BY JENNIE MCNULTY
“Chicks ain’t funny.” If I had a nickel for every time I have heard that over the course of my career, I would be writing this blog from my retirement home in the Bahamas. Or, maybe, that’s why I’m not? Maybe funny is located somewhere on that Y chromosome. Right next to that gene that makes them better drivers. Or the one that codes for sarcasm.
Recently, I was involved in a cyber-conversation about why stand-up shows only seem to use male comics with a few unfunny straight gals thrown in. Her words not mine. I know a lot of really funny, straight, female comics. Most of them just don’t know they’re gay yet. I’m kidding. But “chicks ain’t funny” is a fight I’ve been fighting my entire career. Or, in an attempt to stay sane, one I’ve tried to ignore.
When I first started doing comedy in Detroit, I was in an audience-judged comedy contest. There were eight comics: two female, six male. I went first which, for various reasons, is never a good thing in that setting. I did not win. After the show, another local male comic, not in the contest, was trying to support me. He thought he was paying me a compliment when he said, “But, you’re one of the funniest females in Detroit.”
His remark made me furious. Even though he thought I was funny, he saw me as some sort of subset of our profession. Not quite in the big leagues with the boys, but funny for a girl. To be honest, I was already a little pissed about losing, but his gender qualifier really set me off. By the way, he had about 10 minutes of fart jokes in his act. I’m not kidding. Here was this guy with pull-my-finger punchlines patting me on the head for my little skit.
Frequently, I have taken the stage and seen a man in the front row, rolling his eyes at my introduction with arms folded and leaning back in a what-could-you-possibly-say-that-would-be-funny attitude. They expected me to suck. But I don’t suck and I usually win them over. Hell, we have a lot in common: I like sports, beer and women. I don’t do sports jokes to win over the guys. Those jokes reflect my true passions. Ironically, now that I perform for more gay events, my sports jokes lose the guys.
For those women who don’t like sports and talk about dating from the female perspective look out. That eye-rolling meanie in the front row isn’t going to find a male beer belly all that funny. But the widening bottom of the next act’s wife is just plain hysterical.
Why? Why despite all the funny females out there Ellen, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Rosie and Rosanne (and those are just the names that are easy to spell) is there still a perception that we’re not funny? Why aren’t there more solo comedy specials featuring women? Because, in Hollywood, men still call most of the shots and those shots are aimed at pleasing the male demographic. And men don’t think we’re funny because, men don’t want us to be funny. That’s their job. It’s on that chromosome, remember? Men don’t want some woman captaining the ship, making them laugh, having power over them. Comedy is very powerful, both in what you can say with it and in its delivery.
When you take the stage, a room full people will sit quietly and wait for you to say something. You talk. They listen. They laugh. You are the center of attention. People are there to hear what you have to say. Aside from the guffaws, you know you are really “killing it” when, between the laughter, there is complete and total silence while you’re speaking. They want to hear it all. You are in total control of that room. It’s quite intoxicating, actually and quite powerful.
Boys don’t like girls taking their power. We’re supposed to be pretty and do supportive things. We’re the arm candy, not the breadwinner. We just need to be fu*kable. That’s our job. If this sounds like an antiquated argument, I’d like to point out that in our country there is an enormous and ugly level of racism still very much prevalent. Yet we elected a black male president before a female president. We are half the population and 20 percent of the Senate. We’re still paid less for the same job. And, how many women were seriously in contention for Letterman’s seat? It’s kind of funny that male comics frequently joke about how annoyed they are by all the talking their spouses do and yet, when it comes to hosting a talk show, it has got to be a dude. You know, the real talk shows at night not the lady ones during the day. Funny, huh? So funny it will bring tears to your eyes. Crying, by the way, is on that girly X chromosome.
So what do we do? We keep calm and joke on. We do what a very dear and wise African American friend told me that night of the contest, as I angrily complained, “Why do I have to be a female comic, why can’t I just be considered a comic?”
He told me, “You can’t focus on that. You’ll go crazy. There’s not one day that goes by that someone or something doesn’t remind me I’m black and judge me because of it. You just have to stay focused on yourself and do what you do.” Thanks, Elliott, I will always love you for that and many other reasons. My career would not have been the same without you.
For starters, I may have done jail time for punching Mr. Fart Joke.