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Rebel Wilson’s Super Fun Night: When Self-Deprecating Heroines Tear Themselves Too Far Down

Rebel Wilson's Super Fun Night: When Self-Deprecating Heroines Tear Themselves Too Far Down

“I want to defend you, and then I find out you’re the person who wrote it which is brilliant,” Conan O’Brien told Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson at the
Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday, where they were presenting Super Fun Night, her new ABC sitcom about a group of friends who
try to expand their social lives. “She’s absolutely, absolutely fearless.”

The scene O’Brien was praising was one in which Wilson’s character, a smart but awkward lawyer named Kimmie, and her friends Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) and
Marika (Lauren Ash) are being turned away from a nightclub where they’ve been invited by a coworker of Kimmie’s on whom she has crush. “We don’t need any
eye broccoli clogging up the line,” a bouncer played by Key & Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key tells the awkwardly-dressed trio. But instead of
getting discouraged, the threesome keeps trying, and trying, and trying to get in, until they’re left alone and discouraged on a deserted sidewalk.

That scene, and much of the pilot, are in keeping with what Wilson says is her own taste in storylines: “I’m always pitching the saddest storylines, like,
where I get punched in the face,” she explained to the assembled critics. But storytelling decisions like that, or Wilson’s Pitch Perfect
character’s tendency to refer to herself as “Fat Amy” to head off haters at the pass, raise an important question. Is it possible for
out-of-the-standard-mold actresses like Wilson and Melissa McCarthy to be too defensive about the ways in which they differ from their sitcom (and romcom
and action) counterparts?

McCarthy’s emergence as a major star has essentially proceeded on two tracks. On Mike and Molly, which airs on CBS, which ordered, and then
passed, on Super Fun Night, she plays Molly Flynn-Briggs, a teacher who meets the man who will become her husband at an Overeaters Anonymous
group. A relatively antiquated sitcom, Mike and Molly plays back and forth between the idea that its main characters have self-esteem issues and
want to lose weight, and rather old school humor about heavy people. But in her movie career, which has earned her more critical acclaim than her steady
paycheck in TV, McCarthy’s something else entirely: brash, sexual, unapologetic and adventuresome. Sometimes her joke may seem to fall into stereotype,
like a sex scene in Identity Thief that seemed to laugh more at McCarthy than with her. But as in Bridesmaids, where her tough,
professionally successful character has to pull Kristen Wiig’s Annie out of a personal and professional rut, McCarthy’s characters stand as a welcome
rebuke to the Hollywood idea that there’s no problem worse, or not barrier to happiness more significant, than a non-conforming body type. It’s an idea
that showed up in Roseanne Barr’s sitcom Roseanne, too: Barr’s character may not always have looked as she’d liked, but the bills her family had
to pay, her rotten factory boss, and her family’s problems always had their proper place in her hierarchy of needs.

The version of the Super Fun Night that was sent to critics to prepare for press tour seems designed to get out ahead of any possible cruel things
viewers at home might say about Kimmie by saying them first. And though the show suggests that Kimmie’s weight might not be an impossible barrier to her
happiness–her skinny love interest professes to like women with “a bit of chunk”–it piles on huge social deficits onto her plate, making life even harder
for her. I’d love to root for Kimmie, but the show seems determined to beat her down.

Kimmie’s a competent lawyer who’s just been promoted–no small feat in this economy–yet she’s profoundly socially awkward. “I wasn’t stalking your
anything,” Kimmie says to a man she’s recording a video message for. “I was just looking at some of your photos. For two hours. I printed some out. Who’s
that girl in the lime bikini? She looked really fun. There was one picture of you kneeling down, giving her a ring. Weird.” When she bungles an
introduction to a lawyer she admires, Kimmie explains “I do realize I’m making a terrible first impression here. I’m not really good at first impressions.
The only impression I’m good at is Mickey Mouse.”–and then she pulls out the impersonation.

And it doesn’t stop there. Super Fun Night loads Kimmie up with novelty light-up underwear, a tendency to sing songs from Wicked in
public, and tacos in a bag as a high-water mark for a Friday night.

O’Brien defended Wilson’s decisions as evidence of her developed comic sensibility, saying her characters remain likable.

“It’s up to Rebel,” he explained, saying he hadn’t pushed for the jokes to be meaner. “She just knows what she’s doing. And so she has an unerring ability
to hit that balance. You sometimes cringe when you see her going through something embarrassing, but she’s so winning, and she’s so likeable, and you root
for her so much that you’re in this with her. And when she survives and when she actually achieves her goal, it’s exciting.”

I understand the desire to diffuse the inevitable cruel criticism that comes with being a non-small woman in public. But there’s a difference between a
character who is self-deprecating and one who’s clueless and whose behavior makes other people uncomfortable. Part of what’s funny–and uncomfortably
revealing–about seeing Tina Fey or Lucille Ball take shots at themselves is that they are and were gorgeous women with real power in the entertainment
industry. Anyone who would dismiss them as fat, awkward idiots is desperate need of an eye exam and a comedy transplant. McCarthy and Barr have frequently
managed to flip that script on their audiences, suggesting that the inability to see beyond their bodies to their characters’ sexuality, humor, and
strength is a very different kind of failure of perspective.

But Super Fun Night seems complicit in the kinds of insults that get hurled at Kimmie, rather than cheerfully defiant of them in the way so much
of McCarthy’s work is. The underwear with the glowing hearts on it does look ridiculous, not because of what Kimmie weighs, but because they’re in awful
taste. Kimmie’s continuing failed attempts to break into the club don’t feel bold after a while; they feel pathetic. I don’t want to find myself
agreeing with Helen-Alice’s assessment of the women’s awful night out, but it’s hard to find evidence to the contrary that their experiences are the
absolute worst. “We went out, we got rejected, we got laughed at, and just now I saw my creepy coworker,” Helen-Alice moaned after an attempt to break into
the club landed them in a porn theater. Kimmie is weird, she is awkward, and the show hasn’t yet found a way to make that weirdness a
gutsy, charming virtue, to put the laugh back on the audience for being shallow enough to see only a woman of a certain weight.

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catherine delaney

Yes agree… spot on article,kudos.
As a recently gotten-larger woman myself, i now really identify with Rebel.
i love her for represntin' but…
her initially endearing fat shtick becomes a little disheartening because Rebel
is so funny/attractive regardless of her weight.
We want more of YOU Rebel!
Rebel pleease do a few shows/Bits that dont directly reference yr weight-it will be so needed- esp. for the fat women like me watchingx.
On Jay Leno you seriously looked so damn hot in that lace dress as well as being
so funny-i need to see u be funny without deference & garish pink tracksuits!(no pressure!)
With the advent of some more nuanced tv audiences ,im dying see some more sophisticated,layered humor from her.
Love to see her in on Cable,snl,"girls"type gigs or a jenji cohen production.
Shes so engaging & personable without the fat shtick.
As one reviewer beautifully observed Rebel is "gorgeously fearless"-mad props hey.
Love from an oz fan,Cath

p.s off topic-by the way there are NO young smart large (size14+) females on mainstream tv in australia-is very sad-we have no oprah or rosie or even a remotely chunky weather girl!)
I flip though Vogue etc australia at the hairdressers & its all skeletal girlboy models posing-w.t.f?!


"McCarthy and Barr have frequently managed to flip that script on their audiences, suggesting that the inability to see beyond their bodies to their characters' sexuality, humor, and strength is a very different kind of failure of perspective."

i find it funny how first and foremost, the problem with a woman being overweight is her struggle to feel sexually objectified like, as a woman, she ought be entitled to and enjoy.


Brilliant article and some great examples of comediennes who counter the conventions of Hollywood by just being good at what they do despite the 'standards' apparently set by studios and media – Lena Dunham I feel (though not a comedienne is still a funny actress).

In the UK we have Dawn French, Miranda Hart, Ruth Jones who are brilliant funny smart women. It's inevitable that they use their obvious differences 'from the norm' (even though they're clearly more representative of the rest of us) but it was never to the point of degrading themselves or going beyond funny… A lady called Jo Brand (also brilliant) does that sometimes and it can be kind of sad.

I understand this technique can seem like a great way to counter-act what others supposedly think; I understand after years of being sidelined, after years of the world being conditioned to think that people should look a certain way to be desired, that this is how you get people to respond to someone who isn't like that, but it's also kind of insulting and annoying to take those things, run with them 360. All.The.Time. It's like she was the class clown and it was the only way to get people to like her.

Then again maybe she has us all fooled – maybe this is payback. This style of comedy, the uncomfortable self-deprecating to the point of depression is something we Brits share with Aussies – so it would probably go down well and she'll be lauded for it.

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