On Women in Comedy – Inspired by the Golden Globes

Last night was the Golden Globes. Of course I watched, since my two role models, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, were hosting. The dynamic duo is also scheduled to host next year. It seems as if we’ve put the age-old question to rest: can women be funny?

Yes, yes, they can.

But, I’ve found that a new question has been proposed: Can men be funny?

More specifically, can straight, white men be funny? Because it seems like their days in the limelight is running its course, as we’re getting sick of their overdone humor.

Think about the recent straight, white men to host award shows: Seth Macfarlane, Ricky Gervais, James Franco. They were all met with harsh criticisms.

James Franco was a unique case, but with Macfarlane and Gervais, they were overall too offensive for the audience. Somewhere along the lines, heterosexual, white male humor has turned into a game of “who can offend the most people?”

You’ll hear them saying things like, “It’s not humor if you’re not pissing someone off.” And though I agree with the sentiment of “you can’t win them all,” I don’t think humor needs to solely come from offending people or pissing them off.

As Tina Fey and Amy Poehler showed us last night, you can poke fun at people, still be funny, and not be overtly sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-religious, or any sort of offensiveness. Their humor comes from more harmless forms of teasing, like calling Tom Hanks

The Queens of Comedy and my personal role models.

The Queens of Comedy and my personal role models.

, “Tam Honks” throughout the night.

As a culture, we’re getting tired of the typical offensive humor. Funny as it may be, it’s easy, there’s typically not much intelligence behind it, and it’s overdone. What’s more impressive is humor that is smart, without tearing people down.

Comedy used to be more observational, and less obnoxious. It used to point out the absurdities of people and our culture without degrading them. Somewhere along the lines, we strayed from that. It became easy to degrade people for how they act, instead of merely pointing it out and exposing the absurdity. With the influx of women in comedy, I believe we’re going to get back to the more observational humor, the humor that isn’t intent on pissing off anyone we can.

So, can heterosexual, white men be funny? Yes, I suppose they can. But, right now, it seems like they’re not being very funny. Maybe when they stop being afraid of loosing their elevated seat in society, they’ll jump onboard the social change train and we can all have a good laugh. Maybe even at their expense. Now, that’d be a crazy world.

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12 thoughts on “On Women in Comedy – Inspired by the Golden Globes

  1. Agreed! I think this shows that society is becoming more conscious of prejudice, racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. I hope that this continues to be done in a way that doesn’t drive people to tiptoe around these issues, as I personally have some qualms with political correctness. For example, in the office where I work, we aren’t allowed to have call our annual winter holiday celebration a “holiday celebration.” This comment is definitely digressing from your post, which I thoroughly agree with and enjoy, but my question to you is whether or not our culture of political correctness is flawed. I think it’d be better to acknowledge and celebrate diversity by putting cultural beliefs and practices in the arena for discussion. For example, at elementary schools, I feel that instead of removing any traces of holidays like Christmas, students should be educated on various holiday practices celebrated by different cultures, creeds, and religions.

  2. Also, a heterosexual white male that I think is very funny is Louis C.K., but it fits with the point that you’re making here because he is funny in a self-depricative way. Maybe this is a reflection of where this demographic’s position in society is heading…

    • Yes! I was thinking of Louis C.K. while writing this. He isn’t obnoxious at all and he definitely utilizes the more observational humor. I’d also like to clarify, I find a lot of the typical white, male humor funny, it’d just getting old and getting pushed out I think. And yes, I think we should be conscious of all our diversity and definitely celebrate it. I even think it’s good to poke fun at it or ask questions if you disagree. I just think the abrasive, offensive language has to stop. I think it’s especially important regarding sex, race, and sexual orientation. These are core aspects of a person’s identity. They cannot be changed (not that I’m suggested anyone would want to change these aspects about themselves). Degrading these aspects of a person is grasping at strays. It’s not intelligent and it’s typically only putting people down for no real reason. Unless, of course, the humor that points out these things is intended to break down and challenge the stereotypes we have.

    • I also think religion is something totally different. It may cause some problems to make fun of certain religions and it can be offensive, but it’s different than tearing down a person for who they are. Sometimes joking about a religion is just pointing out the ridiculousness of certain rituals.

  3. I one hundred percent agree. I think it’s distasteful, and that it definitely is taking an easy, cheap route to make an audience laugh. I think poking fun and asking questions is something that we should be more comfortable with about things like religion and culture. It worries me that this attitude has no place in a society that is overly politically correct and thus widens the gap between people by discouraging open dialogue.

  4. Great topic, Britt, but I worry about limiting the discussion to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ricky Gervais and Seth Macfarlane (I leave out James Franco as he is not a trained comedian).

    While I applaud the forward movement of women comedians…anyone can be and should be allowed to be humourous…and personally decry the rising volume of scatological and mean-spirited humour, I think it largely comes down to finding comedians you like.

    For every Tina Fey, there is a Lisa Lampinelli. For every Amy Poehler, there is an Amy Schumer. Proving the women can be just as crude as the men (I’m trying to avoid the phrase “offensive” because that is about taste).

    Every generation has its extremes. Andrew Dice Clay was a contemporary of Billy Crystal. Bill Cosby was a contemporary of Richard Pryor. Lucille Ball was a contemporary of Rusty Warren. (No “tasteful” judgments implied.)

    As for changing tastes, I have no idea who decides what makes it to air or on screen and by what metrics they make those decisions. There still seems to be an appetite from mean-spirited, nasty humour, albeit the format may have transformed into so-called reality television.

    Glad you raised the topic…I look forward to reading the comments as they come! Randy

    • Yes! I totally agree. I just limited the conversation to them, since the Golden Globes were last night. I noticed the trend as I analyzed past award show hosts and saw that the white men seemed to be the offensive ones. Sure, there are so many varieties of crude humor. One of my favorite female comedians, Sarah Silverman, tends to be pretty crude. But, I’ve found there to be a specific subcategory of contemporary white men who put down other people to sort of maintain their place at the top of the society food chain. It’s like that typical boyish, immature, obnoxious humor. By no means does that encapsulate all men (I was perhaps making too sweeping a judgement in this article) like Lily commented, Louis C.K. is very classy and does smart, observational humor. I just think that one kind of humor, popularized by some white men, like Seth Macfarlane, is running its course. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I think a point you should note is that offensive humor, when it reaches a certain point can be deemed offensive beyond someone’s individual taste. I also think that it matters most if the demographic that the offensive humor is directed towards has a right to be indignant about it, and that this response should perhaps carry more weight than the heterosexual white males that are throwing it around. It’s unfair to do or say something be premising it with the fact that people must agree not to be offended. Oftentimes taking offense to things come from identifying to closely with one’s ego, but there are times where I think most people can rightfully be offended when some aspect of their identities is being degraded. I think something to be said for some of the comedians that you mentioned, Billy Cosby for example, uses their crudeness in an intelligent way– to make a point or to shed light on a certain topic that otherwise may be taboo. I think that is the distinction between the characters you’ve mentioned and the offensive slurs spewed by comedians like Seth Macfarlene (unless perhaps there is some kind of message hidden here that I am missing.) I do think a lot of these comedians portray personas, and to do so, they must be aware of themselves and the messages they are sending. Therefore, I do think that they should have a justification for using slurs and being offensive– and to clarify, I think there are times when doing so can be clever and socially conscious.

  6. I wonder how much of that overdone, offensive humor is because they think it’s what audiences want? I went with a group of friends to see a live stand-up act of a comedian I loved on TV and early in his routine he dropped some really witty, nuanced jokes that hit on socio-political issues that most of the audience missed. So, he switched to foul-mouthed, completely crass, and offensive jokes for the rest of the night. It was horrible and I was highly disappointed, but the majority of the crowd roared with laughter.

    • Yeah, I think that’s true. And I think for a while, it was what people liked. But, people, or at least critiques, are getting over it from what I see. You can only watch so much of that stuff before it gets to be too much. I hope comedians start realizing that and classing it up a bit.

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