a bird and a bottle

Guest Post: Men Make the Jokes, and Women Make the Laughter (and the babies)
February 13, 2007, 6:11 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, guests, news & views

To make up for my protracted absence this weekend, some thoughts on comedy and sexism courtesy of the inimitable KMZ:

An acclaimed director of an acclaimed comedy theater once distilled the strategy behind casting a Main-stage company of six people: four men (the everyman, the black guy, the fat guy, and the weird guy) and two women (the funny girl and the pretty girl). This director asserted the casting was actually a compliment to women. Women, he told me, were more versatile actresses. Women, he assured me, could play outside their physical and vocal ranges more easily. Women, he assuaged me, could come up with a broader range of characters that sketch and improvisation required. The men were more limited, and that was why a company needed more of them.

With the commencement of the Sara Silverman Program on Comedy Central, there has been much writing as of late on women and funny. Why? Because this is one of the last great boys clubs in the American entertainment industry. “Oh my goodness! The girl is making jokes! And about defecation! And about sex! Tee hee hee and tsk tsk tsk!” Sadly, it is out of the ordinary to see a funny woman’s name as a headliner for Comedy Central. The writing staffs of the most influential comedy programs on television are dominated by men. Currently Conan has zero ladies on staff, while Jon Stewart boasts a whole one; yet, leaps have been made by Allison Silverman, head writer of the Colbert Report, to the top of the heap. I think I speak for most women who are in the business of being funny when it’s truly insulting that our gender is still called out as opposed to our humor. Why are men never referred to as male comics or those male comedians?

Even more personally, I remember how my junior-high-school-defense-mechanism of going for a joke made me an instant buddy with the boys. Let’s be clear: When he asks for “sense of humor” on his online dating profile he is asking for a woman who gets and laughs at his jokes, but she lists “sense of humor” she’s just asking for a guy to make her laugh. The interesting thing about the sexism of funny is that it’s not just affecting those of us who want to work in sketch, improvisation, sitcom, and film. It’s affecting all of us, and it’s affecting the ability of women to gain and remain in powerful positions in every industry.

On Hillary being lambasted for her attempt at a joke, Los Angeles Times columnist, Meghan Daum, said the following:
“But then again, female humor is easily bent into the worst clichés about women. Funny men, after all, are considered smart, confident and sexy. But wisecracking chicks risk accusations of bitterness, hormonal instability and the assumption (no matter what they look like) that they’re using wit to compensate for physical unattractiveness.

As a result, a lot of ambitious women have been conditioned not only to tone the comedy down (remember the old dating adage, “Laugh at his jokes, but don’t be funnier than him”?) but to resist witty self-deprecation, a genre that some old-school feminists were too tin-eared to interpret as anything other than a sign of low self-esteem. What’s left is stridency, earnestness and painstakingly rehearsed jokes ripe for reducing to male-bashing sound bites.”

Until women begin to own humor (not just tampon-jokes and male-bashing jokes), until television executives begins to embrace female comics as equals, (we have lesbians on during the daytime, but has anyone mentioned Amy Sedaris or Tina Fey as a successor to Letterman?), and until we start applauding our young girls as equally as our young boys for silly, out of character, zany behavior, we will continue to support the idea that men make the jokes and women make the laughter.


16 Comments so far
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thanks for the guest post. i am currently working to close the gender gap in comedy with The Big Book of Abortion Humor. Let me know if you’d be interesting in contributing…

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What’s black and white and red all over?
An aborted penguin!

Let’s do this thing Random-House-Style.

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