At some point in my sober life, I aspired to be a stand-up comedian. It was around the same time Russell Peters got famous and I realized there is an audience for hairy Indians on-stage.
With decent exposure to Delhi street men who scratch their groins as you pass by, American culture that legalizes fast food joints but jails you for smoking one, and a family that talks in the highest decibels even if you are standing right next to them, I have sufficient material to work with.
Plus laughter is a natural stress buster! Peters has shown us how easily humor can cut tension across cultures. I once tried his “Indian and Chinese people can’t do business” joke on my Chinese boss, and she cracked up. Life presents its moments of adversity (like the time Facebook went down due to the blizzard) and it is our sense of humor that moves us along.
Do Funny Women Intimidate Men?
Harboring a great sense of humor is a sign of our intellect. And being funny is generally seen as a positive trait in a partner. But it all depends on who is delivering the lines and who is the one laughing.
Based on a 2006 study on gender and humor — “Hundreds of men and women in their twenties were questioned. Asked if they found a sense of humour to be attractive in women, most men said yes. But when they were asked if they would want to be with a woman who cracked jokes herself, the answer was a resounding no.
In the 25 years that the Perrier Award for new comedy has been contested at the Edinburgh Festival, only two women have won it. Laura Solon took the prize last year. ‘It is a difficult industry to work in and there are a lot more men than women,’ she said.” (Source: – Independent UK)
Being Funny as a Feminist
So in addition to the fact that I like to crack jokes, I am also a feminist. Technically, that is is 2 strikes against me in intimidating the opposite gender, but I am not concerned for many notable comedians themselves have started approaching their humor with feminist undertones. e.g. Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Louis CK.
Louis CK once stated that feminists cannot take a joke, but in an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he had a more evolved stance. “I’ve read some blogs during this whole thing that have made me enlightened to things I didn’t know. This woman said how rape is something that polices women’s lives … That’s part of me now that wasn’t before.” (Source: Slate article)
In one of his most popular acts that aired on HBO, Louis CK joked about dating and how men are the No. 1 threat to women. “You know what our number one threat is?” he adds when referencing men. “Heart disease.”
I recently watched #AIBKnockout, a funny show hosted by an avante garde Indian comedy group called All India Bakchod. In that show, a panel of 7 men and 1 women (Aditi Mittal) take turns to roast two Bollywood actors. It was a brave concept for Indian audiences; however, when the two actors roast the panel in return, Ranveer Singh only called Aditi a male-basher, even though all the other male comedians made the same exact type of jokes about men!
If you are attractive, most people will find you funny, even if your jokes are not all that great. This is true for both men and women.
In the business of humor, looks don’t serve as much of an impediment to men. In fact, having some kind of a quirky face actually helps in making the audience relax and laugh more. Think of Don Rickles, Seinfeld, Jay Leno in the States and even Johnny Lever and Raju Srivastava from India.
However, in the dark world of Internet comments, I see plenty remarks focusing on the looks of the comedienne rather than the quality of her jokes. We all may not laugh at the same joke but attacks based on appearance is an easy way to discount talent. Below are a few I observed for Aditi Mittal, Whitney Cummings, and Amy Poehler.
Comedians and Their Not So Funny Past
Just as farmer are key to our physical well-being, comedians are essential to our mental well-being.
But what if the comedians themselves are not so well in the head?
The theory goes that most comedians have an unsettling history and use the medium of humor to overcome their past. George Carlin’s parents divorced young and he had a strained relationship with his single mother. Moreover, during his time in the US Air Force, he had been court martialed several times. Russell Peters was often bullied in his school years due to his color and ethnicity. Louis CK was raised Catholic and he revealed his years as a depressed, drug addict in school. He often pokes fun of religion in his acts. Robin Williams’s suicide as a result of prolonged depression is, perhaps, the most notable example of this.
When it comes to women, women are more visible as hot props to men in entertainment shows rather than delivering the witty lines themselves.
Whenever I see any new comedians in late night shows in New York, they are mostly male. Moreover, they make exaggerated stereotypes about the minorities – blacks, gays, the disabled, and not to forget – women and the abundant expletives towards them. From my perspective, the syntax of male comedic style is one-upping each other such as laughing at that black robber, that unattractive and dumb whore, that fat kid who must eat all the time etc.
In 2012, Daniel Tosh made an offensive rape joke about his own sister and even told an audience member how funny it would be if she were gang-raped that second. Naturally, he received immense backlash for his statements.
In another instance, Hannibal Burress joked about Bill Cosby being a rapist in one of his acts after which rape allegations against the famous actor started to be taken seriously. Even after 30+ female victims spoke out against Cosby, it took a male comedian to make it worthy of discourse.
On the women front, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Golden Globe monologues have cleverly shed light on an array of issues (sexism and bias, lack of older women roles, rape allegations). No wonder Tina Fey deserved the Mark Twain award for American humor!
Making Fun of Yourself
Comedy is all about being able to laugh at oneself. Studies have shown that some of the happiest people are those who can take a joke about themselves, because they carry no pretense and are willing to find humor in the rarest of places.
Maysoon Zayid, a comedian with celebral palsy, once joked on a TED talk — “If I were on the Oppression Olympics, I would win the gold medal. I’m Palestinian, Muslim, female, disabled, and I live in New Jersey.” Her speech was the declared the best TED video of 2014! You’ve got to see it, if you haven’t already.
Like Zayid, we have our own share of famous female comedians. Whoopi Goldberg, Betty White are well established in show business whilst Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling continue to make more strides as producers, writers and classy comedians.
Then we also have the likes of Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph of “Bridemaids” fame who have managed to make their own mark. Bharti Singh would be India’s answer to Melissa McCarthy because unfortunately or not, most jokes revolve around their weight.
Many of these women defy traditional stereotypes set for women. e.g. Degeneres’s homosexuality, Kaling’s positive body image, and Rudolph’s diversity as a biracial women. Even though “white” and “thin” dominate Hollywood standards, these women show that all shapes, sizes, sexuality and color of women are normal.
Despite some of inherent advantages men enjoy in the comedy business, I hope this positive trend continues so more women (and men) become comedians/comediennes. After all, we can all use a good laugh! 🙂