Funny hoo-ha

I realize that anybody who is anybody on the internet has already blogged today about the “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?Vanity Fair article, itself a response to the VF article “Why Women Aren’t Funny” by Christopher Hitchens. [Full disclosure: Christopher Hitchens will always be a god to me because he devoted an entire book to putting down Mother Teresa. Who else would have the audacity to do that?] Nevertheless, I want to weigh in on this important debate contrived to sell magazines. Are women funny?

Let me start by saying that all those SNL hotties were ugly in high school. I lack the evidence to back up that statement, but I feel in my gut that it’s true. They were ugly and that’s why they cultivated their personalities. And I have to put that out there because a large portion of the latest Vanity Fair article, supposedly extolling the comedic talents of the fairer sex, is about how pretty these funny ladies are. Alessandra Stanley writes:

It used to be that women were not funny. Then they couldn’t be funny if they were pretty. Now a female comedian has to be pretty—even sexy—to get a laugh.

At least, that’s one way to view the trajectory from Phyllis Diller and Carol Burnett to Tina Fey. Some say it’s the natural evolution of the women’s movement; others argue it’s a devolution. But the funniest women on television are youthful, good-looking, and even, in a few cases, close to beautiful—the kind of women who in past decades might have been the butt of a stand-up comic’s jokes.

Of course female comedians are beautiful. Vanity Fair loves to take pictures of beautiful people. Vanity Fair gets to pick and choose who to put on its cover. Vanity Fair gets to slather the funny women in makeup and dress them in revealing “costumes” and Photoshop them into oblivion and then slap rubber chickens in their hands and pretend that their sexuality is not being exploited.

Vanity Fair is an overwhelmingly glossy, aesthetically-minded magazine. The editors took the hottest of the hot female comedians and posed them as “pretend models” and “pretend sex objects,” so the average observer is not sure whether to laugh or get a hard-on. Sort of like the Saturday Night Live sketches wherein a female character is dressed as a whore, a slutty pop star, a movie siren, or some other variation with ample decolletage. Female comedians with celebrity bodies trot hilariously onto the set in ironic thong leotards and the audience is pulled in two directions – the comic and the carnal. It’s a weird situation that is perhaps historically unprecedented.

Funny women get away with showing skin without being labeled “slutty” because they seem to be doing it ironically or for the sake of parody. But you can’t have ironic sex. You can’t show ironic boob. And that’s where today’s brand of female comedy breaks down. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and the rest are doing an admirable job of trying to redefine women’s roles in comedy – they’re obviously doing everything they can to level the playing field – but the fact remains that men can flash their saggy balls and it’s funny, whereas women can’t flash their saggy tits without risking turning on (or off) half their audience. And once real sex is involved, humor absconds.

If you’re Jerri Blank, your labia are hilarious. But pretty women dressed up as pretty women, no matter how funny their lines, are still viewed as sex objects. Hitchens writes, “For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing. . .” The cultural pressure for women to be sexy still exists, even when female comedians try to subvert it by appropriating their own sexuality, by enlisting it for empowerment purposes. There is still a studio audience out there with boners.

Female comedians have been experimenting with this confusing sexuality for years. Women in our culture are dying to be sexy – celebrity sexy. Any girl can be turned into a pin-up with the right makeup and lighting, even an “ugly” one. And comedians can also fall prey to this cult of sexy celebrity, even when their job is to deride it. They want to be sexy too. But can women be both sexy and funny? In a quote from the VF article, Joan Rivers says, “Men find funny women threatening. They ask me, ‘Are you going to be funny in bed?’” Instead of the Madonna/Whore Complex, it seems like a Tina Fey/Whore Complex now exists in our culture. Men like their women funny, self-deprecating, witty, and gender-neutral in personality, but still rampantly sexy in look and feel. At least that’s the direction I see SNL going, and I think the show is a pretty good barometer for our comic culture.

7 Thoughts on “Funny hoo-ha

  1. Ed Ho on March 5, 2008 at 9:26 am said:

    Funny comes from pain. Then it has to be repackaged to fit into whatever hip visual image is required for people to give it an audience. That’s why is has changed over the years.

  2. Margo, Your cousin, Wistar on March 10, 2008 at 5:40 pm said:

    I’m busted. I now see the light however, thank you Wistar. Just this weekend I was watching The Sarah Silverman Program on DVD (Netflix) and I thought to myself, why the hell does she always dress like a 9 year-old boy, in baseball shirts and sneakers and boring jeans. Her wardrobe has nothing to do with her comedy I realized, but I wanted some flash, you know? Maybe some cleavage, or some sense of if she has a nice ass or what I mean, she’s a hot looking Jew. But the thing is, it just doesn’t matter to her humor. Or maybe she has some strange scars or a skin condition that she has been advised not to show off. yeah, that makes the most sense.

  3. The truth is that she dresses like a 9-year-old boy because it turns on her boyfriend, Jimmy Kimmel. To some people, dirty sneakers are like strawberry-flavored panties. Except it turns out they taste like dog poop.

  4. I wanted some flash her know maybe some cleavage or some sense of if she has a nice ass or what I mean, she’s a hot looking jew.

  5. Hey friend she is very pretty her so very nice style I love her perfromace.

  6. anthony on April 6, 2008 at 1:57 am said:

    hmmm…Sarah Silverman is a great example. For my part I think she’s pretty hot but not that funny but I think I’m also intimidated by her. It’s like she’s too good at what she does (humor-wise) and the coarseness of it almost baffles me, but it’s the same because I totally don’t have that problem w/ any male comedians (perhaps because I’m not attracted to them? I think I’m too insecure to really enjoy Sarah Silverman because I instantly start imagining being in the same room with her and her hate/derision radar (hate-dar?) finds me and all of a sudden she’s riffing on my inadequacies (and she doesn’t even KNOW me!) as a male.

    I think I need therapy and I’m blaming Sarah Silverman.

    But wait, there’s more:

    When Ellen Degeneres was new to the national comedy scene I’d catch her frequently and developed a major crush on her. It was her rambling idiosyncratic style and I thought she was uber-cute (sorry, I don’t know how to do the umlaut thing) but not necessarily pretty and definitely not sexy. Now, I don’t think she’s cute, sexy or funny years later (and I was genuinely surprised when she came out; I tend to be clueless about that stuff).

    Janeane Garafalo, probably my fave comedienne. I think she’s hot, smart, definitely funny, and certainly not in the mold of the comedienne-cum-model. That’s often been a topic of her stand-up. She’s been a bit more glamorous in her recent movies, but…

    Hmmm…I didn’t mean for this to rival the length of the original post. I meant to go to bed, but I want to stay up and read read read…

    Here’s a good one: Molly Shannon. Kind of a one-trick-pony. I went to Catholic school, so her Catholic school girl skits got me a bit hot, and (not so ironically) guilty (Catholicism & guilt in the same sentence? Noooo…) for being attracted to her skits since they were so blatant outcast-Catholic-geek-girl tries to do something spectacular and ends up breaking stuff and ends up with her panties showing.

    Guilty as charged. I’m going now. I’ve got a Rosary to address…

  7. Anthony, thank you for your blog within a blog.

    I saw Saturday Night Live this weekend and fell in love some more with Kristin Wiig. She is a funny lady who is not afraid to tongue a dog.

    Here is something I’ve been thinking about this morning: Dane Cook. Is he not trusted by other male comedians because he’s good looking? Or is he just not funny?

    You’re right – Sarah Silverman is intimidating. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with her. But then again, she’s friends with Ben Affleck and he sets off my douchebag radar. You are way cooler than Ben Affleck. And you have access to all the ripest fruits and vegetables. So Sarah would be stupid not to F@#* you. Wait – what was the question?

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