Stop saying women aren’t funny

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 5:09pm

I hate hearing that women aren’t as funny as men.

Women make me laugh every day. My mom, my sister, my best friend, my favorite Twitter accounts and my favorite authors are all funny women. The shows I’ve been binge-watching on Netflix all summer are female-driven TV shows, helmed by strong, funny women. I love “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Office,” but I also love “The Mindy Project,” “30 Rock,” “Girls” and “Jane the Virgin.”

So don’t tell me that women aren’t funny. Don’t discredit the work of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, half the cast of SNL, the cast of “Bridesmaids,” every female screenwriter and showrunner who creates the funny male characters you love. I could go on, but I’m not going to (for now).

Women are funny, and I love female writers and female-driven TV, but I can’t help but notice a difference in my own preference when it comes to stand-up comedy. At this point, Netflix knows what I like: Bo Burnham, John Mulaney, Louis CK, etc. Netflix is smart enough to recommend “Shows With Strong Female Leads,” but only suggests comedy specials by male stand-up comedians. In fact, there’s about one comedy special by a female comedian for every five by a male comedian on Netflix anyway, so maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. There just isn’t a single woman on the list of stand-up comedians I can actually say I watch and really enjoy.

As in every situation, I hesitate to blame myself. I want to find female stand-up acts I enjoy, but every time I watch one, I find the comedian fits into one (or both) of these categories:

Somehow More Sexist Than Male Comedians: Sure, male comedians say some pretty awful things about women (I don’t like them, either). But when women do it, it just feels like, come on girl. Let’s at least be on our own side. If you have to resort to making fun of your own gender — our helplessness, our sluttiness, our appearances — how funny are you really? These comedians recycle the same topics: gynecologists, masturbation, being old and unmarried. It feels like I’ve heard it before, and it all just feels a little misogynistic.

Just Gross: This one isn’t just for women either. Joking about something like abortion, anal sex or STDs gives an act shock value, which makes these topics a really easy way for comedians of any gender to get a laugh out of their audience. But it just feels like cheating. I get it, a lot of comedy is really vulgar, and maybe that’s just not my thing. It feels like a crutch used by comedians who aren’t funny enough to get a laugh the hard way. One of my favorite stand-up comedians is John Mulaney (“The Comeback Kid”), not just because he’s funny, but because he’s funny without resorting to the shocking. It’s situational, observational comedy, and that takes more talent than telling dick jokes.

One of my least favorite stand-up acts is Amy Schumer. I like her on Twitter and in “Trainwreck,” but as much as I want to like her stand-up routines, I just don’t. Her jokes are almost constantly self-deprecating. She says she’s fat; she says she’s loose; she says she’s a drunk. She mocks herself and her gender and even when she does make me laugh, I find myself asking, why is this funny? It’s cheap humor that relies on the taboo.

I admire funny women. I want to watch female comedians perform stand-up and I want them to make me laugh until I can’t breathe and I want the jokes to be about something other than getting a pap smear or giving a blow job. I’m just asking female comedians to be better. But this relies on audience response, too. So now I’m looking at you, audience: don’t only think women are funny when they’re making fun of women. Don’t only think women are funny when their comedy is crude. Don’t only think men are funny when their comedy is crude either. Respond to smart humor. Respect women. Respect yourself. Demand better stand-up comedy.