Nearly five years ago, Christopher Hitchens wrote an infamous article in Vanity Fair suggesting that women aren’t funny. The piece enraged a lot of people (and included a notion that women can be successful at stand-up comedy as long as they’re "hefty or dykey or Jewish"), and put the female perspective in comedy at the forefront. Of course, there have been plenty hilarious and successful women in comedy, but it seems that in the few years following the Hitchens article the focus has been on proving how funny women can be. Today’s New York Times piece on foul-mouthed ladies continues that trend.
Focusing on a handful of comedians from Sarah Silverman (who shared with us her favorite sad songs just this morning) and Whitney Cummings, the piece breaks the lid right off the concept of women laughing at taboo topics such as rape, suggesting that such subject matter is rarely touched upon by male comedians. "That may be because a majority of male stand-ups are neurotics nursing anxieties, while their female counterparts are just as likely to resemble the brash Ms. Silverman," writes Jason Zinoman. "She was not the first to escape being pigeonholed as a self-deprecating ugly duckling, ingratiating flirt or asexual eccentric. Who knows how successful someone like Elayne Boosler, who had trouble getting booked on Tonight, would have been if she had been given the same opportunities as Jay Leno and David Letterman?"
Well, Elayne Boosler didn’t look like the so-called "ugly duckling" Silverman, which probably didn’t help her booking opportunities, but she also typically strayed from "taboo" subject matter. And while there are plenty of younger commedians who talk about dirty stuff (like the others mentioned in the article, or Jenny Slate, who has an affinity for potty humor), there have been plenty of women throughout the years who have embraced unmentionable topics for their routines (Sandra Bernhard, Roseanne, and Joan Rivers, to name a few).
But really, the major question is this: is this still surprising to anyone? Can’t most of us (well, at least the New York Times-reading us) name at least five female comedians who have cracked wise about abortion, incest, racism, or rape? On top of that, we just got done debating whether or not women could headline a successful comedy film, and Bridesmaids proved that over the summer. If we keep finding ourselves having to point out that women are worthy enough of entering the male-dominated comedy world, does that not perpetuate the concept that women are inferior at what is actually a universal practice: making others laugh?