Christopher Hitchens, philosopher, atheist and a man who can be relied upon to boldly pronounce the stuff a lot of guys think but hesitate to say, once claimed that women aren’t capable as being as funny as men. Not that some women can’t be funny, admitted Hitchens in an article for Vanity Fair (link http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701):
“In any case, my argument doesn’t say that there are no decent women comedians … Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three.”
Apart from Hitchens’ logic fail (what other combo of the three does he mean? Hefty, Jewish and dykey is different from Jewish, dykey and hefty how exactly?) this statement is a classic example of damning with faint praise. Yes, says Hitchens, women can be funny, but only if they’re fat Jewish lesbians. One has to suspect that Hitchens, renaissance man though he is, has restricted his comedy viewing to repeats of Roseanne. That or he thinks Seth Rogan is a woman.
Sadly, though, Hitchens’ attitude is one that seems to be shared by just about the whole of the US film industry. If I had a hot dinner for every time I’ve sat down to watch a comedy, only to discover that it consists of a whole lot of middle aged guys shouting at each other while the female cast members watch from the sidelines, with the expressions of women who are concentrating on their paycheck as a way of getting themselves through the ordeal, I would be a much larger person than I currently am. I’m thinking here of films like Couples Retreat, I Name You Chuck and Larry and Grown Ups. The ones optimistically called ensemble when they should really be termed assembled, because they are the film equivalent of IKEA furniture: functional and charmless. And those are the good ones. The films I truly dread are those which star a single comic: those which offer a once-funny actor two hours of screen time to fill with his unbridled ego. Prime examples are Vince Vaughn in Fred Claus or Kevin James in Mall Cop or whatever limping shambles Jim Carrey will next inflict upon his dwindling fan base. It seems that even when guys are not being funny, that just by virtue of possessing a love wand instead of a love cave, they must be a whole lot funnier than women, because that’s the only reason I can see that the studios keep turning out this crap, year upon year and that we all dutifully turn out to watch it, hoping for laughs and getting Rob Schneider instead.
It’s enough to make you cry, or even resort to watching French cinema.
Until now. Because now we finally have proof that women can be funny. Now, my female comrades, we have Bridesmaids. To be sure there are a couple of male comedians in Bridesmaids: Chris O’Dowd underplaying like a pro and John Hamm overplaying just because he can, but the film belongs to the ladies. None of them are big stars – this isn’t a film being sold on a name – Rose Byrne and Kristen Wiig are probably the two best known actors and while both of them are familiar, neither of them is stellar. There’s a fine supporting cast of other female comedians, it’s beautifully written, minutely observed and it never once allows itself to fall back on the lazy stereotypes that other films are so fond of bestowing on female characters. No bitch fights over some hot guy, as though the only thing that could make our lives complete is possession of the nearest alpha-male . No gags about hair or makeup or shoes, because there isn’t room in our pretty little heads for anything more profound. Every character has a backstory, every scene fills a purpose, the resolution is satisfying without being neat. In short, it proves Hitchens wrong and doing that, as victims ranging from Mel Gibson to Michael Moore will testify, is not easy.
But the strange and sad thing is that we didn’t even need Bridesmaids to set the record straight when it comes to females being funny. For all his intellectual prowess, Hitchens must have a short memory, or a very selective one. Bridesmaids has precedents: one of the biggest box office hits of 1980 was a film called Private Benjamin and guess what? – it starred a woman, co-starred a woman and was written by (you’ll never get this) a woman! Yes, long before Hitchens wrote his article for Vanity Fair, Goldie Hawn, Eileen Brennan and Nancy Meyers had already demonstrated that despite having a womb each, they were still capable of delivering a punchline. But someone in filmland is more attentive. A remake of Private Benjamin is in the works and there are no prizes for guessing the gender of the writer currently tapped to develop the script.
Oh OK, if you must know…
…it’s a woman.
- Cath Murphy