News flash: Women can be funny AND sexy

Sarahsilverman_lVanity Fair offers a (sorta) celebration of women in comedy, including online-only interviews with a dozen funny women, an Annie Leibovitz photo spread, and a feature article that wrestles with the old canards that a) women aren’t funny and b) pretty women aren’t funny. You’d think both of these would have been laid to rest back in the 1930s when screwball goddesses like Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, and Katharine Hepburn ruled movie comedy. Instead, author Alessandra Stanley argues, the old prejudices persist, albeit in twisted form; now, in fact, comedy mavens grumble that funny women have to be reasonably attractive (like Sarah Silverman, pictured, or Tina Fey, or Amy Sedaris) to earn an audience.

Missing from the discussion is the notion that today’s female comedy stars have much more freedom to be raunchy, in ways Mae West never dreamed of when she was writing her own double entendres 70 and 80 years ago. Credit Silverman, Sedaris, or maybe the Sex and the City gals for proving that women can be as hilariously filthy as guys without losing their allure. In any case, I’d argue that today’s audiences have fewer hangups about women in comedy, and they’ll take funny in whatever package — it’s just a matter of mainstream Hollywood recognizing this and catching up to TV and the Web by writing and casting accordingly.

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  • Rich

    That’s assuming, of course, that raunchy is really funny. Mae West’s schtick has passed the test of time largely because of what she didn’t say. Most of the comedians at that time, male and female, were creative in their use of innuendo. Conversely, will anyone remember Sarah Silverman’s “I’m (dating) Matt Damon” after everyone has done umpteen versions of the same thing? It’s funny, once or twice. But it would last a lot longer if it was actually clever.

  • Sven

    I won’t argue with most of their selections, but WHERE is Bonnie Hunt? The list is incomplete without her.

  • Sara

    Rosie O’Donnell isn’t the most attractive of women, and her talk show did quite well while it was on the air.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Rich makes a good point. Does raunchy = funny? Alessandra Stanley is right about some of the old prejudices with women in comedy. I don’t agree with it; Look at the ladies that have competed on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. There were definately some that were good enough to win, but where were the votes? I can’t understand whay it’s harder for a female comedian to draw large crowds.
    Sarah Silverman is neither funny nor pretty, by the way (ugh)
    Tina Fey rules!

  • Em

    Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with Rich too. It takes a lot more creativity to slip in a sly reference to something racy tha to just blurt it out all over television. And Gary, thanks for mentioning some of my favorite actresses- they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

  • mark in nyc

    I gotta disagree, I don’t think that it is pretty woman who are not funny, it is pretty people. Does not matter if it is a man or a woman.
    THe reason is that most comedy comes as a defense mechanism from being picked on, or not getting their fair share…pretty people dont get picked on (as kids) as much, and through no fault of their own usually have an easier time with things.
    Can anyone name a really good lookg comedian? Who is also funny?

  • mark in nyc

    I gotta disagree, I don’t think that it is pretty woman who are not funny, it is pretty people. Does not matter if it is a man or a woman.
    THe reason is that most comedy comes as a defense mechanism from being picked on, or not getting their fair share…pretty people dont get picked on (as kids) as much, and through no fault of their own usually have an easier time with things.
    Can anyone name a really good lookg comedian? Who is also funny?

  • NineDaves

    the problem is that funny is so subjective sometimes. a lot of people thought wedding crashers was hysterical. superbad was a huge hit. the 40 year old virgin. none of those films made me laugh. i can’t stand dane cook. on the other hand, kathy griffin (annoyingly absent from vanity fair) makes me laugh every time. as does amy schumer. and julia louis-dreyfus. maybe i just like female comedians more?

  • jeet

    Any of these women on a bad day is funnier than Dane Cook on a good one.

  • Cliff

    You can be a hilarious, female in Hollywood and still have an uphill battle. With Parker Posey, Lauren Graham, Amy Pohler, Tina Fey and Zooey Deshanel in the world, and Woody Allen picks as his muse…Scarlet Johanssen? Mike Myers latest costar is…Jessica Alba?

  • Cara

    God, that article was embarrassing. Hey guys, news flash! Women are funny! And more importantly…they’re hot! The most horrible bit in the article is when Stanley labels these women as “close to beautiful”, whatever that means.
    Face it, this isn’t a male-vs-female issue–I mean, the tradition of ‘funny-looking’ comedians has encompassed, even started with men since anyone can remember–this is an ugly-vs-beautiful issue. And the trend is growing with men as well–male comedians are being required to be more and more attractive just as well as the women. It’s just fairly stupid that they shoehorned this into some kind of feminist issue.

  • BLM

    One of the funniest stand-up comedians, male or female, is Lisa Lampanelli, an overweight, average-looking, Harvard-educated, raunchy insult comic. Women can be funny, regardless of their looks.

  • Snarf

    A lot of humour doesn’t stand the test of time. Comedy changes and evolves along with the society it’s in or reflecting.

  • Maureen

    LOVE Tina Fey. And loved seeing Wanda Sykes and Amy Sedaris in that photo shoot. Everybody else? Not that funny.

  • Lynny

    I am disappointed to not see Monique on here. Her section of the Queens Of Comedy tour is still quoted daily between my friends and I. So brilliantly funny. I agree all these women are fantastic, but a little more diversity would have been nice.

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