Opinion

Female comedians deserve to be heard

Let’s play a game. Name all the late night TV comedians you can think of in a minute. How many were women? Just one: Samantha Bee (if she even came to mind at all). 

Late night comedy shows are one of the most-viewed comedy platforms in America and almost all the hosts are men. 

So men must be funnier than women, right? If all of America’s favorite satirists are men comedy must just be a “man’s thing.” Like sports, carpentry and being seen as first-class citizens.

There is a notion that exists in America that men are funnier than women, and that is why there are so many more male than female comedians across all platforms. 

I am a staunch believer than women can do anything men can do, but I also don’t believe that America is a completely misogynistic country. I just couldn’t reconcile this idea that men are “funnier than women.”

And then I had an epiphany. 

I was watching my favorite YouTuber, Jenna Marbles, while on Skype with my boyfriend. He couldn’t see me watching her channel; he could only hear it. Jenna has been with her boyfriend, Julien, for eight years, and they have virtually identical senses of humor. However, I noticed that when Jenna talked, my boyfriend never laughed, but when Julien talked, he did. They were making very similar jokes, but he only laughed when he heard the man’s voice. 

I realized that it’s not that we’re inherently sexist, it's that we are conditioned to believe that men can be funny and women cannot. Even just the sound of a man’s voice cues us to laugh because society has presented male comedians for so long and female comedians are a relatively new development. In America, we’ve become conditioned to find men funny and are now skeptical when women try to be funny. 

I decided to put this theory to the test. I found four humor columns from The New Yorker: two written by men and two written by women. Interestingly enough, the two columns I found written by men were on the first page of the magazine while I had to dig for pages to find ones written by women. I posted the columns to my Facebook wall and asked my friends to tell me which column they found funniest. I didn’t include any of the authors so as to ensure no one would be influenced by gender. I got an exactly equal number of men and women who voted and exactly 50 percent voted for a man’s column and 50 percent voted for a woman’s column. 

When I put it to the test, it turned out that people found women to be just as funny as men when they were being assessed on what just tickled their funny bone and were not being influenced by gender.

This further reinforced my idea that women are not less funny than men, the problem is that hearing jokes come out of a man’s mouth invites us to laugh and hearing them out of a woman’s mouth gives us pause. 

In fact, many of the writers behind the scenes of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah and many more comedian’s shows are women. Pia Glenn, writer for "The Opposition with Jordan Klepper" says, “Jordan absolutely amplifies my voice in terms of point of view ... So, much of the time, even as filtered through this extremely white man, I can take credit for our angle on Trump’s America or dog whistles about racism. It might not sound like my voice coming out of his mouth, but it definitely is.” Many of your favorite jokes from your favorite comedians were actually written by women. Think about that next time you claim “women aren’t funny.”

So what happens when a woman steps into the comedy arena? When I researched Samantha Bee for this column, almost every headline I saw written about her was critical. They were about her using offensive language or being too blunt. But would anyone ever publish those things about a man? Absolutely not. For example, Bill Maher's show is incredibly successful, and it is a literal string of swear words patched together for half an hour. However, Maher doesn’t face anywhere close to the same amount of criticism for being “offensive” or “blunt.” That’s because there are no expectations on him to be cordial or ladylike like there are on Samantha Bee. I smell a major double standard.

The gender divide in political satire is further compounded by the fact that satire is an intellectual practice, and there is a long history of women not being seen as as smart or capable as men in America, particularly in a field like politics. 

But I wondered about less intellectual forms of comedy. Is the gender divide smaller when there isn’t an expectation to being knowledgeable as well as funny? The conclusion I came to was, disappointingly, no.

Though Vine is dead and there aren’t many statistics out on the gender politics of it, I would modestly consider myself a pre-eminent Vine scholar. I have watched more Vines than I care to admit, and almost all that I have watched have been made by men, made by men making fun of women or, the smallest portion by far, made by women making fun of women. I have rarely seen a Vine of just a woman being funny in the way a man can just be funny by commenting on society or being self-deprecating in a way that doesn’t revolve around gender. 

What about YouTube? Is that platform any better? Well, the top-five most subscribed YouTubers in the country are men, so you tell me.

The United States is not a sexist country, but we do have sexist ideas deeply ingrained in our minds. Women as well as men endorse male comedians significantly more than female ones because we feel more comfortable with the idea of men making jokes than women. 

Let’s all recognize we have those habits and then violently throw them out the window. When we laugh at Stephen Colbert on a Friday night remember that yes, we’re looking at a man, but his monologue very well may have been a woman’s ingenious idea. Dig through those pages of the New Yorker. Read content written by women. Seek out female comedians. 

Dana is a junior majoring in theater. Do you think there are double standards for women in comedy? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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