July 7, 2010

Is the Daily Show sexist?

Jezebel seems to think so. Citing its frequent turnover with female correspondants, Jezebel alleges that it’s a boy’s club and girls just aren’t welcome– unless you’re really hot, because who cares if you’re funny if you’re hot? The women of the Daily Show fired back with a note that essentially blames the story on disgruntled women, that there’s no real merit to the accusations.

Both seem to have missed the real point. This isn’t about any show in particular, it’s about our society at large. Comedy is subconsciously a man’s world, and women are still struggling to be accepted. Start naming women who are funny. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now name men who are funny. Odds are, your list of funny men is longer.

Male comedians who are funny sometimes get their own sitcoms (Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld). Women who are funny either wind up as supporting characters in a male comedian’s sitcom (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), or in a sitcom built around another personality (Kathy Griffin in Suddenly Susan). If they’re lucky enough to get their own sitcom, executives try to change the comedienne’s personality so much that it winds up driving away their fanbase (Margaret Cho).

While I only picked singular examples there, just think about it for awhile. How many sitcoms have actually been filled with funny women that weren’t simply sidekicks? Golden Girls. Designing Women. Roseanne. There are more, but even in Cybil, the real comedic star was Christine Baranski, who was the sidekick. It’s rare to find comedies based on women, because for the most part, networks believe that men are funnier and thus more marketable. Heck, you can be a comedian who isn’t all that funny, but can still wind up with a long running sitcom. Think I’m kidding? Kevin James and “King of Queens.” No knock on James, who I’ve found charming in Hitch, but the comedic weight of the show was carried by Patton Oswalt and Jerry Stiller. However, he headlined a show… and he wasn’t actually funny. Dane Cook gets leading parts in movies, and he’s only marginally entertaining.

Look at SNL, and all the talent that was discovered on it. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Adam Sandler, Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, David Spade, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman… But what about all those famous women? Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Victoria Jackson, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey. I’m sure there are a few more- but my point is that I left out plenty of men’s names and had to strain to think of names of women who are recognized by name SNL. Many female writers on SNL have commented on how few of their sketches ran, and if they did, they were typically buried in the last part of the program. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss never had a sketch of hers run, and was only on a season. But Larry David liked her and recognized her talent and gave her a part on Seinfeld. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were mentioned as a great comedic duo- where Weekend Update was concerned. But beyond that, Tina Fey’s reign as head writer was often criticized. Yet, Tina Fey went on to create 30 Rock, which has been a critical success. It’s comedy labeled inventive- and it’s clearly driven by Tina Fey’s personal style. Which seems to indicate that Fey’s run on SNL wasn’t necessarily poor due to her writing. Ultimately, everything meets Lorne Michael’s approval. And he certainly seems to value male talent over female talent.

Me and my favorite trainee, Bryan!*
But that’s on TV. Surely it doesn’t apply to anything else… wrong! For three wonderful years, I worked on the World Famous Jungle Cruise at Disneyland as a skipper. Before you say that it certainly couldn’t apply, that those guys aren’t funny anymore- that might be the case, but honestly, I worked with some of the funniest people I’ve met in my life. Men and women alike.

Consistently, it was the men who got the recognition. The girls either came off as bitchy or cutesy. If I wanted to get a joke, I did my spiel as my slightly daffy, clever yet naive persona. My spiel might have been straight from the list of approved jokes, but if there was innuendo to be found… I found it. But I had to be subtle about the delivery (I didn’t want complaints). A few of the skippers thought I was funny, but for the most part, my spiel was deemed “cute.”

I will say this, though, the fellow skippers I worked with always judged people on their talent, not by their gender. So I should take the time to plug Skipper Stand Up, a comedy show made entirely of former Jungle Cruise skippers. No, they won’t be rehashing their spiels, it’s standup.

So Jezebel, no, the Daily Show isn’t a sexist regime. They’re people, who judge comedy based on audience reactions- reactions which have been informed by decades upon decades of opinions that female comedians were only funny as shrews and ditzes. If you want things to change, start supporting comediennes who break free from those molds. Send emails to networks when they’ve hired talent that you enjoy. Let people know that you appreciate a female voice that’s unique. That’s the only way things will change.

* I was a trainer on the Jungle Cruise, and Bryan was indeed my favorite. I wish I could say pleasant things about all of them, but some were just plain insane. Most were pretty cool, but Bryan was the best. (Sorry guys!)

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