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Opinion: No Laughing Matter

3
Posted June 25, 2012 by Catherine in Humour
SNL3

I feel like there’s been a revolution of sorts during the last year.

It all started when I was dragged to see Bridesmaids last summer by two boys with a serious guy crush on Jon Hamm. I was adamant I didn’t want to see the movie. It looked like another rubbish chick flick that tried its best to be funny by trying to copy male humour. The couple of TV spots I’d seen all contained that one infamous ‘food poisoning’ scene and while I’m not squeamish, it just seemed like a cheap, crude laugh to rope people in.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Within the first couple of minutes my eyes were filled with tears of laughter and my heart was filled with love for Kristen Wiig. This film spoke to me. It spoke to every woman who watched it. It was our world. It identified, embraced and celebrated our insecurities and irrational behaviour. It tapped into things that men just don’t ‘get’. It was funny and clever. It was Mean Girls for grown-ups.

Up until recently the only way a woman was dubbed a ‘funny’ character was by being completely weird, utterly stupid, incredibly vulgar or a sexed-up sex kitten. Oh wait, or a complete bitch. Executives didn’t seem to have enough faith in women’s comedic talents to actually make them front-runners.

Bridesmaids blew that misconception out of the water. The characters in the film were real women who were dealing with real problems and hey, they were all hilarious and that made the movie a tear-away hit. Melissa McCarthy was even nominated for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars, with Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo getting a nod for Best Original Screenplay.

It was a long road to this point though.

For me, Mean Girls was the pioneer movie and Tina Fey the founding mother of clever female-driven comedies. After her success with that movie, she went on to write and star in 30 Rock, a TV show that is still shockingly underappreciated and will air its final season in September. Fey was shortly followed by her partner in crime Amy Poehler who joined Parks and Recreation as its lead character and a co-writer. Again the show was underappreciated, but again it was pure brilliance.

Fey and Poehler were left to fly the flag for female comics for a number of years as viewership numbers failed to impress the powers that be. Sure you had the ‘Look at me, I’m so controversial and guy-like’ comediennes jumping about like Sarah Silverman or Joan Rivers, but the thing is there’s nothing clever or real about comedians like that and so Fey and Poehlar were left adrift for a while.

Thankfully Bridesmaids arrived and lit a flame under the cause.

Its effect was immediately obvious and TV executives rushed to commission female-driven shows. New Girl, which was created by Elizabeth Meriweather and headlined by Zooey Deschanel, was probably the biggest success story of television’s fall season, although it still has three male characters as its supporting cast. It was a good first step, but Zooey’s Jess acts inexplicably dumb sometimes and if it wasn’t for Nick and Schmidt, I doubt it would’ve enjoyed the success it currently does. Still, a step is a step.

2 Broke Girls also appeared that season, but took a little longer to get off the ground. It still gained a lot of support and has earned respect as a comedy show – a comedy show whose main storylines centre around two female leads, (one of whom is played by Kat Dennings who delivers some of the funniest lines I’ve heard on TV this year) and has little input from the sparse male cast.

The latest show to appear is Girls, which is written by Lena Dunham who also stars as the main character. I was a bit dubious after the first episode because all it seemed to be saying was “Look at the crazy sex we’re casually having” and “Of course girls shower together in their apartment while eating cupcakes”. I feared we were already slipping back to the days of sex being seen as a necessity to sell a female-orientated comedy but thankfully that aspect lessened as the show continued and now it’s the clever and truly funny script that’s catapulting it into the spotlight.

It seems as though we’ve reached a turning point where women are getting the opportunity to speak to their female audiences and appeal to men at the same time. Just look at Saturday Night Live in recent years and you’ll find the biggest names to come out of it have all been female.

This is a new era where women are respected as comedy writers and really, it’s about damn time.


About the Author

Catherine

Catherine often dreams about living in a tiny Parisian apartment and penning the next great novel of her generation until she remembers how impossible it is to get a decent cup of tea in France.

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    While I have to agree that any levelling of the playing field for comedy writers is a good thing, I have to take umbrage (HUUUGE umbrage) to any promotion of Bridesmaids as a film that ‘spoke to every woman who watched it’. I thought it was tired old shite and so did my boobs. In the first ten minutes, we were subjected to a character so batshit-crazy-insecure that she got out of bed to reapply her face before her conquest woke up, so batshit-crazy-stupid that she couldn’t just ask him to open the electronic gates, and so batshit-crazy-bitter that she endangered her (presumably paid) job so she could be snide to unsuspecting customers. I can’t identify with a character that crudely sketched and to me, it was just a rehash of the same old ‘aren’t women of childbearing age total mentallers?’ cliché that Bridesmaids was supposed to blow out of the water.

    I went and watched some Smack The Pony instead.

    Also, Joan Rivers isn’t clever or real? What? Agreed on Sarah Silverman, who thinks you can just substitute jokes for drawling ‘Rape?’ at a shocked audience, but Joan Rivers? She’s the only comedian (male or female) to choke me up with a genuinely touching story before steamrolling me with a punchline. Joan is in a class all to herself and she’s never had to pretend to be a dude to get there.

    As an aside, if we want to look at successful mainstream female comedy characters, why do so many of us overlook animation? Granted, even mainstream animated shows are hyperbolic – pretty much because they can be – but Julie Kavner has been quietly hilarious for two decades, Alex Borstein is a major driving force as an actor and staff writer on Family Guy, et cetera et cetera. Also, Daria. Yeah.

    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

      Totally agree with you on Joan Rivers. She’s an absolute pioneer in comedy and she’s still as funny as she always was. Sarah Silverman isn’t my cup of tea at all though.

      Fair point on animation – most people (including myself) do overlook it. It’s quite unfair to do so given the amount of skill that goes into voice acting at the end of the day but that’s a whole other article in itself.

      • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

        Aye, true. Just using the mainstream animated sitcoms to point out that there are female driving forces in uber-successful comedy outside of the Hollywood sphere.

        If we want to discuss mainstream comedy and female writers, we could even look right back to the UK circa 1975, where Connie Booth (as co-writer) and Prunella Scales were lifting audiences right out of their shoes in Fawlty Towers…

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