Women in comedy succeed, break previous genre barriers
Published: Friday, March 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 2, 2012 07:03
Since leaving "Live," Rudolph in 2007 and Poehler in 2008, both women have become stars of separately successful sitcoms, "Up All Night" and "Parks and Recreation," respectively. As staples of NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup, Rudolph and Poehler join the ranks of fellow funny lady (and SNL veteran) Tina Fey in her role as Liz Lemon on "30 Rock." These three women, combined with the female powers of comedy coming out of a post-Steve Carell "The Office," have become household names as well as the characters they've created, both Rudolph's Ava Alexander and Poehler's Leslie Knope.
These women have become the frontrunners in the female comedian revolution of recent years. "Women being funny" is not news. Witty women are a literary custom featured from the likes of Shakespeare to Jane Austen. Since film began, females have been no stranger to the art. "Saturday Night Live," which is arguably America's premiere comedic institution, has consistently featured some of America's funniest women, notably Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Molly Shannon and Kristen Wiig, just to name a few. Outside of SNL, women such as Lucille Ball, Catherine O'Hara, Carol Burnett and Andrea Martin have made huge strides in the world of comedy. However, some still argue and debate the place of women in comedy. While few contest women's ability to be funny, many dispute the "type" of humor appropriate for a female. In the past decade, women comedians have tended to fall into several categories. Many female comedians, like Sarah Silverman, find their humor in "shock" value. In utilizing brash language and bathroom humor, these comedians place their femininity at variance with a brazen absurdity typically reserved for men.
On the other side, female comedians like Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler embrace their womanly ways as part of the joke, often claiming sexual liberation in stories of alcohol binges, hookups and one-night stands. Both ends of the comedic spectrum have earned women criticism and praise. However, some women refuse to, or simply just cannot, fall into either of these categories.
In 2009, Amy Poehler declared, "It's a great time to be a woman in comedy" during an interview on Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio." Although it might have been merely easy for Poehler to declare this as her television show met rave reviews not long after the success of "Baby Mama," her film collaboration with Fey.
In Fey's book, "BossyPants," released in 2011, Fey addressed the challenges she faced as a woman breaking into the world of comedy. Fey discusses several setbacks she faced as a female comedian. When she began doing comedy in Chicago's improv scene, Fey often had to deal with people's preconceived notions that "women are not funny." Fey disposes of this theory claiming just because a person knows one woman who is not funny, that does not prove all women are not funny and it does not prove that women do not "do" comedy.
"It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don't like something, it is empirically not good. I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write articles trying to prove it doesn't exist," she said.
Mindy Kaling is a writer and executive producer for the U.S. version of "The Office" but is probably most well known for her role as the energetic "Kelly Kapoor" on the show. In her book, "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)," Kaling addresses the question of women in comedy simply and concisely, claiming it to be a "nonissue."
Women often have to prove themselves first as funny women, then as funny people, while men face an easier route. This can be seen on smaller scales than merely "Saturday Night Live." Mississippi State University's only improv comedy troupe, Lab Rats, has seen a distinct rise in the number of women auditioning for the troupe since its founding in 2004.
Lab Rats sketch director Christopher Roland, a senior communication major, said as a fan of comedy, he has always had respect for women in the field and believes women can be just as funny as men.