Let me take it straight from Joy Behar when she says, “This is the LAST documentary I EVER want to see about women in comedy!”
I feel the same way. FUNNY is FUNNY regardless of your gender. CAN WE MOVE ON ALREADY?!
That being said, the history of women in comedy is important and relevant and inspiring and amazing. For without the battles that my hilarious predecessors faced, the “women aren’t funny” attitude might still be considered mainstream thinking. MAKERS: Women in Comedy takes an in depth look at the trials and tribulations of iconic comedians, who also happened to be female. See, I refuse to say female comedian. I’m willing to bet no one has ever heard anyone use the term male comedian. How about male lawyer? Male doctor? You get my point. The reason I can even say things like this now is because women like Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Joy Behar, Roseanne Barr broke through the stereotypes placed before them to prove that women are loud, proud, and absolutely freaking hilarious.
As a woman in comedy myself, so many of the things that were addressed in this doc are things I can totally relate to. I’ve been introduced multiple times in the last month or two with a “this next comic is female” (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MATTER?) like Kathy Griffin mentions. Too many times when I’ve been out socially with a man and he learns I do stand up, he ‘offers’ to help me write material. As if it’s not possible for me to do it myself, even though I’ve been writing it solo for seven years, with marginal success. Hey, I get paid to tell jokes I wrote to paying audiences. Seems like I’m on the right track. Did you know that even today, the writer’s rooms of the best shows on television still remain almost entirely male? Looking back, women made up 1 of 10 writers for The Carol Burnett Show, and 1 in 12 for The Golden Girls! THE GOLDEN GIRLS! A SHOW ABOUT AGING WOMEN! Heaven forbid you have women writing about women, what would we know about that? And, currently, the numbers have only improved slightly with women writers still in the minority by far on pretty much every show – even including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It’s crazy stuff.
Just two weeks ago I did two shows in another city where, post-show, was talking to a couple who had caught the show. Allow me to share what transpired:
Her: “It must be so HARD to be a woman in comedy.”
Me: “It’s kind of the only way I know how to be in comedy.”
Her: “Yes, but, ugh a WOMAN in COMEDY. I mean how do you do it?”
Me: “I get up on the stage and tell my jokes and people laugh.”
Her: “Yes right, but UGH. SO hard. So many women make it about being provocative and sassy and UGH I JUST. I don’t like it. We read your bio before the show and my boyfriend was not looking forward to it. He just doesn’t like chick comedy.” (Motions to boyfriend standing to the side)
Me: “You know what? We all have our own voices and we say what we want. That’s how it works. Guys get to do that. You don’t have to find everything funny – I mean, you like what you like and that’s fine because comedy is subjective. But just because you don’t think we should do it doesn’t mean we should stop. Men don’t have that expectation, do they? (motioning to boyfriend) You didn’t like the show?”
Him: “ I mean you didn’t do any jokes about periods so it wasn’t so bad. I just can’t relate to female comics, you know, with your dating and your feelings and your whining. The [male] headliner was great, though. I did stand up once, I know how it goes.”
YES, I BET YOU DO, GOOD SIR! Heaven forbid I have actual thoughts on life! This, coming from a guy who was in the room when the audience gave me an applause break because they were laughing so hard. He knows how it goes.
MAKERS: Women in Comedy also mentions the infamous 2007 Vanity Fair piece by Christopher Hitchens “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” I really have no words for this article though I recommend you read it if you’re interested in getting all riled up.
A big part of MAKERS: Women in Comedy was focused on Roseanne Barr, someone I adore. Though I wasn’t aware of ‘women in comedy’ growing up per se, I was infatuated with Roseanne from the minute she busted through my prime time TV screen as part of the infamous sitcom Roseanne. This TV family looked like my family. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t rich, and they made me laugh. Roseanne made me laugh with her strong and smart views on life. This is a woman that called the shots! And she was HILARIOUS! This was groundbreaking at the time because like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, Roseanne was a pioneer but in a different way – with her “do not give a d*mn” attitude. Can you imagine that being a new concept?
It was then. Strong, hilarious, comedians who also happened to identify as female paved the way for women like me. Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Jane Lynch, Larraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain, Lois Bromfield, Ellen DeGeneres, Bea Arthur, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Roseanne Barr, Beth Lapides, Sarah Siverman and Janeane Garofalo. And those were just the ones mentioned on the show. Funny women who wanted to use humor as an opportunity to point out inequalities, vent about the world, and call for change — all while making people laugh. Because we can. Because we did. And, because we will continue to do so whether or not we mention our menstruation cycles. WE AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE!
Catch MAKERS: Women in Comedy (the first installment in the six-part series) Tuesday, September 30 at 8 p.m. on tpt 2. And, join us next week for MAKERS: Women in Hollywood.
Jenn Schaal is a stand-up comic who calls Minneapolis home. She also happens to work at tpt because she likes to have a car with insurance and a 401k. You can check her out online at jennschaal.com and at @jennschaal on Twitter. You should probably also come to a show. Jenn has been featured in the City Pages, Pioneer Press, and on MPR News, was recently invited to perform in Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival, Limestone Comedy Festival, and was a semi-finalist in Rooftop Comedy’s National College Comedy Competition. She also owns two wigs for her cat.