“30 Rock”: Tina Fey ends the “are women funny?” debate

In a final season filled with comedy in-jokes, last night's episode might have settled the silliest argument ever

Topics: Television, TV, 30 Rock, Tina Fey,

"30 Rock": Tina Fey ends the "are women funny?" debate

“30 Rock” feels like it’s dashing pell-mell toward its series finale. Three episodes into the series’ 13-episode final season, the sitcom that has deployed meta-humor more consistently and deliriously than any other comedy ever, has been serving the meta up every episode.

In the season’s first episode, Jack Donaghy introduced his plan to “tank” NBC, just the latest gag about the incompetence of “30 Rock’s” real corporate overlord. (Though, for the first time since “30 Rock” started, NBC’s fortunes are actually looking up, a turnaround the “30 Rock” writers couldn’t have predicted.) Last week, in an absurdly bold episode that aired just before the vice-presidential debate, Fey “30 Rock”-ed her crazy experience imitating Sarah Palin. In the episode Paul Ryan dropped out of the debate, and was replaced by a doddering, sexist, gaffe- and vomit-prone politician who looked identical to Tracy Jordan. This week, Fey and company took on another doozie: The women aren’t funny debate.

“30 Rock” has directly taken on women-in-comedy issues before. There was the early, hilarious episode guest-starring Carrie Fisher as a brilliant, deranged, lonely older female writer. More recently, there was the infamous “Joan of Snark” episode, in which “30 Rock” lampooned Jezebel while trying to solve its “woman problem,” i.e., a lack of women in the writers room. Last night, Tracy tweeted “women are not funny, never have been, never will be” sending Liz into a “nerd rage.” After angrily confronting Tracy (“Maybe things that men like are boring to women.” “No, everybody likes our things”), Liz decided to show Tracy a thing or two by performing one of her and Jenna’s old sketches, set at a doctor’s office. Following “30 Rock’s” implicit rule, we didn’t see much of the sketch. It looked horrible, but the crowd laughed. Afterward, Tracy apologized to Liz, admitting women could be funny, but it soon became clear he had been laughing for all the “wrong” reasons — the idea a woman could be a doctor at all. Everyone interprets comedy differently! Liz decided to take it as a victory anyway.



When tackling thorny issues, from Tracy Morgan’s real-life homophobic rant to gender balance, “30 Rock” rarely comes down on one side of an issue. Usually it sends up everyone for being ridiculous, pointing out the absurdities in each position, but not quite preferring one to the other. Last night’s episode did, and did not, go this route. Liz didn’t pull off some resounding victory, proving for all of eternity that women are funny. By the end of the episode she was even reduced to listing the funny women who had come before her. And yet, if you laughed at any part of that story line — at Tracy insisting pet monkeys were funnier than women — or at any point during the episode — like, maybe when Ryan Lochte was introduced as a sex idiot, or Liz Lemon playing Carrie Bradshaw — that was the real definitive proof. If “30 Rock” is funny, women are funny.

But I wish the show hadn’t been quite so toothless about it. “30 Rock’s” even-handedness about these sorts of conversations — its insistence that all of its characters, Liz especially, always be a little bit wrong about something— can be frustrating. (“Joan of Snark” was hilarious, but inconclusive; “Idiots Are People Two,” the episode that addressed Morgan’s comments, went too easy on him.) The women aren’t funny debate is tremendously stupid. Fey must find it to be tremendously stupid. If “30 Rock” was going to bother to take it on at all, it could have used a more vicious send-up than “different people find different things funny.” If there’s any debate that Liz Lemon should probably just flat-out win, this is it. Otherwise “30 Rock” itself, without ever addressing the issue directly, is a better refutation of this particular dopey talking point.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>