Thursday, September 16, 2010

Confessions of a Former Comedy Chauvinist


by S.E. Shepherd

Although it’s not something of which I’m proud, I can finally admit it: At one time, not so long ago, I was a comedy chauvinist.

Remember that guy you knew in college who summarily dismissed the comedic talents of an entire gender, proudly (and stupidly) proclaiming, “Women aren’t funny?” That was me. I wasn’t militant about the subject, and I didn’t spend hours trying to convince others that men were genetically predisposed to be funnier than the fairer sex. I simply did not, would not, could not acknowledge the possibility that women were just as talented as men when it came to making people laugh.

Oddly enough, my narrow-mindedness toward women didn’t extend beyond comedy. In every other respect, I was and am a proud supporter of equality. The Nineteenth Amendment? It’s one of my favorite amendments! Glass ceilings? Let’s smash ‘em! Allowing a woman to occasionally open the door for me? OK! But, give a funny lady a fair chance to entertain me without first making uninformed judgments about her ability to make me laugh? Nothing doing.

Although it sounds like an excuse, I believe you have to look at my earliest exposure to comedy and how that shaped my perceptions in order to get to the root of my prejudice. I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, when the comedic landscape was filled with the musk of bad boy stand-up comics, smarmy leading men who introduced a generation to the slyest shit-eating grins in movie history, and the early incarnations of the lovable loser man-child who refuses to grow up. For most of my formative years, comedy was a raucous boy’s club dominated by loud, doughy, raunchy guys whose best punchlines often referenced the fact that they were just dudes being dudes. That’s probably not all that different from the experiences of most guys my age, but somewhere along the way, I developed a diminished appetite for giving women a chance to prove my “women aren’t funny” assumptions wrong.

Of course there were some female comics who coaxed a laugh out of me every now and again (Roseanne Barr comes to mind; her seminal eponymously named show was one of the few sitcoms I enjoyed as a kid), but I had such a chip on my shoulder when it came to the idea of women being funny that comediennes and actresses had to really surprise me to earn my respect. Without knowing it, I had become the equivalent of the stereotypical cigar-chewing, scotch-swilling, head jerk in charge of the no-girls-allowed, he-man woman-haters club. I was content to spend the rest of my life changing the channel, avoiding the local cineplex or driving past comedy clubs just so I could avoid lady-comedy and keep my head safely buried in the sand with all my stupid, beloved comedy man-crushes.

Fortunately for me and everyone who put up with me during my “insufferable asshole” phase, my opinions on women in comedy have changed dramatically over the last several years. There are multiple reasons for that evolution. Perhaps it’s because I am little older and slightly less blinded by the pure testosterone that clouds the judgment of so many well-intentioned young men. Or maybe it’s the fact that, after meeting the woman who is now my wife, I quickly realized that if there’s a woman who can make me laugh this easily for free, then certainly there must be women getting paid to make people laugh who could do the same thing if I just stopped being such a self-righteous dick about things. But most importantly, the rise of some amazingly talented women over the last decade has shown there isn’t a discipline, genre or role in the comedy world in which women can’t excel just as much as their male counterparts.

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