June 21, 2007

If It's Funny, It Must Be Male

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Mentioning Sarah Silverman in my last blog entry got me thinking again about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while. I figure now is as good a time as any to put it out there. Basically, Sarah is approaching the apex of stardom in her comedy career. She’s already had several specials and her own stand-up comedy film. She’s had multiple movie and TV roles and has recently launched her own successful television show on Comedy Central. Throw in hosting the MTV Movie Awards, a spot in the top 30 on Maxim’s Hot 100 list, and being considered the funny one in her current relationship with Jimmy Kimmel (whose late-night talk show features an ongoing competition on which can go lower: its ratings or its dignity), and you’ve got the makings of the biggest thing in comedy.

Yet despite Sarah’s ascension, female comedians continue to be considered on a lower tier than male comedians. Here’s the situation, as described by Cathryn Michon: Most comedy is just complaining. When a female comedian (particularly an attractive one) performs, male audience members would prefer that she take her clothes off and female audience members can’t believe she has anything to complain about.

Now I consider myself a connoisseur of comedy. I watch Comedy Central and HBO stand-up specials. I listen to channels 150, 151, and 153 on XM Radio (dirty comedy, clean comedy, and Canadian comedy, respectively). I own multiple books and movies about the art of stand-up comedy, and, of course, I buy comedy CDs. Yet in my entire collection, I only own three CDs of female comedians. And in total, there are only eight female comedians who I find funny. They are:

– Sarah Silverman
– Lisa Lampanelli
– Judy Gold
– Maria Bamford
– Ellen DeGeneres
– Wanda Sykes
– Kathy Griffin
– Rosie O’Donnell (seriously)

On that list, only three are relatively unknown, two are Jewish, and three are lesbians. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other female comedians out there that I would find funny. Nor is it to say that those comediennes who don’t appeal to me wouldn’t appeal to other people. But I do believe that on average, male comedians have a better following than female comedians. Don’t believe me? Then consider this: In the first four seasons of Last Comic Standing (the fifth season is currently airing), no female comedian finished in the top three. In fact, the only reason that those female comedians finished as high as fourth is that the first half of the competition isn’t American Idol-style national voting; it’s the contending comics voting each other off a la Survivor. Also, in the third season (the putrid “Battle of the Seasons” season), I don’t believe a female comic finished in the top six.

Of course, a lot of that is Last Comic Standing’s fault. The show is rigged more than pro wrestling. They always trot out these “judges” to critique the contestants, before the producers backstage make the real decisions. And since this is a reality show, those decisions are based more on creating drama or emotional storylines than actually finding the best comedian. Season 4 was the most blatant of all, when they put some of the absolute WORST comics into the house. The lucky few whose actual comedic talents were overlooked were Rebecca Corry (who had the energy of a chipmunk and the comedic timing of two chipmunks), April Macie (who was so awful in her semifinal performance, I could have sworn the audience was booing her), and Stella Stopler (who didn’t tell jokes so much as long, angry stories that made The Great Gatsby seem hilarious). By including these three no-talents, the producers left out the infinitely funnier Nikki Payne, Jackie Kashian, and Nikki Glaser. Too bad they weren’t attractive enough, and didn’t have any sob stories, and weren’t evil psycho bitches. Then they might have been going somewhere. (Yeah, as you can tell, I can rant about the evils of Last Comic Standing for hours on end. That’s why I’ve promised myself not to watch this new season until they decide who’s going in the house. That way, I won’t be quite as insanely pissed off when they put all the unfunny people into the house, again.)

Anyway, there is definitely a double standard when it comes to stand-up comedy, and it’s probably one that won’t be fixed. While things have definitely improved from the earlier days of comedy in terms of the number of talented female comedians, it’s the patrons that need to catch up with the times. Kudos to Sarah Silverman and others for breaking through the glass comedy club floor and achieving whatever counts for superstardom in comedy. We, as comedy fans, need to be more open-minded when it comes to hearing stand-up comedy, and not judge based on appearance. Then, and only then, will everyone realize that Dane Cook sucks.