Women Aren’t Funny?

            In today’s popular culture, comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have become common staples among award shows, television and film. These women are screenwriters, actresses and have written their own autobiographies. Despite advances for women in the field of comedy, there continues to be a lot of pushback from larger popular culture.

            These few sentences are one’s that I don’t write lightly. I LOVE TO LAUGH. I am a big fan of comedy both on film and stand-up. As I look back on my last few years of my doctoral program, I remember all the trials along the journey, of course I do. However, I mostly remember the laughter. The nights I spent with friends laughing about our days, watching films, TV (Parks and Recreation) and of course, stand-up comedy. Currently, I am writing my very last paper for my degree (I can’t believe it!). The prompt was to write about anything to do with women. Instead of writing on my typical research interests, I decided to branch out and write something new, different, and exciting. I chose to write about the work of female comedians, thinking I would be able to read the autobiographies I have wanted to read for some time but never got the chance. In this process, I have learned so much about myself, but also about the comedians who I have admired for so many years.

            In 2008, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Vanity Fair claiming “Women Aren’t Funny.” To him, there was no denying that women are far less funny than men. In fact, he speaks further to say that “Women do not need to be funny, for men not being funny removes them from the evolutionary contest to get laid…with women there is no need to find you attractive in that way, we already find you attractive, thanks” (Hitchens, 2008). 

            How can this be? I have grown up watching funny women, how can this man not see it? How can he not see what I see? I think the answer here is difficult and it is a fact that faces all, if not most women. Why am I seen differently because of my gender? Why am I not expected to be funny or smart or capable?

            Prior to working on this project, I made the assumption that female comedians had it all. However, as I delved deeper into the research I realized that females in comedy are facing the same backlash that other women in the U.S. are facing. Why did I think this was any different? The answer, these women were openly laughing and joking about their experiences with marginalization. I mistook their laughter and jokes as happiness; I didn’t understand their laughter as pain. I am around funny women all day long. In addition, although I have talked about my experiences, I have not spoken out in big arenas or venues for hundred’s to see. This is why I have grown to admire female comedians. Their ability to discuss the difficult topics and to put themselves “out there” is moving. In feminist theory, we discuss the person as political. I believe the role of the female comedian has evolved into becoming an outlet for humorous political and cultural oppression. Something that society can digest and understand. It is a venue for people to feel comfortable, while still gaining knowledge. It goes past the comedy.

The truth is, women are funny. Women are hilarious.

- Written by Emily L. Barnum, M.A.


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