Their time as an analogy for women in comedy is officially over.
If there’s one general truth that can be drawn from — among other signs — Tina Fey’s new memoir, “Bossypants,” now hitting and leaving shelves at a fairly alarming rate, it’s this: There is no longer any need for women to prove that they are funny. Particular women still need to prove that they’re funny, sure, in the same sense that particular men need to prove the same thing. But women in general?
That hurdle has been cleared.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, folks who write trend pieces for magazines. Go back to telling us that pie is the new cake, or that cake is the new flan, or that flan is the new having a home life.
So I’m sick of all the debate about this.
Sure, men still outnumber women overwhelmingly in the Funny Business. This dispiriting chart of writers for late night reveals that women who do comedy are the exception, not the rule.
But it’s not that women aren’t funny. It’s that they don’t do comedy.
Evolutionarily, this is what we’ve been told works. When we list on dating sites that we are looking for mates with senses of humor, we mean different things. Women want men who can make them laugh. Men want women they can make laugh. Men were trained from back in the cave days that if you couldn’t impress females with your prowess at hunting, you could at least make them chortle. This must have had some evolutionary benefits — “I can only catch the damaged gazelles, but look how much fun we’re having!”
But surely we’ve moved on since then. We have central heating and air conditioning and much, much less polio than we used to. We don’t have to catch our food before we eat it, unless we’re on one of those strange diets.
So why are we still ghettoizing our humor?
Funny like a boy? Funny like a girl?
I’m sick and tired of reading about people who are “funny like girls” and “funny like men.” There are some tired lady comics out there who do the “lady comedy” thing in heavy inverted commas, who stroll onstage and say, “I just flew out from LA, and boy is my biological clock ticking, and when will guys stop loving sports and put the seat down? I’m lonely.” But that’s no longer the rule.
Women are always being told that men find our behavior threatening. Read enough magazines and you’d get the idea that we were leaping out in alleyways and pulling knife-guns on them, or — more terrifying still — forcing them to speak in public.
But in fact what they mean is that there is no need for us to show our plumage. “Impress me!” is the perpetual dance of mating. And the onus in most species, is on males, who are expected to dance around, build nests, grow colorful high-maintenance feather trails, and look interested when you start telling them about the Twilight convention. Never in this cycle are you called upon to stand up and entertain. Look nice, shut up, the logic runs, and they’ll do the work for you.
Does it all come down to evolution? Many straight women lack what, formerly, was one of the major motivating factors of comedy: the desire to impress women. That may not change.
But the other pieces of the puzzle are shifting. The channels for being funny have changed. With tools like Twitter leveling the playing field, it’s increasingly true that a joke is a joke is a joke is a joke, whoever makes it. Everyone increasingly wants to be famous — boys AND girls. And comedy is a tool for achieving that genderless goal. You don’t tweet jokes to impress women. You do it to gain whatever that elusive Twitter currency is — fame? power? a visit from the Wheat Thins people? some facsimile of the above?
WitStream’s Lisa Cohen, curator of funny tweets, wrote an essay on the subject of women on Twitter where she noted: “Now we can be funny and deactivate that ‘don’t say it’ switch that we’ve integrated into so many areas of our lives . . . We don’t have to see the looks on people’s faces as they try to figure out why we’re so desperate as to try and be funny.”
But will it ever change in the mainstream?
The number of movies that fail to pass the Bechdel Test — does it contain two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man? — is still astoundingly high. Now, audiences are holding their breath for “Bridesmaids,” a girl comedy from Judd Apatow written by and starring SNL’s much-lauded Kirsten Wiig. Perhaps that will ignite a trend.
But if not, why not? Is it the caveman rearing his head?
Is it purchasing power, as Tina Fey suggests?
One thing’s for sure: It’s not because women aren’t funny.