Women being considered unfunny simply because they are women is an infuriating topic. Christopher Hitchen’s infamous 2007 Vanity Fair piece titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny” demonstrates this frustration. In the piece, Hitchens asserts that women are biologically unfunny and therefore will never be as funny as men.
Unfortunately, what Hitchens said in 2007 was not news then. Women have been told that they are not funny since 1695, when playwright William Congreve penned, “I must confess, I have never made any observation that I apprehended to be true humor in women.” It was all downhill from there.
In 1998, comedian Jerry Lewis told a crowd at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, “I don’t like any female comedians … a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world.”
The attitude that women telling jokes is strange is extremely backwards. Women are funny, sometimes even funnier than men.
Recently, women have become the forces to reckon with in the world of comedy. Female stand-up comics such as Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Chelsea Peretti have taken the stand-up comedy scene by storm. Women like Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig have become big-name comic movie stars. A good deal of television also consists of female-centric sitcoms, with shows like Comedy Central’s Broad City, HBO’s Girls, NBC’s Parks and Recreation, Fox’s The Mindy Project and IFC’s Garfunkel and Oates.
Yet, despite all this, our society still possesses a antiquated mentality toward female comedians. A few days after Joan Rivers’ death, I heard a sickening comment about her legacy — “Well, yeah, she was funny … for a woman.”
This ridiculous stigma surrounding female comics taints every joke they tell. Some people say their humor is whiny and unrelatable to the general population because they often reference issues that specifically affect women, like menstruation. Female comedy is about more than menstruation and other feminine issues. In addition, misguided judgments are often cast about the female comic’s appearance. In his Vanity Fair piece, Hitchens took that stigma to even greater heights by writing, “Most of them though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three.”
Despite Hitchens’ description of the stereotypical female comic, most female comedians do not possess these attributes and — even if they did — their appearance should not determine whether their jokes are funny.
The aforementioned women have proven themselves to be brilliant comedians. The public should view their success as a testament to the fact a humorous woman can be just as deserving of laughs as a humorous man — sometimes more.
Reducing a woman’s comedic skills as being “funny for a woman” is tastelessly archaic. In the future, we must challenge notions that women do not have the capacity for humor. They do and it is time for due credit to be given. The prime reason these prejudices prevail is because we continually allow them to go unopposed.
Email Lena Rawley at [email protected].