I’ve been wanting to throw my two cents in on the whole “can women be funny?” debate for a long time now. It’s a question that sounds like it should have a painfully obvious answer, but the debate wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people out there who didn’t think that for some reason, women are incapable of being funny. The question crops up every time a movie, TV show or comedy special comes out featuring a comedic female lead. My only assumption is that some male viewers find themselves laughing for the first time in their lives at something other than a fart that’s been lit on fire, and the resulting identity crisis forces them to direct attention toward someone else through articles entitled, “I Saw a Woman on TV Today and Only Got to Half Mast – Am I Dying?”
As many have done before me (see this great HuffPo article on the subject, then close HuffPo and never venture a glance back), I am going to blame Hollywood for the notion that women can’t be funny. For as long as human memory can recall, woman in media have been sex symbols. We exist in the public consciousness for no reason other than to look pretty and stand around in floofy dresses. Never has it been so obvious that men run this godforsaken space rock than when you consider the roles females have been trapped in ever since movies were invented. The formula of “male protagonist meets girl, she’s got a pretty sweet rack” is so prominent that when a movie manages to break out of it, it’s labeled a genre film and doomed to art house screenings until its inevitable admission of defeat. Even when the protagonist is a woman, we’re still treated to numerous views of her rack throughout the story, as though men will storm out of the theatre in a murderous rage if they are forced to watch a woman actually accomplish things with her tits covered.
I would argue that oftentimes, women CAN’T be funny, because Hollywood won’t let them be. As long as female stars are confined to the “eye candy” box, they will be accused of comedic failure. The human brain does not equate sexy with funny. In any situation where we want to get a boner, we don’t want to also have to deal with laughter. We want to concentrate on our boner. So when we see a beautiful woman on the screen, we don’t want to have our senses of humor activated. We want to rub one out. And this is why women are relegated to the “straight man” role in every movie – so that dicks can stay hard. If we admit that a woman made us laugh, we have to admit that she may even be a person with thoughts and emotions, as Christopher Hitchens talks about in his Vanity Fair article, and then we cannot objectify her.
You’ll notice that women are only allowed to be funny if they are not sexualized. I’m not talking about whether or not they’re “sexy” as Hollywood would have us define it (see Tina Fey’s description of mainstream beauty). Take, for instance, the recent comedy Identity Thief, starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, two talented actors. McCarthy is pretty much hilarious in this movie, and not at all a sexual being. They put her in the most unflattering clothing possible, complete with blue eyeshadow, and her sex scene isn’t so much erotic as it is chaotic. Not until the end does she appear looking attractive, and then all the humor is sucked from the scene, in which her character recalls a childhood of neglect and abuse. As soon as “sexy” is brought into the mix, the good times have to stop rolling.
There are many other examples of this phenomenon. Who saw Bridesmaids? Now that the world has collectively raised its hand, I guarantee the first scene that popped into your head was the diarrhea scene. Maya Rudolph is arguably a very attractive young woman, who is wearing a gorgeous dress in the scene. She looks pretty, but she’s not being sexualized because – as you may have gathered through your remarkable powers of deduction – she is having explosive diarrhea in the middle of a busy road. That’s why it’s funny – we don’t want to bang her. As another example, take the 2008 comedy Baby Mama. (If you haven’t seen it, you really must. The Amy Poehler/Tina Fey duo can do no wrong.) Most of the comedy comes from somewhat immature physical humor, such as the scene where Amy Poehler’s character pees in the sink. The more recent Horrible Bosses also employs this principal in Jennifer Aniston’s hilariously over-the-top character, whose desexualization comes through in her personality more than her appearance. She looks hot as fuck in the movie (dark hair Jen FTW), but her character is a complete psycho bitch who actually drugs and rapes someone in the movie and takes photos to use as blackmail. Not at all hot. I think you guys get it; as long as women are not attractive for whatever reason, be it looks or just behavior, we allow ourselves to laugh at them.
Well, I have news for you, Hollywood, and it is thus: YOUR DICK IS NOT THE ISSUE HERE. If you want to jerk off looking at a woman, go download some porn. That is what it’s there for, after all. If you want to see witty, finely-developed, well-performed comedy, you are going to have to accept that women can be in it and not have to look sexy. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it, least of all the actresses. I don’t think any woman becomes an actress for the sole reason of getting to wear lots of expensive makeup. Women become actresses for the same reasons men do – to express themselves, to become someone else, to tell stories, to have fun. They don’t need to be all sex, all the time. If we can just accept that women are people, not expensive accessories for a man-powered story, then we can all enjoy some lady-based humor, and who doesn’t love that?
In conclusion, I would like to toss out a quick mention of the one recent film I felt came very close to breaking this sex/humor barrier: Pitch Perfect. Yes, the one about the all-female a cappella group. Certainly there was a lot of sexualization of women in the film; one girl’s entire personality is defined by her nymphomania, and Anna Kendrick’s cleavage probably should have gotten its own credit. But there is a scene in which Brittany Snow appears naked (though nothing is shown) in the shower and forces Kendrick’s character to sing to her. It’s a weird scene because it’s probably one of the funniest damn things that happens the entire movie, and yet… you kind of still want to bone Brittany Snow. Am I right, lesbians? And dudes who lurk on this site hoping to hear some crazy woman secrets? You know who you are.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen any of these movies… this was probably pretty weird for you. But if it’s not your normal M.O., go see some movies with female protagonists. You will learn a lot about modern media.