First Amazonian: This our comedy club. Humor here funny in different way.
Second Amazonian: It no reinforce stereotypes.
First Amazonian: It based on character and real situations, not random zaniness.
Bender: Translation: boring.
A few years ago, I got Bridesmaids from Netflix for my annual Oscarpalooza. Another friend had also been vaguely interested, so I took it to her place, and we started watching it. About fifteen minutes in, we decided to take a break and come back to it. About five minutes further, we turned it off completely and walked it to the mailbox to get it out of our homes.
All my life, I’ve been fighting against the idea that women aren’t funny. I’ve been told that I, personally, have no sense of humour, also that I suck all the fun out of things. In the first case, I wasn’t willing to laugh at cruelty at my own expense; in the second, I was taking someone else’s suffering seriously and was not willing to just say, “Woo, booze!” Most of the women I know have similar stories. Most women who are professionally funny do, too.
So I thought, you know, Bridesmaids. This is a movie that’s got a reputation for having legitimately funny women in it, so let’s give that a try. But what my friend and I found painful was that the humour, a lot of it, came from the also pervasive idea that women are more interested in tearing each other down than building each other up. This is a woman’s wedding, and her friends aren’t making it about her. They’d rather be sure that their importance is recognized than that their supposed best friend has a happy wedding.
The other issue was that it seemed to reinforce the idea that women can be funny as long as they are funny at their own expense. The scene that made us turn off the movie was the one where the entire bridal party gets food poisoning. Melissa McCarthy had been, for me, one of the best parts of Gilmore Girls, and here was this talented actress pooing in a sink. All of her zingers were vulgar, because that’s the way fat men are allowed to be funny. A fat woman can be funny only one other way, it seems, and that’s making reference to her own weight. A fat vulgar woman is doubly funny, because it lets us (for a studio definition of “us”) laugh in horror and sympathy with the men she hits on.
As you might guess, I don’t watch a lot of modern comedy. I don’t find a lot of it funny. I’m not fond of the man-child that’s so popular in modern comedy, and I certainly don’t find the character more entertaining when it’s played by a woman. However, I was raised on classic comedy, and while you had to do a certain amount of digging, that included great comediennes.
I don’t mean Lucille Ball. She was a great comedic actress, though I’ll admit to not being a particular fan of her work, but she wasn’t funny on her own merit. That’s probably true of a fair number of other people I think of when I think “funny women.” Was Myrna Loy in herself funny, or was it that great writing for Nora Charles? Rosalind Russell was a joy as Auntie Mame, but Mame doesn’t know she’s funny. Though of course I tend to think the funniest roles are ones where the character is unaware that they’re funny, so take that for what it’s worth.
I don’t think that men and women are inherently different when it comes to comedy; I’m sure there are adult women who find pooing in formal wear to be the height of humour, and I know several men who didn’t think it was any funnier than I did. I do think we’re socialized in different ways. I think probably part of the alleged humour of that scene comes from the removal of dignity that comes with the situation, but it didn’t work for me. It doubtless did for others, I’m sure.
Actually, my idea of preferred humour isn’t much about character and real situations or random zaniness. I’m a sucker for wordplay. That’s part of why I like the screwballs. Katharine Hepburn may have made her career as a dramatic actress, but when she’s trading barbs with Spencer Tracy, that’s when she really shines. Come to that, her role of Eleanor of Aquitaine is genuinely funny, too. She has to keep her sense of humour to deal with the men in her family.