Some of the best compliments I’ve ever received have been from men.
No, it was nothing about “my looks”…though God knows, THAT could keep ’em talking for years. It was about my sense of humor.
Several different man have called me one of the funniest women they’ve ever known. Nice, right? Great compliment, but hardly accurate. There are a lot of women who are funnier than me. I know several.
So, these guys give me this mind blowing compliment and I blush and act appropriately flattered and say “thanks” and then they’d follow it up with something to the effect of, “and that’s really saying a lot because I rarely think woman are funny.”
This declaration is one I’ve heard before.
The late John Belushi was adamant about woman-kind’s inability to be truly funny and made it abundantly clear to his female cast members on “Saturday Night Live”.
I’ve worked with men who felt this way.
I’ve had discussions with several male bloggers who think Belushi’s opinion was/is right on target.
How do I feel about this?
Well, I might be shooting myself in the foot, but if I’m going to be honest you , then I’d have to confess I’m inclined to agree…..to some extent, but allow me to explain.
First of all, let me preface ALL of this by saying that I am no means an expert on all things funny. It’s true that I’m a professional comedy writer, but even so, I could fill a swimming pool with what I DON’T know about comedy.
In a recent edition of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens recently wrote an article about women being not being funny. Read it here, if you’d like.
In effect, Hitchens says women have great senses of humor, but aren’t funny because we don’t have to be; men like us anyway.
I’ve been asked to pontificate on this, so I think I will.
Let’s start at the start: this blog will turn a year old in three weeks. In the past 11 months, I’ve learned a great deal about my audience. You, gentile readers, have further hammered home a point–something I learned a long, long, long time ago: comedy is COMPLETELY subjective.
I’ve written things that had me crying as I composed them and some of these pieces barely got any hits or views, much less comments. By the same token, some of the things I’ve written were done so in a hurry with very little forethought; basically as “throwaway” pieces and these were considered (by response, anyway) some of my best stuff.
Again, let me reiterate: comedy is subjective and so are the opinions regarding the people who disseminate humor.
I think women are funnier than we ever have been, but still not as funny–GENERALLY SPEAKING– as men. On this I will agree with Christopher Hitchens.
In his article, he discusses old school stand up from 35-40 years ago when women had to be either ugly and completely unattractive, Jewish or in his words “a dyke” to play ball, even in the periphery of male dominated comedy..
This comment is true—and indubatively so. Back in the early 60’s, Phyllis Diller slathered on make-up and wore what amounts to fright wigs and ill-fitting dresses. Her comedy was self-effacing. So, this outlandish look substantiated her comedy; it gave her fodder….material. In truth, this female pioneer in stand-up comedy, wasn’t a bad looking women. But being homely was her shtick…and her stock in trade in TV appearances. Back then, our polite society found it easier, certainly safer to laugh at an ugly woman.
The same applies to the late Totie Fields who was obese.
These were women who dared to play in a man’s world. The rules were different for women. The rules, in some ways, always will be.
Taking it one step further, let’s take look at the fictional Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie) in the old NBC sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Sally was one of three comedy writers pumping out hoot for the “Allen Brady Show”. She was the only woman on staff. When the show focused in Sally, it often played heavily on her plight as a single, career woman who was funny. She was portrayed as lonely and desperate and often hooked up with horrible, horrible men and she was also portrayed as rather masculine—mainly because she was, as I mentioned in a previous paragraph, “a woman in a man’s world”. Her comments were pithy and she constantly cracked-wise. But she was a funny woman and if you believed Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard’s early 1960’s creative prowess, that meant her love life was in a constant state of flux and her ability to be happy across the board would always be compromised.
The audience was made to feel sorry for sad and mannish Sally; sitting her apartment, .all alone with her sense of humor.
I have often thought that women have been punished for being funny.
As contemporary female comics go, I think Roseanne had her moments.; as did Margaret Cho 13 years ago. I think comedian, Kathleen Madigan is brilliant. I’ve always thought that several females from “Saturday Night Live” have been exemplary. Molly Shannon and Kristin Wiig are terrific. . Cheri Oteri had some of the best comedic timing in the business…as did Jan Hooks. And due to her break-out success, SNL alum Tina Fey is changing the way we look at funny women. She’s attractive and that makes her far different than the women who struggled to pave the way for all women to stand in front of the Improv’s legendary brick wall.
But fortunately, as these ladies are proving, we’re looking at women through different eyes and we’re hearing them with different ears. Women ARE funnier than they’ve ever been. I think part of that is because we’re braver than we’ve ever been. We have had to be and that’s what it will take to completely break through the comedic, glass ceiling….I’m talking about balls, ya’ll.
Women have great senses of humor. We just don’t make the best stand-ups comedians and even with the above examples, we’re still not the funniest writers. The reason?
Read on for my opinion.
I’ve been interviewed by a number of journalists and bloggers lately and the question of comedy always comes up. In one recent Q&A session, I was asked about how I write and more specifically, how is it that I’m so “funny”.
How am I funny?
That’s not an easy question to answer. I guess, I’ve been kind of different all of my life. I saw the humor in a lot of things that few of my contemporaries did. Plus, I had a fairly unhappy childhood and that seems to be a vital component to being funny. What’s the correlation? I don’t know, but there seems to be one. Some of the funniest people on the planet had absolutely miserable lives. Maybe pain forces you to see whatever can keep you from crying.
Sometimes, I don’t think I’m funny. At all...even though my resume would argue the point. I’ve several awards for writing and for comedy and I’ve had praise heaped on me like crazy by well know people in the business. Still, as creative types are want to do, my insecurities creep through from time to time and they leave me in fetal position, sucking a thumb that’s rife with self-doubt.
I was also asked what would I recommend to other women who were thinking about venturing into insane world of writing comedy.
First of all…go for it.
There’s only one way to change the mindset of the populace with regard to women and humor and that’s by being genuinely funny women. While, I don’t believe that a sense of humor or comedic timing can be taught, I think you can expand your abilities.
I’d strongly recommend, writing for men and I mean this even if your audience is women.
LESSON ONE: IF YOU WANT TO GARNER A LARGER AUDIENCE, DO NOT WRITE WITH WOMEN IN MIND–I don’t care if you’re a raging feminist or a man-hating, Aramis-wearing lesbian, you will not be considered funny if you write for women only. This is a universal truth. Why? Because women-centric humor is way too gender specific and overall, just not that funny and if men don’t find you funny, you’re sunk.
Want a few tips? Here’s what I think:
If you’re a woman and you want to try your hand at wide range comedy, don’t man bash….BORING.
Don’t write about your menstrual periods…BORING.
Be self-deprecating , but leave out the cellulite jokes….BORING.
Rid yourself of the desire to write about female body parts and their specific function in the life of a woman…VERY BORING.
Stay away from bits on shopping, Little Tommy’s first Big Boy Bowel Movement or your lusty 3 am cravings for chocolate….EXTREMELY BORING.
By now, you’re probably wondering why men can joke about a woman’s period and her big ass rife with cellulite, but a woman can’t. Well, a woman can but it requires full understanding of the differences that are at play here.
Socially, women are defined by self-absorption, to varying degrees. We’re kind of hardwired for this….we dress up, we put on make-up, do our hair. This self absorption translates into a perception of what is funny and what isn’t. If a women talks about her own period, that’s not going to be deemed as funny–especially in a mixed audience. Now, a woman can talk about her period if she’s able to remove herself from the equation. Not easy to do. If a woman talks about her friend’s period and what a she-wolf, banshee she becomes, that’s funny.
On the other hand, men don’t have periods, but their wives, girlfriends, sisters and bosses do.
So, when male comedians joke about a woman’s period, they’re always removed from the experience. Their comments then become observations.
When a woman jokes about another womans period, she too is making an observation- implying that, like men, she’s nothing like that crazy beast they’re observing at home, at work, where ever.
An acute observation of someone else’s experience becomes the tie that binds and makes everything relatable.
LESSON TWO: Ladies you can widen your comedic berth by reading the newspaper and watching CNN or FOX. Get hip to current events and the zeitgeist of our time.; study funny women you admire. I’d recommend you read ANYTHING by the brilliant, Fran Leibowitz, a hilarious woman author who I want to be when I grow up. Fran’s writing and comedic style have a universal appeal. She’s smart, funny and erudite—three things which help make her a man’s woman and a broad’s broad.
And that my friends, is key. Universality.
That requires being open, willing and completely gutsy. Ballsy. And we can be, Ladies. We might not have testicles, but we can and should wear our ovaries very low.
So, there you have it. My thoughts on women and comedy writing.
You have every right to think I’m full of feces and you are completely entitled to your opinion…as am I and I firmly believe that most men will agree with me on this. Besides, Hitchens didn’t need to wrote an article to declare that most men think men are far funnier than women. And most women will agree with them. We DO think men are funnier by and large and we’ll always laugh at their stuff, so if you write for men; if you try to appease to their sense of funny, you’ll kill two birds with one stone. You appeal to a wider audience.
This is part of Tina Fey’s success. She figured this out.
As did I.
I’ve always written with men, for men. And I suppose some could belabor the point, but one could argue that it’s worked for me. I’ve used my sense of humor to disarm tense situations. I’ve been able to win over people in situations where simple charm and diplomacy wouldn’t have worked.
My sense of humor has endeared me to a great many men.
It’s gotten me laid.
And it’s rendered me single.
Being funny is one thing; knowing when NOT to be is another.
As far as this blog is concerned, I write for one man, specifically. He’s my biggest, harshest critic and holds nothing back–to the point of hurting my feelings, but I appreciate and respect his honesty and his point of view–despite the fact that I’m funnier than he could EVER be. But writing for him, with him in mind seems to work.
In closing, women are funny. We really are! But we can always be funnier. The numbers of male stand up comedians will always be disproportionately higher than working female comedians until we get hip to the reasons why. We have the power to whittle away at these numbers and this mindset. And spare me the feminist rhetoric about this a male generated conspiracy to keep women down. Men aren’t threatened by funny women—well, some male comedians might be, but male audience members aren’t, at least, not as a rule, anyway.
As it stands, the general consensus is that men are funnier, but that doesn’t mean woman can’t ultimately be successful as comedy writers, as stand ups and even on a lesser level, as the funniest women in their offices..in the carpool…. wherever. We women need to set our minds on the prize and go for it. Sure, there’s some evolving we still need to do, but we can do it.
So, get cracking, Ladies. We’ve got some hurdles to jump and opinions to change. Find your male audience by finding your male voice. Do that and I promise, we can force a paradigm shift. Focus on men and be funny….go forth and joke your boobs off.
But please….just don’t write about it.