Monday, February 11, 2013

Women, humor, property, and taboo

Women are funny. Despite Christopher Hitchens yawning article about the evolutionary biology of female funniness, women are actually very funny, and even, on their own terms.  Cultural norms dictate a large part of what we humans claim is natural, normal, right, pure, heavenly, factual, and so on. Watch any television commercial with humans, I dare you. All of advertising is a play on our cultural expectations, usually the worst of it: women are sex objects, idiots, irritating, very very tidy, and either slightly mousy or female models; men are sex-starved, smart, arrogant, messy, and either slightly pudgy or male models. And clearly, women are only funny if we make fun of them.

Not true. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of irritating-ness, regardless of gender. Also, anyone can be funny, regardless of gender. But there are trade-offs involved in bucking those pesky cultural norms.  Phyllis Diller, a very curvaceous, sexy woman (ask Playboy editors from the 1960s), hid herself in tablecloths and costume makeup on stage, because clearly, no one would have been able to concentrate on her jokes if she was remotely attractive. Breasts! This is all anyone would have been thinking.

Joan Rivers explains candidly how cultural expectations defined her career, or more specifically, the male chauvinism of a very powerful Johnny Carson. She was passed over for years, asked to do the same work as men but not acknowledged as such, and then slandered for daring to pursue her own career.  She characterizes the mentality as “I found you, and you’re my property,” which makes my skin crawl and blood boil, and other Shakespearean shenanigans. Thankfully, I think we’ve moved past that stage, as a society. The waters are still murky though, and filled with opinion-operating-as-fact, and sadly, few stories about the adoring male groupies of female stand-up comedians.

But that is not why women go into stand-up comedy. Just like men, they love being on stage. They feel at ease, natural, happiest, when they are making people laugh, even if being on the road can be excruciating and lonely. And they produce some of the most profound comedy that I’ve ever seen: raunchy, taboo, honest, and transformative. This includes Tig Notaro, who took a diagnosis of cancer with her on stage and invited the audience to process its gravity with her, and made them laugh, cry, and wonder at her courage. I’ve never heard anything like it, and neither has one of the best comedic minds of our time, Louis C.K. Very powerful, and very funny. 

1 comment:

  1. That Christopher Hitchens piece made me want to strangle something. Specifically, Christopher Hitchens.