Monday, June 6, 2011

What's So Funny?

I recently read an article in The New Yorker about Anna Faris, the actress most famous for The House Bunny and the Scary Movie franchise. Faris is moving up in the movie hierarchy as a comic actress, but she’s coming up against a widely held Hollywood maxim: Women aren’t funny.

The author of the article gets several male comedy directors to agree on this idea, although none of them comes out and says so in so many words. But the most telling statement, in my opinion, came from Keenan Ivory Wayans. The problem with women, he suggested, is that they have too much vanity to be funny. They’re not willing to debase themselves for a laugh the way Will Ferrell is.

Consider the subtext here. If you want to be funny, you have to debase yourself. I think the fundamental problem here is the definition of “funny.” From what I can tell in movies from Judd Apatow and his buds, “funny” is defined as whatever it takes to make a twelve-year-old boy laugh. That means, mainly, bodily fluids: pee, poop, semen, and vomit. Oceans of vomit, in fact. The more vomit you can work into a movie, the funnier it is, at least by this definition.

I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say most women aren’t nearly as into bodily fluids as twelve-year-old boys. But the idea that this somehow makes women less funny than men is, to put it mildly, a limited definition of humor.

Anyone who thinks women aren’t capable of physical humor has never watched an episode of I Love Lucy. Moreover, although movies are dominated by the twelve-year-old boy principle, television is full of funny women: Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Courtney Cox, Busy Phillips, Patricia Heaton, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Martha Plimpton—and those are just some of the ones who are on current shows.

But according to the article, that’s because the target audience for television is female, while the target audience for movies is the coveted eighteen-to-thirty-year-old male. These guys, according to Hollywood wisdom, make the decisions about what movies get seen and they hate romantic comedies since they usually star unfunny women.

I don’t know what to do with this idea. It’s so clearly flawed you’d think people would notice. Yet every time a female-oriented comedy succeeds, there’s always an explanation. If It’s Complicated makes money, it’s because there hadn’t been a movie about an older woman for a while. Julie and Julia? Part of the cooking craze. Something’s Got To Give? People came to see Jack Nicholson.

So what do we do? Here’s a suggestion. The next time your male SO suggests going to a movie that’s known for its projectile vomiting contest scene, say you’d rather not. The only way the studios are going to get the idea that women’s comedies are as legitimate as men’s is if we stop letting ourselves get dragged to these things. Oh, and try renting His Gal Friday. Rosalind Russell in her prime—now there was a funny woman.

So what’s your take on this? Are twelve-year-old boys funnier than adult women? Or, to take a less loaded question, do you like male-oriented comedies or do you tolerate them to keep the peace?


PG Forte said...

Anyone who thinks women aren't funny clearly hasn't spent much time with a certain group of romance writers; that's all I have to say on the subject. ;)

Ivelisse said...

lmao Pg you took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to say they must have not read this blog lmao. You ladies crack me up all the time. Recently say the movie Bridesmaids and it was hilarious!

Maureen said...

Gads, I avoid the bodily function movies like a plague! I enjoyed Bridesmaids, all but the bodily function scenes...

Give me smart dialogue over farting any day of the week!

Meg Benjamin said...

Reportedly, Jud Apatow himself added the bodily function scene to Bridesmaids because he wanted to make it "funnier."

Maureen said...

Meg, it didn't fit...just made me uncomfortable. Granted it was amusing to watch the lead stand there and deny she was feeling sick as sweat beaded down her face...sheer willpower that. But the rest was so overtop I just didn't look.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I want to see Bridesmaids!!

And yeah PG - I never laughed so much as did with all you Naughy Nine ladies in Los Angeles!!