Posted at 5:05 PM Apr 12, 2010
By Andrea Grimes
This Feministe writer is not at all pleased with Fey's return to SNL last Saturday, arguing that her sketches (Brownie Husband, and a slut-shaming rather than husband-blaming Women's News segment) were not super lady-friendly, at least, not lady-friendly to the single ladies much of Fey's work portrays:
It seems kind of weird, actually, that someone with so many thoughts on All the Single Ladies ("If you were likable, he would have put a ring on it" -- Tina Fey's Feminism) hasn't apparently been single since the Clinton administration. But, then again, it's really not. The women Tina Fey defends tend to have something in common with her. The women she makes fun of tend to have obvious differences. Which is the whole point: Feminism is for women, but Tina Fey's Feminism seems like it's for... Tina Fey.And while this profile of Chelsea Handler in the New York Times stops just short of physically reaching out from the page and kissing her ass with paper-lips, while this profile of Sarah Silverman in New York is not what you would call particularly challenging to a very challenging comic, Anna at Jezebel is deeply skeptical of both women's abilities:
In fact, what Handler and Silverman reveal is that while being conventionally attractive and telling racist jokes has become an accepted niche for the female comic, it's not a terribly versatile one. It requires relative youth, for instance -- Barnes devotes some upsetting ink to the fact that some of Handler's fans apparently think she looks older than 35, and that she needs better lighting in her TV studio. And it relies on humor that shows its age far more than either Handler or Silverman do. Silverman tells Leitch that she's developing new material, and she comes off as smart and thoughtful enough that she might be able to break out of the cute-girl-with-a-dirty-mouth box. Let's hope she does, because I'm sick of jokes like Silverman's "I don't care if you think I'm a racist. I just want you to think I'm thin." I just want to think she's funny.Here's the problem: is it better to deeply criticize the few female comics who have made it to the top in hopes of grooming a more original, feminist generation of comics, or is it better to just be glad they're there, so that girls will see them as role models and change the business on their own?
I wonder if part of the problem comes from our sample. Handler and Silverman are extremely schticky comedians who have carefully cultivated particular characters who are deeply bitchy and unlikeable. Fey, for her part, is a sketch comic, writer and actress who portrays other people, both real and imagined. It's interesting that they happen to be probably the most famous female comics working right now. (Ellen Degeneres and Wanda Sykes being two others that come to mind--interestingly, they garner less buzz and are both lesbians. Though Ellen's always been a very clean comic, and Sykes seems to be doing something more along the lines of "keeping it real" and being bitchy than being a bitchy caricature of a woman.)
I will be the first to admit that I don't find Silverman and Handler very funny, mainly because I don't connect with them on a personal level and generally prefer honest, individual-driven comedy about real life experiences, rather than awkward-for-the-sake-of-awkward or edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy comedy. I think Silverman and Handler are pretty bad examples generally for female comedians in terms of material, though certainly their professional prowess is something to look up to. Fey, I don't know, and I guess I don't really care. She doesn't write herself, she writes other people, and I kind of can't be bothered to wonder about her. Women in sketch and improv tend to have an easier time of it than stand-ups, and there are a whole lot more of them in those scenes, so I expect we'll be seeing some good alterna-Feys coming up shortly. (Amy Poehler, in my opinion, is a more thoughtful writer.)
There's room for criticism of the kind of work Silverman and Handler do, particularly because many, many female comics, especially brand new ones, emulate their styles. Check out any well-populated open mike, and you'll see many, many different varations on the Adorable Racist trope. That's unfortunate. However, I think the Adorable Racist thing is getting old (rather, has been getting old for a long time) and will probably go out of style just like Seinfeld-esque observational humor did. I hope it will, anyway, because it's boring. The best way to succeed in comedy is to be original (see Bamford, Maria) and I'm pretty sure Adorable Racism is the opposite of original, and most consumers of comedy recognize that.
To that end, I'm more interested in profiling and promoting good, original female comedians than talking endlessly about Fey, Silverman and Handler and what is wrong with what they're doing. I don't want to argue for some kind of "good news only" female comic coverage, but it simply seems more productive if what we want to do is increase the popularity and population of good female comics. As it is now, women wanting to get into comedy may be daunted by the hyper-criticism of female comics--and that's just what it is. Female comics' appearance, material and sexuality are open to far more scrutiny than that of male comics. This is pretty common, actually, in many fields where women are the "other"--corporate women, lawyer women, etc.--and are constantly being analyzed and scrutinized by the media and their peers about what they should be doing. (Moreover, even women who aren't the "other" are subject to serious criticism--there's plenty of vitriol aimed at bad mothers, while fatherhood generally is celebrated when it is unusually good, rather than denigrated when it is unusually bad, because dudes hate kids, amiright?)
So, I'm saying: let's start talking about some badass female and feminist comics we love, because I'm tired of talking about Sarah Silverman.