Back in January 2007, when Vanity Fair published Christopher Hitchens’ irritating “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” clearly written in the depths of a Bushmills bender, the funny (ha!) thing was that female comedians were actually doing better than ever: Tina Fey was starring in the best sitcom on television after a winning tenure at “Saturday Night Live,” Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph were kicking ass on that show, Sarah Silverman had been the subject of a fawning New Yorker profile and was about to launch her own comedy show, etc. So it was puzzling why Hitch chose that moment to publicly perform his own verbal wedgie. Maybe it was a slow month.
But next month’s Vanity Fair cover story swipes back at that piece (its own piece!) with the question: Who says women aren’t funny? The story, written by New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley, holds the lighter high for today’s female comedians, a group also including (in addition to those previously mentioned) Amy Sedaris, Lisa Lampanelli, Chelsea Handler and Kristin Wiig. (It’s worth noting that Hitchens tossed off a response to this piece. His retort? Not kidding: Alessandra Stanley is obviously hot for him.) The women profiled here are all hilarious, but you may also notice that they’re rather va-va-voom. Which brings us to the good news/bad news portion of our program. Good news? Women are funny. Bad news? The only female comedians making it these days seem to be the hot ones. As Stanley writes, “It used to be that women were not funny. Then they couldn’t be funny if they were pretty. Now a female comedian has to be pretty — even sexy — to get a laugh.” As Joan Rivers (no stranger to the plastic surgeon) quips, “Nowadays, you can’t even get on open mike with less than a C cup.” Ba-DUM-dum!
Personally, I find it fantastic that women like Fey are subverting the old stereotype that funny women can’t be desirable. For my money, Fey is one of the most desirable women on the planet. But it’s more than a drag to think that, for instance, Roseanne Barr wouldn’t make it in today’s television climate. An important part of humor is being human — flawed and imperfect and messy and, in the end, maybe not the kind of woman who can sell the cover of Vanity Fair.