Tag Archives: gender

The A/A Meeting #44 – Katherine Williams

2 Apr

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Note: At the beginning of the episode we’re commenting on a painting in Alex’s apartment done by his grandfather of a woman on a bicycle.
We get dirty on this one. Katherine and Angel talk a lot about sex, and Alex gets uncomfortable with how into it Angel gets (not “into it” in a creepy way, but in an overenthusiastic, “hirsuit Dr. Ruth with bigger tits” way).  We talk relationships, vibrators, going to Catholic school, responding to sexist heckles, and balls balls BALLS! Listen to this one with the lights down low and a few candles.

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Re: Eddie Brill

17 Jan

In summary, for you guys who aren’t comics/following comedy news: Veteran comedian Eddie Brill, who was the stand-up booker for The Late Show with David Letterman, stepped down from his position following a shit-storm of criticism over comments he made in an article profiling him in the New York Times that seemed sexist/dismissive of women comedians.

Now, as when any issue around something like gender or race comes up, people on one side are characterized as hyper-sensitive whiners who want any excuse to act like a victim, and the other side are characterized as ultra-reactionary assholes who interpret any plea for consideration or sensitivity as entitlement. I’ve seen people attack Brill for the fact that not that many women comedians have appeared on The Late Show, despite the valid argument that women are still a minority in comedy, and that comedians who make it to The Late Show are THEMSELVES a minority, so Brill could just be a simple victim of statistics. Then I’ve also seen other people blast anyone who takes umbrage at Brill’s comments as people who have a “everyone gets a trophy” kind of mentality that are just bitter that THEY haven’t made it onto TV.

Frankly, I think both sides have missed the point a little. People’s knee-jerk reactions have yielded just as much noise as signal, if not more. What should be discussed, I think, has nothing to do with who gets booked on Letterman or whether or not Eddie Brill is a decent human being, but instead we should take a break from yelling “SEXIST!” or “FEMINAZI!” at each other and maybe consider there are some problematic attitudes implicit in what he said and how that can reflect on the comedy community as a whole.

I take the following quote as my case in point:

“There are a lot less female comics who are authentic,” Mr. Brill said. “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”

I have a whole lot of problems with the phrase “act like men.”

See, I grew up with a mom who basically did everything physical around the house. If something needed fixing, Mom got out the tools and got it done. Something needed moving? Mom was helping you out. I can’t remember a time I ever went to Home Depot without my mom. In fact, even the last time I was in Miami, she was, despite being a sexagenarian cancer survivor, still putting in the elbow grease around the house, taking out pipes to unclog the kitchen sink.

This is why the show “Home Improvement” was a particularly confusing premise for me as a kid, because it tried to establish tools and doing anything with your hands as an exclusively male domain. So was my mom “acting like a man” when she did all those things? Was she being insincere and inauthentic when she lent me her drill set when I needed it to build robots?

In middle school, before I got into wrestling, my predominant interest was cooking and watching cooking shows on TV. My sister often asked me for advice when shopping for clothes. Most of my friends were female. Other guys didn’t call me “inauthentic,” they just called me “a faggot.”

Maybe I’m being a little extreme, but that goes to show what kind of problems there can be with saying that there’s a certain way men or women should act. What KIND of comedy behaviors is Mr. Brill assigning as being “like men?” Being dirty? Talking about sex? Being mean or insulting? What is it about a Y chromosome that makes those behaviors somehow more inborn? Any way you slice it, the very statement sets clear boundaries that there are certain behaviors that are only okay for men and others that are only okay for women, and that is the very definition of sexism. The remark wasn’t made out of malice, I’m sure, but it’s a naked admission of the fact that he doesn’t believe there is (and possibly shouldn’t be) a level playing ground.

What ensues from that is the fact that female comics are also trapped in a serious “damned if we do/damned if we don’t” scenario. If a woman tries to make an attempt to relate to male audiences, she gets called insincere; however, I’ve also heard (non-comedian) people complain that female comics do “nothing but period jokes.” Meanwhile, a friend of mine who does stand-up recently showed me his notebook, and there was one page that simply said “my penis.” Nothing else. This wasn’t even the last page he had written on and simply failed to write more notes on. There were notes on the page afterward and notes on the page before, but “my penis” stood alone on this page as, I guess, a necessarily large chunk of material, which is perfectly acceptable and natural.

Then there’s the whole question of how this mentality applies to any kind of queer comedians. Should a gay man act more like a man to compensate for his transgressive nature? Or should he actually act more feminine to fit with the already established perception of people of his sexuality? I have friends who are transsexual, meaning they already struggle with people criticizing them in their ordinary lives for being insincere or inauthentic just because they’re not acting in the way prescribed by their biological sex. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be if they were comedians and had to deal with that criticism in their professional lives as well.

(Maybe I’m full of liberal arts BS and am just white-knighting. That’s also a possibility.)

Should Brill have been fired? No. When you simply look for someone to decapitate just so you can put his bloody head on a pike and dance around it, you don’t get anything done. It’s kind of like what Louis C.K. said about the Tracy Morgan situation. A lot of anger on both sides is just anger with no productive result. There needs to be both acknowledgment of something potentially destructive AND a level-headed, reasonable approach to correcting it.

Women are still a minority in comedy, and the problem is we have not decided if we want to admit that comedy for women by women is its own unique culture that should be recognized and given its own space or if we should measure female comics and comedy that appeals to females by the EXACT same rubric as that for males, and I think Brill’s remarks show that very confusion. The truth is, comedy is subjective, and while comedy that caters to a certain audience is just as valid as any other, there still happens to be a persisting perception that the only comedy that can be a “mainstream” success is that which plays to a white male audience.

Maybe it would be easier for women comics to get ahead if they actually knew what it is people wanted from them.

The A/A Meeting #31 – Gaby Dunn

6 Nov

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While most people go out of their way to avoid and ignore the unfamiliar, this week’s guest endeavored to dive into it head-first. This week we have Gaby Dunn, who is an improviser and stand-up comedian, but whose major work right now is “100 Interviews,” a project whose basic premise was to write a list of the 100 kinds of people she had never met before, track them down, and interview them. We discuss the journey of discovery  taken through the project, how it got started, and where it’s headed (spoiler alert: BOOK DEAL!). We also take a little time to discuss other aspects of her life, like what’s it like to be a comedian dating another comedian, and how she became really popular among those lovable Jews. We love Jews at the A/A Meeting!

I Bitch About Network Television Some More

6 Oct

If you live in a major metropolitan area and have so much as left your house, you’ve seen advertisements for “Whitney,” starring stand-up comedian Whitney Cummings. Now, network sitcoms are the biggest money-making form of comedy in show business, there’s no disputing that, and plenty of comedians jump at the chance to get one because of the payday. However, there’s a reason why network sitcoms are so successful:

1. They get exposure to a broad, mainstream audience.

2. Broad, mainstream audiences are mostly dumb.

3. The sitcoms are written to be mostly dumb.

Number 3 is always applicable to how that show handles gender relationships, and Whitney just reminds me of some of the problems I have with the way gender is portrayed in mainstream comedy. Specifically: men and women in a relationship with each other are never shown as equals.

Depending on whether the show is trying to cater to men or women, a relationship is shown in one of two ways:

1. The man is a lovable, dumb, man-child loser who just wants to have fun, and his wife is constantly frustrated by his mess-ups, but we’re supposed to love him anyway because we’re told he’s lovable.

2. The woman is castrating and mean to the man, because that’s Hollywood’s only way of depicting a woman who is “independent” and “liberated,” and the man somehow wants to stay because we are told the woman is lovable.

Whitney seems to opt for number 2, a vibe you can get simply by looking at this promo image:

The main characters are supposed to be a long-term boyfriend and girlfriend, but would you get that vibe from looking at this image? Do they looks like people who like each other? I see Whitney’s smirk as saying “Awww yeah, I’m gonna make his life a living hell,” and the boyfriend’s raised eyebrow as saying “Oh no, what the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Also, consider one of the gags from one of the episodes. Whitney’s character agrees to make roleplay part of their bedroom rituals, so she dresses up as a nurse for her boyfriend. The joke is that she then asks the boyfriend to fill out a bunch of forms (something I can, having dealt with hospitals and ambulances lately, identify with) and then leaves the room. Now, if this is supposed to be punishment for the boyfriend asking for some kind of fantasy play she finds demeaning, fine, but the boyfriend just sits there and shrugs, taking it, with no attempt at reaction, which I don’t buy.

Now, keep in mind, I am saying I have a problem with a depiction of BOTH genders here. I think there are more ways of writing a woman than just “tired housewife” and “sexy, mean bitch,” as well as there are more ways of writing a man character than “dumb” and “pussywhipped.” Why can’t we see what the guy’s reaction to this is, and see what the argument is like, which may provide for some more jokes?

One of the things that bothers me about it is that it seems kind of pointless in today’s context. There’s not as much of a reason for plots to center around the tired old battle-of-the-sexes themes when the truth is that when women say they are searching for “equality,” they mean just that, “equality,” not just to tame men and keep them as pets. That’s just what mostly male comedy writers think of when they’re told to write women who are “equal.”

Women can make money and, mostly, live without men, if they so choose, so there seems less reason for two people to stay with each other if the script just shows them sniping at each other and competing all the time. At least when Lucy and Ricky were trying to outwit each other, it was because there were clear and present social constraints on women that gave Lucy’s quest for attention and autonomy some kind of meaning and urgency. Now the dynamic seems more to say “Hey, we HATE each other, and that’s why it’s funny!”

For some reason I have a particular affection for Lucy and Ricky as a model of a relationship where there was truly some sense of equality. Despite the fact that Ricky was the head of the household and the one who made the money, Lucy had a wit in the way she talked to Ricky that made her seem capable without seeming castrating. There was an affection in the way she would tease Ricky for his accent or his temper, and the schemes she would concoct were often not with the aim of humiliating Ricky, but just to be a part of his life.

Maybe it was because in real life Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were very much equals, acting as business partners as well as husband and wife, and continuing to work together even after their divorce. It was modeled on an actual relationship, instead of just manufactured to provide HEE-LARIOUS, pseudo-witty repartee.

I guess that exposes a much greater flaw, in that the whole sitcom is built around trying to get jokes and gags out at a rapid-fire pace instead of developing and exploring plausible character relationships. One thing I’ve learned from listening to experienced sketch writers and improvisers is that the best comedy comes when the focus is on developing a character and a premise, and not just going for jokes. Maybe that larger flaw in the foundation is what leads to a perceived need to pander and create these useless, erroneous gender dynamics. Why build a character when we can rely on already understood stereotypes?

Yuck. I might work for some of these people some day.

The A/A Meeting Episode 12 – Sarah Maywalt

25 May

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For those of you who’ve known me a while, you know that LGBT advocacy is one of my pet causes, which is why I was waiting to do this particular interview. Sarah Maywalt is a male to female transsexual comedian, and we get a little peak into her journey through life dealing with her gender identity, how others perceive her, and how she perceives herself.

We also get into a more general discussion about self-censorship, the power of words, and why there should be no words a comedian “can’t” use. But it’s not all serious, as we spend a little bit of time making fun of Alex’s bad handwriting when Sarah tries to decipher one of his old notebooks. Enjoy!