Seriously Funny WomenMay 27, 2011
“I’d much rather be a woman than a man. Women can cry, they can wear cute clothes, and they are the first to be rescued off sinking ships.” So said one of the 1970s-era Saturday Night Live cast’s funny women, Gilda Radner. As one of the great comedians from this era, she pushed the envelope by playing crazy characters, like her famous news reporter Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Radner represented a new breed of comediennes, those who jumped into the spotlight at a time when women were just beginning to explore social arenas they previously had a limited role in, including entertainment and comedy.
The funny women from the ‘70s paved the way for many others to break through barriers in comedy. When I first heard stand-up from Rosie O’Donnell and Roseanne Barr in the 1980s, I was sucked in with their crass, astute judgments about their lives and rebukes of traditional femininity. I was impressed that it was OK for them to be funny and a little bit angry, sexy, or off-color — or all of these at the same time.
Today, SNL is still a place for funny women, and the actresses who made a name for themselves on the show have gone on to write, direct, and act elsewhere. Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants has hit the best-sellers list, and she even went viral this Mother’s Day with her Mother’s Day prayer. Meanwhile, SNL favorite Kristen Wiig wrote and starred in the hilarious comedy Bridesmaids, a movie that provides more than just laughs. It’s one of the first films about women that takes comedy to a place that is often restricted to men. See it, and you’ll understand perfectly.
Women outside of the SNL family have made their mark as well, women like Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, or The Daily Show’s rising star Kristen Schaal, whose political commentary skirts the outrageous. Schaal shows how important a woman’s perspective is in humor and politics as she tackles issues like the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
At this year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, attendees will have the chance to hear some live women’s comedy. Washington, D.C., stand-up (and feminist) comedian Lucé Tomlin-Brenner will surely make us laugh and think, as did many of the great funny women before her.
Comedy by women has touched on many issues: the unrealistic beauty standards women face, the frustrations and difficulties of being a mother, women’s sexuality, and the constant pressure to look perfect and be passive. By making people laugh, these women give us permission to laugh at ourselves and realize that we all face many of the same oppressions and frustrations. But even as we face increasing attacks on our health care, head single-parent households, and get paid 77 cents on the dollar, we can still laugh.