Although I’m not Jewish, I was sitting shiva this past weekend over Amy Poehler & Will Arnett’s impending divorce by listening to the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack and shoop shooping a la Whitney Houston:
my way to the kitchen to nibble on some Eggo waffles. So suffice it to say, lil ole Blaria had not been handling the news well. Things started to turn around for the better, however; when I
turned on my television and saw Della Reese in an old episode of Touched by an Angel saw pictures of Jon Hamm walking the streets of New York, sans underwear:
Oh. Damn! Those cotton-blend pants are tracing the outline of his peen the way I traced my fingers to make hand turkeys in grade school to give to my parents. Like all achievements, this picture needs to be hung on his mama’s fridge with a WAY TO GO! magnet. Just like that, #TeamBlaria, I was back in great spirits. Whoo!
Then I continued to surf the internet and stumbled upon an article on The Atlantic‘s website entitled Why Do So Many Pretty Female Comedians Pretend They’re Ugly? by Ashley Fetters. Ugh, I know. Yet another article about women in comedy. All this talk about women in comedy has, for the most part, been incredibly unfunny and not particularly interesting, which is why I’ve been mum on the subject. The questions and hypotheses seem never ending: “Why are funny women who are hot acknowledging their hotness by not dressing like they’re about to participate in a family reunion potato sack race all the time?;” “Sure, some women are funny, but most of them are fugly.”Are women even funny? Sure there are some exceptions, but like, c’mon, dudes totally have the funny game on lock. Am I right?”And while women and men have expressed outrage at some of the misogynistic claims and other men (and some women) have co-signed with some of the negative sentiments, I’ve pretty much had the zen focus of a teenage Black girl double dutching during recess and ignored it all. And I was totally prepared to ignore Fetters’ article as well, except that it is so blatantly misguided that I’m actually shocked that someone with such little knowledge and and understanding of what comedy is was allowed to write an article about comedy in a major publication.
“Why can’t funny women be hot? Or accomplished? Or smart? Why do so many women with these otherwise highly valued traits have to downplay them to get laughs?”
There are a couple of problems with this series of questions that Fetters asks early on in her article. One, they were asked after she does a rather Cliff Notes regurgitation about Phyllis Diller, who recently passed away, and her career. In the quick and broad strokes that Fetter paints about Diller, she focuses on the fact that Diller, in real life, was a pretty attractive and talented (she painted, was a chef, etc.) woman, but downplayed that as a part of her schtick. So Fetters then comes to the conclusion that Diller did this in the interest of being funny, to have a career in comedy. Fetter has completely misunderstood Phyllis Diller’s entire persona. Her looking so garish and being so wacky was to subvert what was expected of women: to be a beautiful wife and homemaker. So, for Fetter to even suggest that Diller created the persona as a way to survive as a comic as opposed to what it really was, which was a neighborly middle finger to the concepts of what women are supposed to be is not only wrong, but really does a disservice to what Diller’s underlying message was.
Two, has. She. Ever. Watched. Comedy. In. Her. Life? There’s Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Aisha Tyler, just to name a few are hot, accomplished, and/or smart whether are doing stand up, acting, writing, podcasting, etc. Don’t believe me, Fetter, then:
And YouTube it. And Twitter it. All kinds of combinations of beautiful, smart, and funny women are out there, so to ask such inane questions is just lazy writing and “journalism.” Seriously, the way Fetters wrote certain parts of this article has a similar feel as to when I was in high school, I’d just Courier New the fuck out of my term paper to reach the page requirement. Just needed something, no matter how pedestrian and undercooked, to get her to the maximum word count required for the article. But more than laziness, the big problem with this theory that women play ugly to be funny is that she makes it seem like it’s a “female” thing to do. Not only does that create a gender separation where there really isn’t one, but it shows a complete lack of understanding what a lot of comedy is about.
In general, looks are not celebrated in comedy. Self-deprecation of some sort is. Comedy does not thrive on people being good looking, well off financially, and being incredibly smart. Who wants to watch that? Where is the humor in watching someone hitting the jackpot at life? Not much. And it’s not just female comedians who realize this; it’s also male comedians. How many times have we seen the dumb good looking type like Schmidt on New Girl? Or the nerdy, smart, funny guy who’s bad with women? Guys like George Clooney, who on the surface seem to have everything, aren’t who’s in comedy. It’s people like Jon Stewart, who doesn’t look like an Abercrombie and Fitch model, but is whip smart and funny, or Joel McHale, who is very handsome, but is often playing a rascal, a guy who’s kind of jerk and will probably remain a jerk forever. The point is that there has to be something askew. A flaw in order for the comedic performer to be relatable to the audience. Otherwise, the viewer will not be able to identify, nor care what happens to the performer. Self deprecation is key.
Three, some of the research that Fetters offers is a conversation she had with Gina Barreca, a feminist theorist from the University of Connecticut. Barreca offered this little nugget:
“You can’t have people look at you and listen to you at the same time.”
That’s it? That’s your grand hypothesis? Let’s be real: that shit was basically a Gchat conversation they had while watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. In all seriousness, going to a feminist theorist rather than hanging out in comedy clubs or going to sketch comedy shows was ill-advised. Sure, if an attractive woman gets heckled at a comedy club, it’s most likely going to be about her looks. That’s obvious and not particularly insightful at all as to why someone good looking may down play their looks. Let’s look at someone like Tina Fey, who is whip smart and hilarious, who wanted her comedic persona to center around those two things. That kind leaves the looks department as the only place to poke fun at herself. Like Ricky Gervais has said, “Comedy is about the underdog.” Tina Fey is a good looking woman in addition to being smart and funny. She has to choose something to make her less than someone who “has it all.” Something had to give. She had to make herself accessible to the average person, so she chose her looks. That’s not a female thing to do, per se. That a smart comedian thing to do.
So, please, let’s stop with these hackneyed articles about women in comedy. Let’s stop trying to point out the differences between what men have to go through and what women have to go through because 1) we already know what those differences are & 2) some of the differences or struggles are great exaggerated. And please, if you have no experience in comedy, haven’t really spent a lot of time with comedians, please shut the fuck up and keep your bullshit theories to yourself. You’re not helping at all.