Women and the Errors of Comedy
A while ago – in Nashville, Tennessee – I sat in a comedy club to see my friend and colleague Malinda May perform. It was her graduation night after having completed a comedy course. Our husbands, Malinda’s friends, family and other colleagues were all gathered to watch her first official outing. She was last on, so we watched all the other comedians – most of them male.
Without trying to be snarky, I can safely say that – in a nutshell – the night flatlined with only a few small blips on the radar, until Malinda came out. I’m not just saying that because I know her, as she did some fresh material I had never heard, was natural, original and didn’t have to try so hard. I’m sure she was sweating bullets before she came on – but she was clearly the best of the evening. Here’s why.
The routines presented by the previous comedians were largely pedestrian and obvious. I was always able to see the punchline – or – it had been done before, like they had modelled their bits on other famous comedians. It was like watching re-hashed routines – watered down and delivered with cringe-worthy, fake bravado. Having said that – let me say this: anyone trying to break into the world of comedy has my admiration – and sympathy. It’s a hard slog and takes intelligence, guts and perseverance.
I understood that they were fledglings – having just completed their course – and that they would (hopefully) continue on and hone their craft. What I will say is – it’s all well and good to appreciate the styles of other comedians, even if it means adopting skills such as delivery, material and timing – but I think the most important thing is to create your own style and just be yourself. That’s probably one of the main factors that brought you to the decision to take it to the next level and perform onstage: you’ve been told by family, friends and co-workers that you’re hilarious and should be a comedian.
Personality is just as important as your skills and material – but don’t let it dictate the routine or overshadow it. I know that sounds odd – but hear me out. Another fault is the reverse – letting your routine overshadow your personality. They should all be working together to shape your act – moving like cogs and wheels in a well-oiled machine. It might work for seasoned comedians who know how to use it to their advantage – but when you’re starting out, maybe it’s best to keep it all in check until comfortable.
One guy was bizarre, in the way he – all of a sudden – broke out into crazy dances. Those parts were my favorite, as I love impromptu nonsense and silliness – but there was something creepy about the rest of his routine. It’s hard to articulate – but I got the sense that he dwelled in his mother’s basement and might’ve been a snow-dropper! I know that sounds mean but I was truly creeped out by him.
The others were okay but the most I could offer was a single snigger – it was more of a “snig” – as I could see the punchlines a mile away. It was like they let their mediocre material do the work – like reciting poetry you don’t understand or have little faith in. Not that I’m an expert on comedy – but I believe that a comedian needs to own the material and then inject their personality into it (if they have one!) – rather than put it out there like an old newspaper and hope someone reads it.
I imagine that – for the most part – nerves were the main factor, but good material can get a laugh out of me, even if the delivery is lacklustre. I’m sure that they will continue to work on their acts and some may even break through. I certainly hope so – as I really felt for them. I admired them just for having the balls to get out there.
Now – the women. I hate being negative about women in any shape or form – seeing as I consider myself a feminist – blah blah blah. Also – being critical of female comedians should be a no-no, as we need more of them. I was, however, disappointed that they too were – by and large – pedestrian. I will say that I was able to give more than a “snig” – and I wondered if it was just that they were female and I was able to identify with them more.
The problem was – that they also seemed to be going along the same old lines, did some clichéd routines and were borrowing from the styles of more famous comedians, especially male. I could tell that they’d watched a lot of comedy – which is great – but their own personalities seemed to be hiding behind their material. I wondered if it was due to the fact that they were afraid to be “too female” in a male-dominated art form.
Then – Malinda came out – just being herself. She had an issue with the microphone and incorporated it into her act as seamlessly and naturally as a hot knife through butter. Then she launched into her bit – complete with singing (she has a great voice too) – and surprised the hell out of me. It’s a testament to her that she made me laugh hysterically – with material I had never seen or heard – seeing as I know her personally.
She performed a tight set and was hilarious with her self-deprecating humor and wonderful sense of the ridiculous. Later, I analyzed my reaction and wondered if I found her the funniest – by far – just because I know and love her immensely. I realized that no – she was definitely the best – simply because she was natural and injected her own unique style, personality and intelligence into her act. It did not seem like she was a fledgling comedian who had just completed a class. She was a pro and stood out from the others because she didn’t have to try too hard. She’s a natural.
When it comes to comedy, anyone can make me laugh if they have these attributes – whether male or female. However – I do find that some female comedians tend to fall back into the typical style dictated by the males. It’s like men have claimed the artform as their own – and women are only allowed (by invitation) – provided they are not better or do not deviate from their station.
For example: men can be crude and crass – swear like a motherfucker – and talk about whatever they want, no matter how contentious or taboo; but if you’re a woman – watch out! It’s probably society at large – not just the male comedians – who have an issue with women being crude. It’s perfectly fine for a man to find fault with women – particularly in terms of sex – but a woman who pokes fun at men and their foibles is labelled coarse, to say the least.
All of a sudden – rules apply. Statements such as “There’s no need to be so crude” and “You can be funny without swearing” or “Do you really have to talk about gross things like periods, childbirth and orgasms?” – are usually only directed at women. If a male comedian talks about masturbation or blowjobs – it’s hilarious. If a women talks about cunnilingus or farting – it’s disgusting.
The fact is – most women I know (and have known) – are downright disgusting when in a group of other women: and that’s the way I like it! That’s also why I love comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Whoopi Goldberg (in her day), Roseanne, Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler – to name a few. I also love Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy – the list goes on.
What’s great about these women – as well as many others – is that they are not afraid to be themselves, regardless of any sexist criticisms or putdowns by their male counterparts or the media. As far as I’m concerned – that’s what makes them great. I can’t stand when a comedian (male or female) is obviously toning down their act or opinions – based on what they might fear that society or the PC police will think.
We go to see comedians to hear the shit we are either too polite or afraid to say ourselves. That’s what makes them funny. They are our mouthpieces – verbalizing our secret thoughts, dreams and fears – dishing it out and taking the hits for us. Like how music expresses our desires and emotions – comedy affords us the opportunity to vent – even if it’s a third party doing it.
This is how our humanity is defined – by making fun of it. If we can’t laugh at ourselves – we’re doomed to repeat our past mistakes. When Sarah Silverman adopts a stage persona that is innocently and ignorantly racist – it reflects the inner workings of society’s mindset. Putting it out there makes us face the ugliness of it. To say that it should be kept silent is to avoid the issue – allowing it to fester. All races have their peccadillos. We are different – and the same at the same time. It’s the culture that is hilarious when held up to the scrutiny of the comedian – not necessarily the people within it. It’s not personal.
I remember hearing a statement about female comedians – saying that, “Women are not funny.” What was depressing was discovering that Jerry Lewis said it. He was my favorite funny person when I was growing up – so to hear this was a gut-punch, to say the least. I remember seeing “The King of Comedy” by Martin Scorsese – hilarious black comedy with Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard. She was a crazed fan who – along with Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) – kidnapped the Jerry Lewis character and did one of the funniest routines I have seen on screen. Talk about righteous! (Apparently Mr Lewis wanted the slapping scene to be more violent. Maybe he wanted to punish her for being funnier than him?)
When Bill Hicks (among many others) made fun of religion – it was funny because it was true. It was what most of us were thinking. Also, when he said that, “It’s not a war on drugs – it’s a war on personal freedom” – he was dead right. When Lenny Bruce poked fun at the establishment – he was crucified for it. The same thing happens to women who dare to be confident, loud and proud – especially when they’re not the perfect “10”.
We’ve passed the 2000 year mark. This is the future, and we’re still the small minded bigots and sexist assholes that we were fifty years ago. It’s time to put on our grown up pants and stride through the childish horseshit that prevents us from evolving. To the fledgling female comedians out there – please do not listen to the ignorant “pigs and fishes”. Be yourself and allow the stupid criticisms to roll off you like water off a duck’s back. In the scheme of things – when the dust clears – those idiots will crawl back under their rocks and you’ll still be standing on the stage, splitting our sides and hopefully making a living out of it.
I’m counting on it!
Dream Blogging – Kevin Spicey
Before I start – I’d like to advise that Mr Spacey is one of my favorite actors of all time – and this dream has absolutely nothing to do with the actor or his career. Males appear in a woman’s dream as an animus – either as a depiction of her relationship to them or as a masculine aspect of her own persona.
I had this dream this morning (my dreams usually happen in the morning!)
I was at some house that belonged to a crazy couple – who were both men and one was in drag. (Very bad drag, I might add.) They were standing next to each other and the “husband” had his arm around the “wife”. They were being silly and cracking jokes about couples – generally making fun of them by way of parody. Then one of them (I can’t remember who) went off to conduct his beauty regime – which consisted of a massive smear of cold cream across the face.
He kept saying how great the product was and that I had to tell Kevin Spacey – of all people. So I went to a very posh condo and went up the elevator to Mr Spacey’s room. He couldn’t come to the door, so he yelled out for me to wait. It didn’t take long for him to come to the door – completely naked – carrying a briefcase!
I gave him the message about the cold cream and he became wildly excited about it. He said “Let’s go!” and ran ahead of me, down a narrow, white staircase which lead directly to a large swimming pool (inside the building.) There was blue tiling everywhere and he jumped in – up to his knees – wading through to the other side. He continued raving about the cold cream as he made his way across the pool – waving the briefcase in the air as he went. He was ecstatic and shouting like a wild man.
I had made my way to the other side of the pool and was embarrassed seeing his “proverbials” flapping about – but he didn’t seem to care – as he was so joyous! Suddenly a man came out of nowhere and I yelled a warning to Mr Spacey. He immediately dove under water and pretended to be swimming. I was worried that the other man would see that he was naked.
THEMES: Fun, parody, couples, gender, promotion, being open and revealing, excitement, public persona, shame.
SYMBOLS: Cold cream, drag, nakedness, briefcase, pool, underwater, blue (tiles), luxury.
EMOTIONS: Humor, excitement, happiness, shame/embarrassment.
ARCHETYPES: Couples (husband and wife – parody), Man in drag, Famous public figure, naked man.
INTERPRETATION: I’m kind of at a loss to explain the parody of a couple – by two men, one in drag. A long time ago – I did believe that I would never get married and thought it was a load of horse-hockey! Now that I have a husband (we both waited until we were mature to marry – ha ha!) – I don’t see marriage as bogus and am very happy for that. The couple could be representing ‘partnership’ or it could simply be my subconscious reminding me how I used to think the idea was stupid.
The man smearing the cold cream across his face was still being silly when he did it – but he was sincere when he said that it was the best cold cream. It looked like someone had smacked him across the face with a thick wad (pardon the pun!) of white paint. White is a common color for me at the moment – even though white is technically not a color – but the absence of color. It symbolizes purity, or maybe a blank canvas – or even being ‘white-washed’. I would say that as it was across the face – it indicates the facade I’m putting out there in public. Maybe it’s my inner-self telling me that everything’s going to be okay with what I’m doing, having said – over and over – that it was great and that I had to tell someone (Mr Spacey) about it.
Mr Spacey represents the public – and how I’m trying to get people excited about my books and numerology business. (Which is funny – as a long time ago – I sent him a Numerological profile – when I had first started out and was so naive!) Being naked symbolizes baring your all in public – and the fact that he didn’t care, maybe showed how I should be. He was carrying a briefcase – which represents business – a receptacle holding your ‘work’. The fact that he was flailing it about wildly probably denotes how I feel sometimes, when it comes to marketing and promotion.
When the other man came along – it seemed like the ‘cop’ inside me – coming to see what was going on. When I turned and told Mr Spacey (therefore, my masculine self) about the other man, he dove underwater and pretended he was swimming. This has a lot to do with how I downplay what I’m doing with my book etc – when talking to others. I am a typical Aussie when it comes to downgrading my ego and making fun of myself. Maybe the dream was trying to show me how I make fun of myself – therefore belittling myself and what I’m trying to do in life.
The fact that he was first treading the water – and then underneath – also shows how usually I’m fine and above being emotional or too ‘precious’ about myself – until someone else is looking. Then I pretend that I’m just like everybody else, nothing special etc.
SUMMARY: I have to swallow the bitter pill of being too precious about myself and my ‘wares’. I have to stop playing down all my achievements and back it all up with a healthy dose of ambition and confidence. Low self esteem does tend to hold me back sometimes, so I need to keep doing what I’m doing, think of the bigger picture and stop trying to hide. I have to develop a thicker skin and just charge ahead. I can still be sensitive to other’s needs – but I have to remember my own needs as well. When it comes to my attitude to my marriage – it’s solid and we have a lot of fun together. I just think my past was flushed out to show how wrong I’d been. My husband is very supportive of me and I thank and love him deeply for it!
Venturing out of the Cave
Here is a short version of a dream I had the other night – which encapsulates how I feel about marketing and promoting myself as a writer. (Even though my novel hasn’t been published yet.)
I was backstage at a rave concert, and a female – that bore a striking resemblance to a certain, twerking female singer who likes to hang her tongue out – was on stage. Wearing only a pink bikini top and Doc Martens’, she was singing and talking into a microphone – while the other hand was shoving a pink microphone up her rectum! She was shaking it around vigorously and pulling it in and out as she sang and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
Then she turned to the D.J. and said “Tell George he has to relieve me! And don’t don’t forget to tell him to shove the mike up his butt!” Then I walked around backstage and saw a t.v. under a table, showing a tattooed woman with her back to the camera – lying on her side, reaching around and playing with her butt. I walked offstage to what seemed to be a warehouse, where someone was yelling out “There’s alcohol for sale!” Like it was a big deal. People were crowding and clamoring to see, and there were tables and displays of liquor and soda.
As soon as I woke up – I got the symbolism. For the last couple of weeks I have been earnestly working on my website and checking my Twitter account (not knowing much about either, I might add!) – trying to fit in time for my miserable Author account on Facebook and answering reviews on my profile with Book country (and therefore – altering and editing my novel.)
I have been researching literary agents and publishers, set up a profile on Mythic Scribes (which is a nice place for fantasy writers), trying to perfect my synopsis and query letters, sending PDF versions of the novel to my Beta readers and so on. I’m sure it’s all worth it. I’m sure it will all pay off. I appreciate the feedback I’m getting and the constructive criticism is helping me greatly with my rewrites. In the meantime I am working a full time job and trying to write the sequel to my novel. I am up to chapter seven – first draft – and feeling quite proud of myself.
I know I’m preaching and whining to the converted – but #*%@! I feel like a cheap, second hand spruiker! I feel like a shy, dorky wallflower in a gaudy showgirl costume that’s too big or maybe – too tight for me – and I don’t know how to wear it! I keep hearing Gypsy Rose yelling “SING OUT, KELLY!” And here I am, stumbling in skyscraper heels, trying (and failing miserably) to toss a feather boa over my slumping shoulders. “Let me – entertain you. Let me – make you – wince!”
I need a scotch!