I watched a documentary recently called Women Aren't Funny. In the piece, comedian Bonnie McFarlane and company react to the hot debate spurred by belated Christopher Hitchens' article in Vanity Fair in 2007 titled Why Women Aren't Funny. The article sparked so much of a response that it has since been taken off of the Vanity Fair website. So McFarlane went on a hunt for the real answer to the question:
Well, are women funny?
While we are a progressive society and one that promotes the equality of the sexes, fair treatment in the workforce, and the elimination of the glass ceiling for women, you'd be surprised how many times I've heard the answer, "No" to this question.
From men and women, mind you.
In Hitchens' article it would appear that women are certainly not. Here's my favorite part:
"Humor is part of the armor-plate with which to resist what is already farcical enough. (Perhaps not by coincidence, battered as they are by motherfucking nature, men tend to refer to life itself as a bitch.) Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is. Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink or the bathroom, or the venting of sexual frustration on furry domestic animals, are a male province."
Oh, bless my tender, fragile heart, Hitchens. You are right. My life experience with a battered heart and a broken brain are jokes for a man to tell.
I can't even believe we're even having this discussion about whether or not women are funny, but whatever. I hope you are doing stand up in a hell surrounded by women that are funnier than you and refuse to have sex with you, Sir Hitchens.
My condolences (he passed away in 2011...and I really am sorry about that...but like, I'm also offended by your ridiculous arguments).
To see more of his thoughts on how unfunny women are, click here for an exclusive interview.
For just about a year now I have been slowly experimenting with the Denver Stand Up scene. It started off as little more than a silly bet from a college buddy one drunken summer night last August. We both confessed that we'd always wanted to do it. So she called the nearby comedy club and we signed up for an open mic that evening.
When we showed up the place was packed. Mostly with men. So we signed up and were randomized as numbers 14 and 18 on a list of 30-40 other comedians. We then went down the street to go take some shots of liquid courage before our sets. I figured my nerves could take a chill pill after a Rum and Coke and a few dollar tacos.
As we stumbled back to the comedy club in a stupor, I noticed my entire body tense up. I brought with me at least 6 friends who I trusted to laugh at me no matter what happened up there, but I felt uneasy.
An alien dropping in to survey a nearby galaxy of strange creatures.
I'd been introduced to the improv comedy world before and felt as though women were on the rise of doing comedy. I was on an all-female improv team called Amelia's AirHearts and my college improv club almost had more women than men involved in comedy. But this was different. The few sets before mine and my friends consisted of racist, sexist, and downright offensive content matter told by and for a male audience.
I was about to talk about 4 year olds and that time a guy held my face on a date. Was I going to fit in here?
Then I was announced on stage. The Emcee made a comment about my gender in the worst way possible.
"Ohhh, it's a female comedian, everybody! Look at that!"
I suddenly felt like the bearded lady at a freak show. I started to question if I belonged in this setting or if I was just another strange thing that needed to be kicked swiftly off the stage and into a burning funeral pyre along with other Devil-worshiping witches.
I proceeded with my set in determination; 8 minutes that felt like 30 seconds but also 30 years at the same time. I did my bits, got some laughs, and survived it with relatively few speech slurring incidents. Since that first rough go at it I have taken it upon myself to go fairly sporadically to several other comedy clubs, dive bars, and coffee shops in the Denver Metro. I'm doing my best and I'm surviving.
But that's the thing: some women are merely surviving at stand up, not thriving.
This is not to say that there are not successful female comedians, we all know there are.
Ellen Degeneres, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, Mindy Kaling, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Iliza Shlesinger, Whitney Cummings, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, Natasha Leggero, Maria Bamford, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, like does everyone really need a reminder of how funny women are?
And these are just some of the big names. There are countless amounts of women trying to break into comedy the way these women have successfully done. And while women have made incredible progress in comedy, the stand up scene still leaves a lot to be desired.
If you pop into the Denver open mic scene on any given night you might find a handful of women there on stage. Some are hosting, some performing, some watching.
When I go to open mics I get some weird looks at the sign up. Mostly because I look 12 and not old enough to be allowed in the bar much less do comedy, but also because I'm still a new face. I'm not part of the boys club just yet. I haven't been welcomed ceremoniously. I'm just kind of there. Occasionally shaking things up for the sausage-fest.
I feel a lot of feelings about doing stand up comedy as a woman.
Part of me feels like I could actually get good at it eventually. Like anything else, comedy is a skill that I truly believe can be learned by anyone. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was Ellen. So I feel encouraged to hone the craft and gain confidence in my comedic abilities.
Part of me feels strange; feelings of unwelcome surface as they did my first time. Laughs seem harder to come by when you're not the usual but the unfamiliar.
And part of me feels outraged, militant even.
Why does this guy get to get up there and talk about his genitalia and hate of women for 5-10 minutes and get laughs and I get silence after quality insight on small children and brain injuries?
There have been times I have walked out of open mics offended and utterly upset. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe violence against women has ever been a laughing matter.
But what do I know. I'm brain damaged after all.
Again, I am a newbie to the Denver stand up scene and I am still learning its in's and out's. I claim no expertise in this field nor do my affiliates, my associates, or my dog. Some are delightful with true talent. Some have great happy hour specials. Pretty much all of them have welcomed me with open arms and haven't thrown cabbage at me yet.
But there's still some well needed growing pains that need to occur before women are on equal footing with men in the comedy game.
I think the reason for people answering "No" to the question "Are Women Funny?" is that:
a. They may have suffered mass head trauma, severe concussions, or may have lost the ability to string together rational thoughts,
b. They simply don't see as many women doing comedy and therefore if you don't see something then it doesn't exist,
c. Women being funny all of the sudden is threatening to a patriarchy that yes, is still alive and well.
It's a double-edged sword for female comedians. Or as I like to call them: "comedians."
Not only do we feel put on the spot by our unique gender to a field that is predominately male-centered, but it is likely that we feel pressure to be that much funnier just to prove to the world that yes, we are actually funny.
If you happen upon a conversation about women in comedy, it is likely that you'll hear the following comments:
"She's too raunchy."
"She just talks about dating all the time."
"I can't believe she thought it was okay to discuss her period. Ew. That's disgusting."
You don't find it acceptable for me to discuss a natural occurrence that happens within my body monthly that makes it possible to produce human life?
Well that's interesting.
The fact of the matter is that it really shouldn't matter who or what you are, you should be able to do comedic material on anything that's witty, truthful, or relatable. If women want to tell bodily jokes like some men do, then why shouldn't they? Shouldn't the same rules apply to everyone?
By the way, if you're a comedian I kind of don't recommend the "shock and awe" method. This includes racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic, and really any other highly offensive content.
Except for poop jokes. Those are pretty much always a win-win scenario.
Just last week I was at an open mic where a gentleman told a bit about black people not being able to swim. Uncomfortable laughs and disappointed head nods followed.
I have to give my partner in crime and best friend Brennyn mad props for escorting me to the variety of strange and uncomfortable open mics that I have ventured into. She has watched in agony as comedians make rude, outlandish remarks on stage and remained completely supportive of my mediocre comedic timing. Like I said, I'm no expert just yet. I still have a long way to go before I feel at ease in my own skin in the stand up scene.
Just find comfort in the fact that there is indeed a place for women in comedy as there always has been. It takes some women years to be as successful as their male counterparts, but there is no secret to the funny. It's just hard work, dedication, and the ability to tell it like it is.
If you are a woman and have been contemplating comedy and your ability to be funny, know this:
You can do this.
Funny women are here. And they are here to stay.