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No laughing matter

| Thursday, January 19, 2017

Think of some comedy classics — the type of films that are revered almost universally by young and old alike, staples for any true comedic connoisseur. You know what I’m talking about — “Caddyshack,” “The Big Lebowski,” “The Blues Brothers,” etc. These films are seen as infallible, and why shouldn’t they be? They are all hilarious, with the perfect mix of raunchiness and cleverness. There does seem to be one element missing — you might even miss it if you’re not watching closely enough. There are next to zero female comedic leads in any of these staples. This detail served as enough evidence for an acquaintance of mine to make the bold, absurd claim that men are, in general, funnier than women.

First and foremost, to claim that women aren’t funny because they’re not in the famous comedies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s is to make a correlative error. Comedy was one of the very last frontiers women were able to cross into, and this did not occur until arguably the 21st century, where progress can still be made. While women did occasionally appear in the older films, they were almost always in scanty clothing, or no clothes at all, and were merely tools to convey the hilarity behind male vulgarity and high jinks. “Animal House” serves as an excellent example. The only women in that movie are divided into two categories: the uptight prudes who serve as antagonists against the riotous party animals, and the “slutty” party girls, there to be the humorous objects of lust for the uncontrollable college boys. When not serving as sexual fantasies for their comedic male counterparts, women were often designated the role of the unusually attractive wife of an oafish, everyday kind of man. Think Clark Griswold and his model-level wife in “National Lampoon’s Family Vacation.” In the ’70s, “Saturday Night Live,” often considered the comedic launch pad, started setting the stage for female prevalence in the comedy world, casting three women of the original seven cast members. All was not solved overnight, however. In many sketches, the woman cast members were assigned the roles of background characters, meant to set up the punch lines for the more exuberant male roles, and this problem persisted until much later, as mentioned in Tina Fey’s memoir “Bossypants. Films from the last decade, such as “Bridesmaids and the updated “Ghostbusters, point to the audience niche for female-dominated comedies, and the rising popularity of “Saturday Night Live” female cast members like Kate McKinnon hints at the potential for more equality in the casting of women’s roles.

Another common belief held by mostly male comedy purists is that women come off as crude, vulgar or even disgusting when using the very same raunchy material so often drawn upon by their male colleagues. You would be hard-pressed to find a stand-up comedy routine that does not involve sexual debauchery or graphic details of a wild night out, and yet, when it is a female using sex as a comedic tool, she draws criticism and critique. I am not talking about Amy Schumer’s type of humor, which often relies upon the shock-value of saying something incredibly inappropriate, and in my opinion is used as a crutch for real humor. When used correctly and expertly, the occasional touch of promiscuousness or provocativeness creates a relatable, humorous scene for an audience.

My previously mentioned acquaintance countered my argument that Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people in the business with the statement that she is merely funny because of her size. Even if you were to take this as true, what, then, is the appeal of Chris Farley, a comedic legend? His two most iconic bits involve ripping a coat much too small for him, and destroying a coffee table by falling on it. Both Farley and McCarthy use their size in ingenious ways to create laughs and build routines and characters from there, which in no way rely solely on physical comedy.

I am by no means denying the old comedies and comedians their right to glory. “Animal House” is one of my all-time favorite films, and I have considered getting Bill Murray’s face tattooed on my body many times. They are famous in their own right and for good reason. However, young women have much less from the past to look up too for inspiration, and have, until recently, been unjustly cast aside as the less-funny gender. The danger in this is that young women may resort to hiding their own loud exuberance or dry wit because they do not believe themselves as funny as “the guys.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Bush O’Neill

    The formerly male-dominated comedy is no longer male-dominated. Of the top ten highest grossing comedies of 2016, five had leading female roles. Relax.