In the Blog

Women in Comedy

January 11th, 2007     by Zoe Cormier     Comments

I’ve been mulling over how to write this post for days, and I just can’t find a way to express my feelings with any eloquence. I’m just that irritated. OK, not irritated. Pissed off.

I have been meaning for months and months to think of a way to write a piece about women in comedy. It has always really bothered me that people laugh more easily at the things that men say than the things that women say. And men have a much easier time making women laugh than vice versa.

This angers me so much, in such a deep place, and I find it so hard to explain why.

Laughing at something somebody says seems to me to imply a kind of equality - like you and the comedian are in on something together. The fact that men don’t laugh easily at the things women say seriously upsets me - and I actually find it disturbing when apparently modern and enlightened men don’t laugh at a woman’s jokes.

Have you ever noticed that female comedians tend to take one of three personas? The Ditz (e.g. Rita Rudner), The Crone (Phyllis Diller), or The Slut (Sandra Bernhard) - each has some character flaw that allows us to look down on them (stupidity, ugliness, or promiscuity). Even somebody as seemingly ball-busting as Sarah Silverman has a bit of a ditzy veneer. Its clearly ironic, we know she’s actually very clever (that’s why we’re laughing, right?), but its like we’re supposed to find it easier to laugh at the things she says if she pretends to be a bit spacey. As if its funnier if it seems like she doesn’t get her own jokes.

Now, don’t get me wrong - all these women make me laugh my ass off, and usually so much more because of the part they play. And there are obviously other personas for women to have. (Although I might argue that each is tinged with one of these personas: Ellen Degeneres? Bit ditzy. Rosie O’Donnell? Bit crony.)

But why is it so much harder for a woman to just do it straight? Why is the loudmouth, “I tell it like it is, this is me whether you like it or not” role - a la Chris Rock or Dennis Leary - so much harder for a woman?

Well, before I could think of a really clever way to voice my thoughts, a thoroughly disgusting piece found its way into Vanity Fair.

Now, I am told by my older and wiser friends that Hitchens is an asshole and an anti-semite. I’m certain about the former, but I’m having trouble finding evidence of the latter - although notice his comments about Jewish women in the tenth paragraph… what an asshole.

Argh. I am literally choking on my own rage here. See? I can’t even find the words to describe what an asshole this guy is, let alone refute his argument point by point. I’m too pissed off.

To put it succinctly: women are not less funny then men. Men don’t laugh at what we say sometimes because of the way they view women - i.e. as care-givers. And because women are then socialized to view themselves as peace-makers and nurturers - not mischief-makers or attention-grabbers (or, only to grab attention with their sexuality) - they don’t feel compelled to be funny.

There are plenty of kick-ass female comics out there, and there will be more if and when attitudes change. One absoultely awesome one I must point you all towards is Wanda Sykes. She tells it like it is (and, as chance would have it, used to be a writer for Chris Rock before she had the confidence to go out on her own). I haven’t been able to find any transcripts of her stand-up, alas, but I did find this fitting quote:

“A woman would pitch a joke. Nothing. Then a guy would pitch it and everybody would laugh.”


On that note, now I must give an official “WOOOOO!” for Rebecca Addelman, a new face on Toronto’s stand-up comedy circuit (and my former fellow editor at The Varsity), who just got herself into the Cream of Comedy festival. Here’s a piece in The Toronto Star on her, on women in comedy in general, and which also makes mention of Hitchens’ diatribe.

D’awww… It seems like just yesterday she was ducking out of production early to go to her improv class at Yuk Yuks.

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