Funny Women (or: Female Comics and the Production of Humor)

This isn’t a particularly brainy post. Mostly it involves you clicking on the following video: Funny Women, a BBC documentary on female stand-up comics.

Ladies, sometimes, we can waste all of this energy hating ourselves when we should just be concentrating on our work, like men do. They’re not worrying about cellulite, are they? They’re too busy getting paid more in every single career where you don’t have to take your clothes off.

– Sara Pascoe (Edinburgh Comedy Gala 2012)

Obviously there’s more to talk about here than a 28-minute documentary can cover. But as a starting point I pretty much love it and hope you can find some time to sit down and watch the whole thing.

Something to actually talk about — I love British comedy, obviously, but I also love panel/quiz shows (Would I Lie To You? is my shameless guilty pleasure). The blatant sexism therein, I don’t love so much. And I’m not so much bummed out by the general lack of female comics/celebrities as I am by whatever malice occurs in the cutting room when producers decide, “Oh no, she’s a woman, cut out everything she said on this panel because it’s not going to be entertaining.”

I mean, what? Can we not spell “funny” without the y chromosome or something? “But admit it, women just aren’t funny.” I’ve heard this rehashed between friends, on YouTube comments, in 30 Rock, wherever. Two things: 1) people are bigoted, and 2) men (specifically, in Anglo-American cultures, able-bodied cisgendered white middle-class) are read as Subjects – actors, agents, blank beginnings – who may observe and process the world and hold/present valid subjective pronouncements, or in this case, humor; whereas women (and other “cultural groups”) are always signifying by virtue of their Not-(normative)-Man-ness and must therefore always speak from a position of explaining why/how they are not men, why/how they are different, and nothing they say can ever be from a true Subject, but is rather from an enemy or outsider – and without that empathy and connection, there is no humor. There’s just ridicule.

In Funny Women, several of the comics conclude that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, to do stand-up you just have to be funny. But when “being funny” itself is culturally encoded – as shown by the misogyny that leads to “women aren’t funny” pronunciations – what then?

Well…documentaries like this, I suppose. And more women doing stand-up. And people watching it. And writing about it. And making the whole thing decidedly, deconstructed-ly unfunny in the process, for which I apologize.

But go on, watch some of Dana Alexander’s stand-up. Watch the episodes of Would I Lie To You? with Jo Brand and Sarah Millican and Sue Perkins and Miranda Hart. Like Bridget Christie’s 2006 Edinburgh show, 90% of change is audience participation.


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