“The challenge for a comedian is to make whatever words she chooses meaningful, and have a point,” says Ciampa. “Do men and women have different responsibilities when it comes to material? I don’t think so. I think it’s a human responsibility to use comedy to help people think differently.”
Men are from mars, women . . . aren’t funny?
Regardless of whether men and women have responsibilities to their respective genders, both face the same obstacles when stepping onstage to encourage a room full of strangers to identify with, be entertained by, and laugh at their stories. But there’s a general Neanderthalian attitude about female comedians: they’re limited to telling jokes about “girl” things, and therefore can’t possibly compete with their male counterparts. (Because, let me tell you, watching a fat, scruffy dude with hair in all the wrong places tell jokes about his teensy, flaccid member is nothing less than a gut-bustin’ chuckle fest, every single time.)
The bar is set awfully high for female comics. In 2006, Maxim magazine issued a list of the 12 worst comedians of all time, and six of them (including Bernhard) were women. (Of the six gents on this knuckle-dragging lad list, two were minorities and one was born in Russia. Surely, this was a roster Rush Limbaugh must have approved.)
Then, in January 2007, Christopher Hitchens penned an essay for Vanity Fair entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Among his reasons? Women don’t need to be funny in order to attract men. Needless to say, a lot of women were pissed. The topic is still relevant, perhaps even more so now that there’s an increasing number of female comedians peppering the stand-up scene, especially here in Boston.
“I don’t think it’s any more difficult in comedy than it is in any other field,” says Van Delft of gender-related professional obstacles. “I think every woman faces this to some degree in every field they choose.”
“I think any comedian, male or female, has a challenge when they hit that stage,” says comedian Kelly MacFarland. “They have to win over the crowd. But, there is that whole ‘boys’ club’ mentality. If there’s a full crowd and a guy walks up, they immediately have the guys on their side. Same for women with women. I think the business world runs that way, as well.”
Hitchens did touch briefly upon why men don’t think women are funny, which actually poses an interesting question. Due to their gender bias, men and women have vastly different cultural perspectives. Wouldn’t it make sense that they then have vastly different comedic perspectives? Just because a man doesn’t think that a joke about lady cramps is hilarious doesn’t mean it’s not.
Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.
But still, men think other men are funny and women think other women are funny for the same reason that Bible Belt housewives love Sarah Palin and Barbecue Belt sharpshooters love Ted Nugent — they have a shared perspective.
“It’s such a catch-22,” says MacFarland, whose résumé includes appearances on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, NBC’s The Biggest Loser and The Today Show, and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, “because if I say that women are just as funny as men, any man reading this will think, ‘Of course she’s going to say that — she’s a woman.’ So, to the douchebags reading this, if you could just stop for a second and think — this is coming from a woman who has proven herself and has worked with men and women comedians across the country. Women are just as funny as men. I’ve worked with men and women who are funny and who aren’t funny. You’re either funny or you’re not. Tits or no tits.”