Women In Comedy Have to Be Double Threats to Be Taken Seriously
It's hard to be a female comic. The criticisms leveled against female comics tend to be much harsher and more reactionary than those raised against their male counterparts. When it comes to success in the world of comedy, women don't just have to be good enough to land existing writing and acting jobs, but funny enough to create those jobs from scratch. Though some big strides have been made in the last few years thanks to stars like Tina Fey, birthday girl Kristen Wiig, Lena Dunham, and Amy Schumer, the statistics still aren't great for women in comedy, and all of these ladies had to strike out on their own.
Almost all women who currently enjoy a prominent place in comedy are double threats: they write and perform their own material. While some have compared these women favorably to Woody Allen — after all, nobody can write Woody but Woody himself — the phenomenon is often a matter of necessity, rather than one of artistic choice. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last month, Mindy Kaling said, “My career has only become what it has out of sheer need, not because I wanted it that way. I knew if I wanted to perform I was going to have to write it myself.” If funny women want to be more than a plot point in a bland male protagonist's story line, they have to create their own roles.
Most of the roles that men write for funny ladies consist of, in Kaling's words, “the lame, nagging friend.” The female archetypes in comedy today are cruel, promiscuous (in a non-liberating way), and even mentally ill. Even smart, popular, enjoyable modern comedies like The League and This is the End offer few opportunities for women; the women they do employ tend to be in less comedic roles, and are often models, pageant winners, or former child stars (sorry, Emma Watson). If you're a smart, funny lady, do you really want to play the skinny blonde girl who tells the fun-loving protagonist to do his dishes? Or the crazy fat chick who stabs the sympathetic protagonist after a drunken one-night stand? No. Not unless, as in Bridesmaids, that crazy bitch also has a back story, and is an integral part of the plot, which, in the male-centric buddy comedies of today, she isn't.
The upside of all of this has been the ascendancy of the aforementioned crop of independent, highly motivated, hardworking, talented women who created their own roles, and shot down the haters who said that women can't be funny. The downside is that there's still a long way to go. According to a Nielsen report last year, less than 30% of TV writers are female, even though, on average, women watch 40 more minutes of TV per day than men. That's a deep disconnect between creators and consumers, but we're working to narrow the gap. No one can or will do it for us, so us ladies will have to keep writing for ourselves.