In my quest to understand why laughter is the best medicine, I came across comedian Bonnie McFarlane’s “cockumentary” called “Women Aren’t Funny.” Inspired in part by comedian Adam Carolla who insulted “chicks” in comedy everywhere, the documentary came out in 2014, but like much of my life, I was late to find it until recently.
So, just like me, Bonnie (can I call you Bonnie?) wants to dig deeper into ethos of comedy. Her documentary sets out to discover, if in fact, women aren’t funny. We know they are, Lucille Ball and Chelsea Handler to name two, but are men funnier? Could it be people are just reluctant to admit women are funny? Or is it something else?
My takeaway is there are more rules for women in comedy than men. Women have boundaries. We can’t be too dirty, too sexual, too angry, or talk about our menstrual cycles. (What’s left then?!) It’s been my impression that in order for a female comic to be successful, some self-deprecation should be part of her act. When the female comic puts herself down, other women connect and don’t feel threatened. Sad but true. This is also true for men to some extent, but men don’t have as many boundaries. In fact, according to Bonnie and her husband, comedian Rich Voss’s very funny movie, men make more jokes about periods than women.
Mathematically, there are more male comics working across the country than female. Of all the comedians currently getting booked, 95% are male. So if you look at the numbers, men might be funnier simply because there are more of them. But the documentary delves deeper. Bonnie says that in 1981 – 11 women were headlining across the nation. In 2013, there were only 9. Why are the numbers declining? Could it be sexism? Ya think? But since sexism permeates many categories, not just comedy, let’s set that aside. Another reason for the decline, I think, is due to the road conditions. The flop house or comic-condo comedians stay in while performing at the clubs is described as a “rape buffet.” And while that (hopefully) is extreme, Wanda Sykes, (Queen of the Comedians-btw) describes the condo as a place where you want to bring your own sheets and towels. Where don’t I sign up?
So how can we increase the number of women in comedy? I look at Bonnie’s documentary as a call to action for moms around the world to raise funnier little girls. Many are raised to be polite, so stop that right now. Sons and daughters should be raised to be kind – equally. Why is politeness directed more at little girls while class-clownery is tolerated from little boys? Let’s level the stage.
Please understand, I’m not telling moms how to raise their daughters (yes I am). I’m just saying if you were blessed with a silly little girl who gets into trouble from time to time, don’t completely squash it. And don’t put her in ballet classes. (Thanks a lot Mom. I could have been somebody.)
Was “Women Aren’t Funny” one-sided? (Since that’s a buzz word right now. Thank you “Making a Murderer.”) Yes. And though the sometimes tongue-and-cheek documentary resembled a mockumentary, that’s what makes “cockumentary” the perfect distinction. Laughing and learning go together naturally. In my opinion, Bonnie and Rich should work with Michael Moore on his next project.
Best joke: Bonnie is interviewing Colin Quinn, discussing the conception of “the roast.” Colin says that we wouldn’t have roasts today if it were up to women. Bonnie says, “We would have them. We just wouldn’t invite the guest of honor.”
Best bit: Bonnie transforms into a man to see if the male comic has it easier. Spoiler alert: s/he does not. Bonnie’s husband’s reaction is priceless.
Best aww: Bonnie with her daughter on stage. Some might find her language rough, but if you loved Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die bit about the rent money, you’ll love this too.