Saturday, July 11, 2015

FTT Off-Topic: Gender and Humor

Neither Are Men
Not sports, move on or not.

So last night in my Netflix queue I found a fake docu- mentary called "Women Aren't Funny", which is done by Bonnie McFarlane and her husband, Rich Vos. In it, McFarlane tries to maintain equilibrium and comic timing as she interviews a mess of stand-ups about the presumed chicken-and-egg issue vis a vis inequality in stand up. It's a fairly self-indulgent piece, but with enough funny people in it that you can get past some of the more wince-inducing aspects of the topic.

Personally, I listen to a lot of stand up. It's in my Pandora channel, I listen to a number of comedian podcasts during my day, and I'm always looking for stand up when I pull up my Netflix queue. I don't go out to a lot of clubs, but I do the annual big festival thing, and have even tried it a little myself. I'm as big of a comedy nerd as I know, really.

And, well, this is just nothing more than what we saw in rock and roll in the '90s, when Liz Phair and PJ Harvey blazed a trail for an untold multitude of others to follow. It's also maybe the last bastion of unbridled sexism and a profession that was more or less gender-blocked.

To say it's in full retreat is kind of obvious. Amy Schumer is going to have one of the biggest comedy movies of the summer, and her show has been a continually expanding breakout. Maria Bamford has been critically adored for years now, and is getting her own show. Samantha Bee will join the late-night fray on TBS in the fall. Nikki Glaser and Bridgett Everett are on the rise from their association with Schumer and At Midnight, Mindy Kaling got a show and a Super Bowl ad, and so on, and so on. (I'm missing the "Broad City" girls, could also say good things about Natasha Leggero and Rikki Lindgren / Kate Micucci. Have to end the paragraph somewhere, folks.) People are making money from women making comedy, and the engine has always been about what can make you money.

Which doesn't mean, of course, that everyone is just going to be OK with the change in the world, or that it's going to permeate all the way down to your local open mic and Chuckle Hut. I'd also argue that every generation comes up with comedy that The Olds don't think is funny, and that since comedy is as much Craft as Art, the simple existence of people like Schumer and Bee and Leggero et al are going to mean for more time at more places for more women, and amen to all of that.

Because, well, I'm a fan of comedy, and having different people do it has *always* been the right move for the form. Think of how much Ricard Pryor, He Who Must Eventually Be Prosecuted, and Joan Rivers did to move things forward, and expand the bounds of what was possible on stage, in an era when opportunity was limited to Who Made Johnny Carson Laugh.

The plain and simple is that comedy works best when people expand what's possible. Whether it's Pryor with raw personal narratives, George Carlin with language deconstruction, Andy Kaufman with trolling before anyone knew what trolling was, Bill Hicks with baiting the audience and unimagined crudity, Jerry Seinfeld with virtuosic observational asides that no one else could do as well... it all informs, breaks ground, makes things more interesting for the next person to take the mic.

And sure, there will be cringe-worthy folks to come as well. I can't take most of the redneck schtick types, don't really go for British comedy of cruelty, and think comedians that rely too much on their demographic (hello, Carlos Mencia) or props are flat-out hacky. But just because there are some unfunny women (and McFarlane is not terribly effective in this piece)... well, that doesn't mean anything more than that.

Besides, aren't we all supposed to be smart enough to know that generalizations are always wrong?

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