Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A couple expecting their first child walk into a doctor’s office and ask, “Doc, can you tell us the sex of our baby? We think laughter is the best medicine so we need to know if our child will be funny.”
You never heard that one? No, I guess you wouldn’t have. Most of us don’t believe that sex determines if someone is funny or not. Now sex , that can be funny, but that’s a topic for another time. I’m talking about sex as in gender.
For decades and maybe longer, the word on the street has been that women are not as funny as men. I read articles that said way back in the day that was the opinion because it was not lady like to say the crude things that men would say to get laughs. And in more recent years, names in show biz like Jerry Lewis, Eddie Brill and Adam Carolla have been associated with comments implying that women are not as funny as men.
During a recent interview at Montreal’s “Just for Laughs” festival, comedian Bill Burr said, “We’re all eating a giant sh-t sandwich out here… It makes no difference if you have a d—k or a tw-t, just do what the f—k you want and hopefully people will respond to it.” (After the interview he went back stage where he did indeed kiss his mother with that mouth.)
So in other words, Burr is saying that things are tough for stand-up comedians overall. It’s not an easy profession. Yes, I said it. I called it a profession and not a hobby, even though we are usually underpaid and undervalued and often work for the payment of being able to work, which is known as stage time. Stage time is the opportunity to get up and share our talent in front of an audience of people other than our parents, siblings and cats, who can also judge us to let us know if we are funny and worthy of their approval. Burr went on to say something to the effect of, women should stop whining and blaming people and just get out there and do their thing. I agree that action is part of the answer. No performer – male or female- should sit back and wait for an opportunity to be handed to them. We have to hustle.
I believe that’s the same point that comedian/actor/author Amy Sedaris illustrated when I asked her at a recent appearance in Scranton about this notion of women not being funny. She answered my question nonchalantly with her own question: “Oh, is that still a thing?” I believe she hasn’t noticed this gender issue because she’s been too busy working at making people laugh.
While I was slightly disappointed by Sedaris’ response - because I kind of wanted her to be the female Rambo of comedy giving me an answer wrought with anger and determination to show those punks who was funny after all- I realized after it sunk in, that I was actually encouraged. She swatted away the notion that people think women aren’t funny as if it was a fly. It was inspiring to hear that she hadn’t felt she had been treated differently because she was a woman. Sedaris seemed completely satisfied with her career that has featured her amazing talent and creativity, wacky sense of humor and humility, to entertain people.
Burr is right. Whining will solve nothing. Women need to ignore the comments and comparisons to male comics and just do our thing. I proudly say that I book my own comedy events at wineries and other unique venues and I work on my own terms. I believe I can do this because I’m not looking to have an HBO special or headline in Vegas so I don’t feel any pressure to be in the comedy circuit in New York City or other big cities in front of bookers and agents.
But I still work myself into a lather when I hear pipsqueaks, who are barely mildly funny, make comments about women in comedy. I’ve had one such nuisance say to me that I was funny “for a female comic.” Did I mention that most people who have endured his act agree that he’s not funny? I do give him credit for working hard though.
I guess it boils down to my ego, pride and the fact that I care what people think of me. I am not yet enlightened enough or following the way of Zen to swat away said pipsqueaks and find comfort in the fact that their words merely reflect their fears, frustrations, and close-mindedness. I have the power to choose to laugh, and keep working on my own terms. Oh, and making people laugh, because I am funny, period.