians have to be crass?”

“Stage Three” then for female comedians:

“Women can be comedians but they are required to be crass.”

Women’s equality in the comedy arena?

When they can be any kind of comedian they want.

Including crass.

But not just “Amy Schumer or nothing.“

(And to the question, “Would you feel the same way about her if she were a man?”  Yes.)

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Thank you again.

My comedy goddess growing up was Carol Burnett (I was born in 1954, as a glance at Wikipedia will tell you). Still is, I guess. The woman seems able to do *anything* - all those characters and, the thing I value most, spontaneous wit (see also Groucho Marx). (Plus, my father had the doctors LP by Nichols and May). So it never occurred to me that women couldn't be funny, a notion I only encountered very recently (on your friend Ken Levine's blog).

What I guess is really more the question, ultimately, is "why do women find it harder to be accepted as funny?", and that has a lot to do with society's expectations of how women should behave. I don't care for crass-female comedy (any more than I do crass-male comedy), but I *can* see it as a necessary stage of breaking barriers. My mother wanted me to be a lady, and, like so many 1970s women, I wanted to be *anything but that*. Same thing, different decade, different stage.