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Women (Are)n’t Funny

By Emma Davis

Edited by Lianna Avanessian

The women of Saturday Night Live – hilarious. Many of the female alumni have become icons, flourishing in comedy. You’d think that with inspirations like Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler, we’d have more female-led comedy endeavors… but we don’t. Why is this?

For years, women have been told that comedy is a man’s skill. That our talents are better suited to the home rather than the stage. This notion may have stemmed from the ancient belief that a woman’s sense of humor is laughing at a man’s joke. This sexist ideal is still embedded in our society. Young girls are raised believing that they must be quiet and mature, while boys are let off the hook with a simple “boys will be boys!” This double standard leads to an overwhelming gender gap in the world of comedy.

The lack of female comedic writers is exceptionally clear in IMDB’s Top 100 Comedy TV Series. 52% of them were written without a woman, as opposed to the less than 1% written without a man. The other ~47%, the ones written with a mixed writers’ room, only have a few females. I once went to a panel of women in comedy, and one writing team had a story that stood out to me. Sarah Jane Cunningham and Suzie V. Freeman were once hired to write for a show, and they were the only women in the room. Because of this, they were expected to just work on the female characters and nothing else. If they had issues with a potentially offensive joke in the script, the men would disregard their qualms, claiming that they’re “just women,” so they don’t know what they’re talking about.

When it comes to comedy success, being a woman is an inconvenience.

This story helps you realize how tokenism in the industry is an issue. A token woman, meaning a woman who is expected to represent ALL women, is often hired by men who are trying to “diversify.” “Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity,” wrote Tina Fey in her memoir.

The lack of gender diversity in comedy doesn’t end there. A 2017 study of UK comedy panels showed that only 31% of the performers were female. This is probably due to the plethora of issues women face in the stand-up scene.

It’s hard to book gigs. When it comes to comedy success, being a woman is an inconvenience. Audiences go into a female comedian’s stand-up with the preconceived notion that it won’t be funny because, you know, “women aren’t funny”. Additionally, the dated, oppressive societal “rules” for women provide challenges. The double standard never ends. Women are supposed to be poised and reserved, so you’ll get ridiculed for doing a physical bit, but if you just stand there, you may get called out for being boring. Want to make a joke about the female experience? Some random man in the back will get offended that he can’t relate to a line about periods.

I’m not trying to attack men here. I know that makes it sound like I’m about to completely roast them, but I’m not. I’d just like them to realize the impact the hateful things they say have on a whole generation of women. Jerry Lewis, known as the ‘king of comedy’, once said that “[…] as a viewer, [I] have trouble with [a female comedian]. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world.” Imagine a girl with dreams of working in comedy seeing what a renowned comedian said about females. She may feel that her dreams were never meant to be because a male in mainstream media made it clear that he cannot see a woman being funny.

I’m not trying to attack men here. I know that makes it sound like I’m about to completely roast them, but I’m not.

Of course, there are men who are supportive. One example would be Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz. Together, they developed the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy. This show, which has become a classic, starred Lucille in the main role and let her shine.

I’ve been focusing on the negatives, but throughout the years, we have made progress. Women on SNL are getting more screen time. Shows are being developed by all-female teams. Netflix has stand-ups from so many different female comedians- Nicole Byer, Ali Wong, Fortune Feimster, and more. This doesn’t mean that we’ve fixed everything. It means that our efforts are helping.

At this point in time, we have more funny female role models than ever before. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Mindy Kaling, and many more have been breaking the stigma their entire careers. In fact, Mindy Kaling wrote some of the best episodes of The Office. Remember “Niagara”? That was all her. Chelsea Peretti, who starred on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has a stand-up on Netflix AND wrote the “Smallest Park” episode of Parks and Recreation. We have trailblazing icons from past generations such as Gilda Radner, Carol Burnett, and Lucille Ball.

Let these women be an inspiration to you all. Not just to the women. Not just to young people. To everyone. These women are proof that no matter what everyone tells you, no matter what anyone is doing to try and bring you down, you can make it.

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