Sexism Still Exists: What 'Women Aren't Funny' Is Doing For Female Comics

by Katie Van Brunt
Jeremy Pawlowski

On a wooden bench in the dungeons of some bar in the LES, I sit quietly while sipping on my whiskey ginger.  It is an interesting scene. The lights are dim; the room has a red glow; there is some awkward stifled laughter, and about eight other people ranging in age sit around me.

Nothing out of the ordinary here, and as usual, I am the only woman in the room. “Typical,” I think. Ah, the joys of being a female comedian.

It's an undeniable fact there are more men in comedy than there are women. Ask any female comedian and she will tell you how rarely vaginas are represented in her industry. The ranks of women are growing in almost every industry except for comedy.

Why is that? Comedian Bonnie McFarlane tackles this question in her recently released documentary, "Women Aren't Funny."

It's no surprise women have been highly underrepresented in the entertainment industry; it's nothing new.

This hot button issue gained even more traction recently when powerhouse Charlize Theron made the news after she learned her male counterparts where making much higher wages than she (thank you, Sony hacks) and negotiated her contract to receive equal pay.

However, the topic of women in comedy, more specifically, is seldom brought up. In unbiased interviews with a variety of star comedians (Chelsea Peretti, Amy Schumer and Chris Rock, just to name a few), McFarlane dons her investigative journalist cap to finally answer a burgeoning question: Are women funny?

McFarlane documents the history of this question of true jests starting with good old Jerry Lewis. Lewis, known to think woman were not and could not be funny, spent much of his time masquerading as a woman on stage for jokes.

It's interesting when you consider he didn't think females had the capability of being funny. As comedian Paul Mooney puts it, “If he doesn't think a woman is funny, why does he dress up and masquerade as a woman, and think it's so damn funny?”

It wasn't long ago another person in the media declared this similar sentiment. In 2007, Christopher Hitchens decided to write a thrillingly complementary (LOL, JK) article on female comedians in little-known publication Vanity Fair titled, “Why Women Aren't Funny.”

The late author, who usually wrote about God, Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton, wrote and published and article, which looked down upon all funny women and posed the question, “Why are women who have the whole male world at their mercy not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.”

In other words, if you have ovaries, you cannot make a joke, and if you try to, nobody will ever want to have sex with you. Ever.

The Hitchens piece was not positive, but it ignited a national debate on women's ability to be funny. In the documentary, countless interviews with comedians show pro joke makers believe women can be funny.

Yet, when those who don't believe women are funny were asked to explain why, their answers were that women talk too much about, well, women stuff. A popular example of the naysayers was the excuse that women only talk about their periods on stage.

“Could you imagine if guys bled out of their dicks, how much period jokes there would be in comedy, and how completely beloved period jokes would be?” questions Chelsea Peretti. “Guys are like, 'I am bleeding out of my dick, but I'm not gonna talk about it on stage'.”

We watch the struggles of being a female in comedy through the eyes of McFarlane, a mother, stand-up comedian and wife to Rich Vos (another comedian). We see as she navigates herself through the comedy club scene, dressing in drag one night and not receiving any laughs, and questioning her own ability at being funny.

McFarlane, a brilliant comedian on her own, gives a glimpse into the rarely documented life of a successful female in the comedy community.

Whether you are a fan of comics or not, this movie is worth watching on Netflix. It opens the doors for new conversations to begin, bringing to light how far we've come, while simultaneously expressing how far we have to go.

Women are funny. We deserve to be heard.