I have long wondered about the dearth of women in Comedy. Though there are many women comedians and more women in comedy shows than ever before, historically, comedy was a man’s job. In sketch comedy, women are still exceptions to the rule of male players. It is as if the female is a part. Even in supposedly woke environs, The Muppets, cartoon worlds, there is the smart guy, the dumb guy, the crazy guy, the macho guy, and the woman. Stasis is male; woman is a variation on that theme. There are maybe fifty different kinds of Smurf. Brainy, Jokey, Papa, Handy, Vanity, and Smurfette.

Monty Python, The Kids In The Hall, The Young Ones, SNL, SCTV. The number of women in their casts ranges from non-existent to now and then. Women have made significant inroads in comedy, commanding large salaries and taking lead roles in blockbuster films. But these examples are nowhere near the panoply of options their male counterparts find.

Why has it taken so long? It is too long since acting and performing were associated with prostitution, so it isn’t to maintain female chastity that finds more men than women tripping over the boards. A possible holdover from Elizabethan days, where all parts were played by men, young boys sitting in for the more winsome female roles? Not likely.

It is said, what women fear most is being killed by men and what men fear most is being laughed at by women. Men don’t want to be laughed at. Who does? In comedy, one is holding up a vision of humanity to ridicule and comment upon. It is a way of saying, “Look at this, isn’t it absurd?” All laugh.

Historically, women in comedy are the subject, if not the object. Are women funny? Women are hilarious. Women are stupid, vain, blundering, childish, pathetic, and society’s chosen receptacle for head-patting with snickers, and eye-rolling with derisive guffaws. Men too are the subject of comedy, but comedians are careful with their slings and arrows aimed at them.

Male objects of humor are not usually man general, they are caricatures of a particular man. There is the dolt, the buffoon, the rake, the beefy athlete, the effeminate questionable, the puffed-up braggart, the artiste’, the hapless everyman. It is hard to imagine a woman in these parts. It would be the character of A woman who is also A_______. Likewise, women are juicy comedic fodder when they’re seen as being too masculine, loud, brash, particularly when paired with a large, ungainly body.

A woman telling a joke commands attention. Women are not supposed to seek attention in anything but physical attractiveness and selfless nursing or motherhood. I think a woman comic strikes an uneasy chord in people, not unlike that of the woman musician or artist. In showing self-possession and agency, she is the actor, not the acted upon, the painter, not the model.

An undercurrent in Western Society is that we aren’t entirely comfortable with women holding positions of power. Women outside the traditional female spheres of servitude and nonentity make many people uncomfortable. As a result, women with superior skills are encouraged to keep these gifts to themselves or downplay them when in mixed company. How often are men chided for pride in performance?

“You’re funny; you should be a comedian.” The first time someone said that to me, I was in grade school. I have been funny for a long time. I was the kid who could make other kids spit milk out their noses. Today, I still use comedy to make others laugh and ease my way socially. I have a deep understanding of humor as a crutch, buffer, leveler, opener, and shield.

From the examples I’ve seen, many comics are miserable, unhappy people. Addiction, alcoholism, and domestic violence are common themes. Comedy is a sharp undertaking in a highly competitive world. A world in which I’ve never so much as dipped a toe. If the unhappy, egotistical male comic is the standard-bearer, what of the audience?

Men, it seems, are OK with being laughed at, so long as they are the tellers of the jokes. Whether in self-depreciation or object lessons of types, make no mistake, the comic is master of ceremonies, lion tamer, and king of all whom he surveys. Is it any wonder we are a little, or a lot, less comfortable with a woman filling that position?

Tradition demands that women be objects. Objects don’t hold tools, have opinions, or set boundaries. They just are things men do things on, to, or in comedy, at. I think audiences hold back with women in funnyman pants. To some, the very idea of a woman being funny is funny. Then they have to worry she’ll say something upsetting. She’s already breaking the rules by standing on stage alone and expecting us to listen to her ideas. Hell, she might be about to render happily tended sensibilities or the current social order ridiculous!

When you do well on stage, you are said to have “slain the audience.” Women are not supposed to be killers. I think male resistance to female humor is personal, and the personal is, as they say, political.

When Jerry Lewis suggests women lower themselves in trying to be funny. He is not only trying to protect his view of gilded delicacy in women but expressing, I think, the fear that something is being taken from him. There is only so much laughter to go around in this world, and Mr. Lewis means to have his full share. When John Belushi maintains women are not funny, he is displaying his own insecurity, not dispassionate criticism. If everything is a contest to a man, being the funniest person in the room is all the more complicated when everyone is a potential rival.

I grew up watching the greats. I have entire skits from Monty Python committed to memory. “Fear, Fear and Surprise.” Classic Saturday Night Live. “Doggie barkin’ do he bite? Kill my lanlord, kill my landlord. C I L L, my lan-lord.” I can quote chapter and verse the standards, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Robin Williams, etc. There are also many funny women playing on my head-track. Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Bette Midler, Tina Fey, Roseanne, Leslie Jones and so on.

I wonder if some of the resistance to women in comedy is the animalistic, earthy quality one finds in low comedy. If women are less common in erudite wit-skits, they are next to invisible in Fart Joke World. Raunchy comedies occasionally feature women alongside crude noises and befouled settings. The punchline? Good-looking girls’ poop? Who knew?

This particular ceiling has cracked; entire slabs of bloody fingernail-etched glass have fallen to the floor. Today women comedians dress up as male political figures, ridiculing them with impunity (US). Successful television sitcoms are built around gifted female comics. Granted, we laugh at them as much as with them.

Unfortunately, we can only go so far. Most comedy writers are middle-aged, heterosexual, white men. I believe there is more room in Funnyland than produces suppose. More, not less scope will bring employment and laughter.

I believe the changing role of women in Western society has allowed this to happen. I say Western because I cannot imagine there is a plethora of women comics in fundamentalist nations. Strongly conservative settings in America are also less likely to embrace women telling jokes.

Seriously, how often is the stand-up stage peopled with women in habit, hajib, or homespun? The closer a society leans towards the view of Woman as the source of all Shame and Evil in the world, the less likely men and women are to listen to some broad speaking her mind. As for an exhibition of armpit-farting, that’s probably a stoning offense.



Opinionated, semi-educated, have a passport with nothing in it.

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