There has been a lot of discussion recently surrounding comedian Amy Schumer and some of the sketches from her television show, Inside Amy Schumer. The show has been widely praised for tackling overtly feminist content in an accessible and darkly humorous way. There have been two notable sketches that successfully dealt with particularly difficult topics, with staff writer Christine Nangle tackling rape in the military, and more recently, rape by male athletes. The success of sketches and comedy shows which confront rape culture (like Adrienne Truscott’s well-reviewed show Asking For It) presents a stark contrast to the many recent and not-so-recent controversies surrounding attempts by male comedians to joke about similar topics. The point of this however, is not that I think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. The point is that, more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better.
This doesn’t just apply to jokes about tough and edgy topics around things that affect women. For so long women have been denied the equal right to be funny. They have had fewer opportunities to be in control than men have. They haven’t been welcome in the boys club of comedy, and have had no platform to explore what could be done with certain jokes. In 2015, there are still problems with sexism in comedy. There are still far too few women behind the scenes when it comes to directing, writing and producing movies. Stand-up gigs and TV comedy panels often fail to include any women.
These days, however, the once-common statement ‘women aren’t funny’ is recognised as a truly ridiculous claim, and must only provoke us to feel sorry for the sad and humourless life led by the person who makes it. I am hopeful that the notional distinction between a ‘funny person’ and a ‘funny woman’ is becoming less prevalent. This is especially evident with the scope of the Internet, as shown by how widely Amy Schumer’s work has reached. Women have many more opportunities for their humour to be seen and heard, and they are taking advantage of every one of them. Broad City is heading into its third season, after evolving from a YouTube series started by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Funny people like Megan Amram have used Twitter to build a fan base, and leverage their profiles into comedy writing. Women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are now essentially given carte blanche to create whatever they want. The current female cast of Saturday Night Live is particularly talented, and several of them will appear in Paul Feig’s upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. Feig, though obviously not a woman, has worked to create women-led comedy movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat, and will be working from Katie Dippold’s screenplay for the reboot.
It has been only a relatively short period of time that women have had the chance to actually create comedic content, and have large audiences see it. They have also previously had comparatively few role models in this area to look up to. When taking all this into account, the rate at which women have caught up and become successful in comedy arenas is remarkable. And it will only improve from here, with generations of funny women growing up with the belief that they deserve to be heard.
After many years without these voices on the comedy landscape, we are now beginning to experience what it is like to have their presence. We now get to see new and interesting perspectives on life, those paths trodden over by so many straight white men. Some of us have found that we are now able to laugh at jokes and satire about horrible things that a lot of women experience in real life, because the people writing the jokes are part of the group that horrible things happen to. In those examples, we feel safe because we know that the joke-teller has the power, is on our side, and we know exactly who is being torn down.
None of this is to say that we should continually treat women in comedy as a separate group to men, and the hope is that one day they won’t be. However, I think it is important to acknowledge the strides that have been made. Women have had to sit in comedy spaces, or watch sitcoms, or see comedy movies that only included women in the form of a sexy sidekick, or the butt of the joke. They have had to work twice as hard to overcome everything that they are saddled with by other people simply for being a woman. They’ve had to prove themselves, overcome stereotypes, be accused of being too dirty, or too prudish, or talking about ‘women’s issues’ too much. They’ve had to bypass writers’ rooms that consistently hire mostly men, and hit out independently and create their own spaces. And they are.
It is a wonderful feeling to be able to easily find female-produced comedy. It is brilliant to look around at all sorts of platforms where people are able to be funny, and to see that women are not only making us laugh as much as men, but the strides they have made are so great that (in my eyes) they are now overtaking them. Women should not be treated as though they are funnier, or untouchable, or unable to be critiqued simply because they are women. Funny women who are not white and straight and pretty and cisgendered are under-valued, as they are everywhere. Even so, although it is obviously ridiculous to label any one group a certain way, or to say that they ‘aren’t funny’ as a group, if any one type of person now has to go out there and prove that they are actually funny, it’s the straight white men that have been resting on their laurels for far too long.