Thursday, October 4, 2007

Funny Women?!

Whaddya know, women can be funny, after all! recently ran a story about 14 funny women. I thought they assembled a pretty good list. I knew of most of the women included and, indeed, I agreed that they were funny.

For instance, Tina Fey: I particularly admire her for being succcessful on the traditionally male-dominated Saturday Night Live. Sarah Silverman: I admire her for being funny in a smart, political way. Unfortunately, I think many people miss the point of her humor and/or are turned off by her language, and sometimes crassness. Margaret Cho: probably my favorite comedian, because she's unapologetically political in her routines.

Which brings me to one comedian noticeably missing from MSN's list: Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen is probably 1b on my top comedian list. I appreciate how she can be funny without using vulgarity or resorting to trusty old (unfunny) sex/gender stereotype jokes in her routines. At the same time, Margaret Cho is 1a and Ellen is 1b on my list for the mere fact that Ellen is rarely political in her comedy. She rarely talks about the gay issue and as she says in her Here and Now routine, if she doesn't throw in an obligatory gay joke people are like 'She didn't do anything gay! She's not our leader, what happened to our leader!?"

I can respect that she may not want to be "the gay leader." But the fact of the matter is that, by virtue of being an early out-of-the-closet lesbian in Hollywood she is sort of our leader by default whether she wants to be or not. At the same time, I think that maybe she's making a conscience choice to be a leader not by making gay jokes and gay issues her specialty, but by showing that a gay person can be a successful entertainer/comedian in her own right. That, even though she is gay, she is not defined by her sexual orientation and therefore, her show can appeal to a mass audience.

I think that those who normalize gay people are just as important as gay people who are out front challenging and broadening middle-America's notions of "family," "morality," and marriage.

But that's all a digression from my main points: Humor is a subjective experience. Women can be funny, just as men can be funny. I find humor in cleverness, intilligence, and wit as opposed to slapstick comedy or "jokes" about sex or gender/sex stereotypes.

To illustrate, when Ellen begins her Here and Now comedy routine in front of a packed auditorium in this way:

"... yet, despite our differences, we're here and we all have one thing in common....... We're all gay."

In the context of a routine where everyone in the audience knows the comedian is an open lesbian, and where the audience is clearly a mix of gay and straight, she is playing on possible heterosexual fears of other people thinking they are gay because they are at an Ellen show.

I think it's funny because it creates a socially awkward moment where, as Ellen continues:

"Some people are out there thinking, 'Wait a minute, I'M not GAY! Do people think I'm gay because I'm here? I'm not gay.... Well... I have thought about it, does that mean I'm gay?! Is that how they get us?!"

That use of humor to point out social awkwardness and irrational fears, to me, is more funny than throwing a pie in someone's face.

For instance, when I was a kid my dad used to make us watch The Three Stooges. He would be cackling away as Larry, Moe, and Curly poked each other in the eyes, hit each other with frying pans, and made weird noises. Yet I, as a 5-year-old even, never thought this was funny. In fact, you could say I was bored.

Now, to preemptively defend man-hating charges, I'm going to say: I don't hate men. But that being said, I don't find a lot of male comedians' humor funny. Again, this is a personal opinion. So it's futile to try to change my mind. The men I do find funny, are men who are smart, political, and witty. Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their jokes don't revolve around getting laid, trying to get laid, or using their body for slapstick. In sum, I guess you could say I'm looking for the same thing in men as I am in women. As far as comedians go anyway.

So, I guess what I find entertaining is Christopher Hitchens provocative piece where he states "Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about." And, even though humor is a highly subjective experience, he presents the proposition that women are not funny as a fact universally acknowledged by the human race.

To be fair, he presents men as easily-amused imbeciles who "will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is- or they are- extremely stupid."

Using Hitchen's logic, women aren't funny because they don't laugh at the things men laugh at (that is, at everything), yet men are funny because they will laugh at anything, even if it's stupid. A questionable line of logic there to make such sweeping generalizations about both genders, (no to mention that he uses what males find funny as the baseline for "normal" funny-ness and sense of humor).

I get it, though. He's making fun of both genders. It is my un-funny femaled opinion, however, that Hitchen's article is not funny. I find gender stereotypes to be more harmful to both men and women, than "funny." Yet what kicked me off the balance beam were these statements:

"There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there."

Really, are scientists studying this? Is there objective data available for perusal?

"Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three. When Roseanne stands up and tells biker jokes and invites people who don't dig her shtick to suck her dick—know what I am saying? And the Sapphic faction may have its own reasons for wanting what I want—the sweet surrender of female laughter. While Jewish humor, boiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation, is almost masculine by definition."

[ignoring demeaning, offensive use of "dyke" by straight guy] In other words, fat women, dykes, and Jewish women aren't "real" women. They're man-like.

But more, Hitchen's theory goes that women aren't funny because they must concern themselve with the serious business of birthing. Men are funny because they are simultaneously in awe of and terrified of the fact that women can give birth and they cannot. And that is why men use humor and why they are funny:

"Men have to pretend, to themselves as well as to women, that they are not the servants and supplicants."

So, women are really the ones in control and men are scared of this, so they joke about it. Ah yes, a new humorous take on gender power structures.

If this piece is meant for both men and women to laugh at, I'm not laughing. But I suppose Hitchens would expect that since I'm a woman, or maybe he wouldn't expect that since I'm a dyke? Humor is subjective but perhaps, to use an Ellen joke, he "doesn't know how to kid properly. 'Cuz we should both be laughing."

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