Thursday, March 25, 2010

BitchBuzz: Havin' a Larf

My column this week at BitchBuzz delves into the particularly terrifying notion of... FUNNY WOMEN! Why is it that funny women are so intimidating? [waves hand in the air wildly, waiting to be called upon] Humour is a weapon as well as amusement. Angry women scare people (hence the inevitable "Come on, smile!" if you are not wearing a disarming grin 24/7).

Daisy Goodwin made headlines this past week when she complained, "There's not been much wit and not much joy, there's a lot of grimness out there," when referring to the Orange prize long list.

Apparently the novels submitted contained a lot of misery and rape; Goodwin concluded, "Pleasure seems to have become a rather neglected element in publishing."

Predictably, there was some hand-wringing about the unfunniness of women, which the Guardian quickly addressed via Jean Hannah Edelstein's piece placing the blame squarely on the publishers who do not submit those funny books for prizes. Underneath there is the whole undervaluing of comedy. As tragedian Edmund Kean's dying words supposedly attest, dying is easy but comedy hard. So why don't we value it more?

While it's easy to make people cry -- advertisers seem to be able to manage it constantly via the use of puppies, kittens and old people -- laughter remains a challenge. Sitcoms last long past their expiry dates because people are willing to support shows that were once funny but have since become moribund, tedious and even offensive. Marginally funny programs are hailed as works of genius...


Read the rest at BBHQ -- after all, I quote from Henri Bergson. What more do you need?! I so want to see "Lizzie & Sarah"! Sigh. It looks to be as disturbing as "Nighty Night" which was brilliant. Julia Davis is amazing.

14 comments:

The Queen said...

Women who are physically funny seem to even have a harder time getting themselves over.

I read an article recently that stated while violence in TV has increased in the decade, it has increased 120% in showing violence toward women as content for shows.

Love the BB a article: off to post a funny woman on FB...

K. A. Laity said...

Merci! Women are always a safe target because no one will stick up for them for fear of being called DUN DUN DUN! a feminist.

Todd Mason said...

I don't know...I wonder at those figures and how they were arrived at. But part of the problem is defitnitely that lowest common denominator humor is too often what is sought, and too often the seekers with go-ahead power at various points are still a majority of men--but even the increasing number of women in those positions continue to note how much the boys and young men love to hear/see Jim Breuer (or substitute your own minimally-talented lout) scream than the girls and young women seem to flock to any woman comedian or humorist. Ellen DeGeneris seems to be the strongest exception at the moment in this country, and she has to become Mike Douglas to get there.

Todd Mason said...

I think the poster after you about what 30 ROCK and honcho Tina Fey were up to hits the nail on the head, that the "porn for women" joke in the episode was a knowing wink at Candida Royale (sic...quite a punning porn name if ever there was, and perhaps not the most self-empowering) and her colleagues on over to parodies of the Standard Issue "erotic" romance. But in the relative vaccuum of suggestions that women might be sexual (though not such a vaccuum on 30 ROCK, which has attempted to fill that metaphorical void...no puns need be read into this, mind you), it can be read any number of ways pretty easily.

I suspect that Al Jean and his crew of (apparently) spoiled young men (this does seem to be the current default trend in television sitcom writing...as if the HARVARD LAMPOON's utter dullness of late should some signify comedic genius in the dramatic forms) have been pointed toward the Seth MacFarlane direction by their Foxing masters.

Todd Mason said...

One off-the-top reason I question the 120% increase in violence against women stat is that over the last decade, we've had more parity of women in active roles in crime drama. In the '70s, anecdotal as this is, POLICE WOMAN and CHARLE'S ANGELS seemingly were about their protagonists being under direct threat of sexual assault in every episode, and they were, with such shorter-lived series as GET CHRISTIE LOVE and such more mixed groups as THE ROOKIES, the only women characters who were actually shown attempting to control violence against women (aside from guest roles on such series as LOU GRANT, late in the decade). These days, women cops, detectives, and their ilk are all over US television, and getting beat up in non-sexual ways about as much as their male peers...whether this is progress, and how alloyed, I'm not ready to say, but it might tend to skew figures such as that unless arrived at very carefully.

Todd Mason said...

As a corollary to Kean, someone (a television writer, as I recall) pointed out that everyone is This close to breaking down into tears at any given point in the day, but coaxing laughter isn't quite as simple.

I must say, it's been decades since I skimmed Bergson's LAUGHTER, but I'm disappointed by the apparent endorsement of the notion that laughter is somehow anesthetic, perhaps even of the notion that it exists only at the expense of others, rather than at least sometimes in sympathy with them.

K. A. Laity said...

Never ask the TV Guide guy about TV: LOL. You make a really good point about the inclusion of women in those programs. But yeah -- the slackness of American comedy lately (always?) irks me.

K. A. Laity said...

It was too much of a digression to get into Jonathan Miller's commentary on his uncle's theories of laughter that emphasized delight as the key ingredient. I have a problem with any "one answer" to humour, because it does function in multiple, simultaneous ways.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, laugher works in multiple ways and in different degrees between persons and with any given person at various times. I don't think I've ever found laughter particularly antesthetic...coping with pain isn't the same as not feeling it.

US comedy is always, like essentially everyone else's (as this auditor of BBC Radio 4 comedy of late will insist), a matter of winnowing chaff...but there are almost always golden kernels, to go all overinvested metaphor on ya'.

Pearce said...

Don't worry, Darren Star's remake of Nighty Night will reinvigorate American tv comedy.

K. A. Laity said...

HA HA HA! Pearce, you slay me. LOL.

Yeah, Todd, I know. Sturgeon's law and all, but I guess I just find the aesthetic of British comedy more appealing that American. The lack of wit is a big part. I like deft and subtle (and surreal) and the tendency here is for large and loud (and crude). I think the other thing I appreciate is the variety of humour in British series, too. The market pressures here make everything the same here.

Then again there's little subtle about the Fish Slapping Dance, but it's a sure fire laughfest for me.

K. A. Laity said...

Could I get more repeaty? What I was trying to say is that we get a bunch of clones of the same type of humour (so they can all go on tour together?).

Todd Mason said...

I'm ashamed of both of you, Pearce and Kate. Don't you realize that Darren Star really GETS women, as all gay men do so much better than real women writers or producers might? As in being one of the targets of the 30 ROCK joke.

I'll grant you, there is more appreciation for wordlplay in the UK, on balance. But the low road (Benny Hill) and the more ridiculously rule-bound fustian (JUST A MINUTE) are the unfortunate bookends of UK A/V humour (sic), at least. Their low road is at least as tiresome as ours.

K. A. Laity said...

Well, there's dreck everywhere, but even Benny Hill isn't as witless as a lot of the stuff that fills the hours on Comedy Central. There's a strong strain of anti-intellectualism that seems to only be continuing to gain as we lose our educational system. "No Child Left Behind" because they all are.