It was less than a decade ago that the late Christopher Hitchens, a respected writer and thinker, wondered aloud in a mainstream publication “why women aren’t funny.”
Many rational people recognized Hitchens’ offensive provocation as a faux debate at the time, but the article’s premise struck enough chords that it sparked larger cultural debates at the time. The ones that remain pertinent today aren’t whether women are indeed funny, but why some believe women to be so fundamentally different from men — so other — that they wouldn’t have something so intrinsic to human nature as a sense of humor. Or maybe it’s just that, as Joy Behar notes in the Makers episode, comedy is subversion, and the people who can’t admit women are funny are the same ones who don’t want their worldview challenged by female voices and perspectives.
It’s a safe bet that nearly all female comedians have encountered such sexism at some point in their careers. Stories abound in comedy circles about comediennes being dropped because the lineup suddenly had “too many ladies” in it (but of course there’s almost never an issue with a lineup having too many men). But as Joan Rivers says in the doc — and oh, it’s so sad to remember that she’s gone now — there’s no such thing as “women’s comedy” — funny is funny.
The long struggle of professional funny women to be recognized as equals is told by directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, Detropia) tonight at 9pm on PBS. And if you’re not yet familiar with their list of important women in our lives, check it out here.
Future Makers episodes will focus on women in Hollywood, space, war, business, and politics.
Watch Sarah Silverman, Mo’Nique, Joan Rivers, Joy Behar, and Kathy Griffin in the trailer for the episode below. The “Women in Comedy” is narrated by Leslie Mann and also includes interviews with Chelsea Handler, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jane Lynch.