Funny… for a woman – equality in comedy

It’s a man’s world, and in comedy that holds true. Whether it’s Hollywood or stand-up, the funny side of the entertainment business is a largely male-dominated arena. When asked, ‘Who is your favourite comedian or actor?’, answers like Seth Rogen and Aziz Ansari often come before anyone mentions Betty White or Tina Fey. When an actress or writer is celebrated for her comedic genius, it’s often along the lines of: ‘Wow, she’s rather funny for a girl.’ They add an extra cherry atop her victory cake because she accomplished something, and in the name of feminism, her gender must be recognised and celebrated too. When was it enough to just be a funny person? Do we only acknowledge them because the network has diversity targets to meet?

We have come a long way since the days of hapless, fragile women playing the sidekicks in male-dominated films and shows. Now, women hold their own as the protagonists in more than just romantic dramas—comedies even! Who would have thought that there is something to laugh about after all the childbirth and periods?

… comedy like hers exists the way that blue cheese does—you like it for how gross it is.

With many female comedians (actors or writers), they are funny because they stoop to a man’s level, with gender-deprecating humour or masculinized jokes because don’t trust that society will find their true selves funny. Sure, you’ll get a laugh if you make a poop joke, but is that the best you’ve got? I’ll pick on Amy Schumer for a moment. She’s a hit on both the stage and the big screen, with her Leather Special on Netflix and her latest film I Feel Pretty (which has settled at a 38% ‘rotten’ Rotten Tomatoes rating, by the way.) The problem with her humour is that it either panders to men with overtly sexualized, dirty jokes, or mocks women by presenting herself as some ditzy, chaotic mess, all while trying to promote body positivity and equality.  We get it, Amy… let’s all eat and have sex the same way men do and beat them at their own game. She thinks she is celebrating the modern woman—yes, we aren’t the perfect, elegant beings men once thought we were—but really, how much of her following are bright, self-respecting women anyway? Still, comedy like hers exists the way that blue cheese does—you like it for how gross it is.

The big dogs of most Netflix queues are buddy-comedies featuring icons like Jonah Hill, Adam Sandler, or Jason Segel. Of those, many are written by Judd Apatow (creator of Knocked Up and The 40-year-old Virgin), whose films tend to feature middle-class white guys. He’s funny, but his female characters deserve the credit of the female writers he works with. You know who is funny? Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann and their daughters—more of them please.

This is a problem with the ‘write what you know’ mantra—men think they don’t know women.

There was a wonderful time, way back in the 80s, when Hollywood was capable of humour that felt universal without churning out stock male and female characters. Look no further than When Harry Met Sally for a film that is witty, intelligent, and highlights our differences as men and women in a fun way. Nora Ephron was a legendary writer. She didn’t rely on period jokes or humiliating anyone to get her laughs. She was capable of showing that love is a universal feeling and, better yet, Nora was capable of writing male characters as well as female characters—both Harry and Sally are complex, interesting people. It has long been understood that it is impossible to understand the opposite sex, often being a pitfall when it comes to dating, but also to writing. This is a problem with the ‘write what you know’ mantra—men think they don’t know women. Nora was funny because she understood that people are funny.

At the heart of comedy is human nature: we love to laugh at the trials and tribulations of the journey of life. The most talented women are funny because they take the time to find out what makes us tick, and how to tickle our funny bones with smart humour or a creative punch-line. It’s tricky, because at some point we do have to notice when women are holding their own in a male-dominated field, but we shouldn’t have to. Girls have been raised to think they need to be like Amy Schumer to be funny, when they could be more like Kristen Wiig or Emma Stone. Come on feminists, make this your next mission. It’s not about sitting braless in a writer’s room on major Hollywood sitcoms, trying to sneak in a bunch of period jokes to make a political statement. Let’s just remind girls that they exist in the same world that men do, and if they try hard enough, they’ll see hilarity all around.

And for the next female stars in comedy, let’s celebrate their talent and leave their gender out of it.