A few thoughts on women in comedy

Posted November 26th, 2017
(Originally published Nov. 21, 2017 in REFINERY29)
Inside the DNA of the average joke is usually a story about an underdog seeking to level the playing field; someone trying to right a wrong by pointing out the holes in its logic, so everyone stops accepting it and starts making fun of it instead. When you think about it that way, comedy is a woman’s art, ripe territory for people who are 50.8% of the population and somehow still living with minority status.
Which brings us to the irony-laced dilemma that only the women pursuing careers in comedy face: Even though comedy is supposed to be the art form where the outcasts and underdogs go to expose the lies inside of unfairness, women have been regularly expected to overlook the poor treatment we receive, lest we be called humorless and viewed as bad sports. In other words, we’re the one group asked not to use our “minority” status as a way to rise comedically. This is why we’re regularly labeled as unfunny.
Comedy in all of its various mutations has been my home for the past 40 years. Luckily for me, my idea of home has always been a place where I expected to be treated rudely which is why I was not knocked that far off balance when I heard about Louis C.K., whose meteoric rise to success as someone with deep insights into the human condition now seems pretty suspect.
In 1978 when I first went rushing headlong toward the professional comedy lightbulb like a medicated moth, it never occurred to me that it was a male-dominated field, because I didn’t imagine that anyone smart thought laughter had a gender bias. I was aware that historically speaking most of my comedic heroes were men: Ernie Kovacs, W.C. Fields., The Marx Brothers, Monty Python. But also there was George Burns and Gracie Allen. Mae West and Lily Tomlin had their own empires. In the midst of all those guys at the Algonquin Round Table, there sat Dorothy Parker.
And things looked to me like they were really opening up for women in comedy because there was this brand new show called Saturday Night Live, which was introducing more contemporary parody and satire onto the mostly corny TV landscape. Not only were half of the cast members women, there were three female names on the writing staff! That meant a grand total of six women creatives, a big leap forward from the usual token one.
 (PHOTO: ME when I was starting out.)

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