Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 28, 2021

Funny women flourish and fizzle as comics

By JENNIFER DIAMOND | February 21, 2013

I think it’s pretty safe to say that our society has advanced beyond the “are women funny?” debate. Because, duh, women are funny. You don’t have to look far to find tons of ladies (haha, binders full of women, haha, whatever) who are building careers with their impressive comedic chops. Look at Tina Fey. Or Amy Poehler. Or how about Sarah Silverman? Or Kate McKinnon, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garofalo, Wanda Sykes, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Sedaris, Ellen Degeneres, Margaret Cho, Chelsea Piretti or Kristen Wiig? Need I go on?

And speaking of Kristen Wiig, one of the more momentous moments for female comedians came in 2011 when Wiig’s star-studded film, Bridesmaids, hit the theaters and received rave reviews. The film was led by six female comedians, of all different styles, and all hilarious. More than that, it was written by two women: Wiig herself along with Annie Mumolo.

While this movie garnered a generally positive reception from audiences and critics, I have to admit that I am torn in my opinion of it. On the one hand, I think it is awesome that there are blockbuster comedies being written and performed by women. Not that ladies have been absent from comedic films in the past (by any stretch of the imagination!), but Bridesmaids did receive its fair share of lauds for avoiding the tropes of vapid rom-coms that represent the average opportunity for a female comedian to strut her stuff. And boy do these ladies strut! There are too many hysterical moments in this film to name them all, but let me just point out the brilliant scene between Wiig and a horribly obnoxious pre-pubescent girl in a jewelry store. Just go watch it. And I can’t stress how important it is that audiences demonstrate to Hollywood that we want women who aren’t idealized or transformed into predators or maternal figures in our comedies (I’m looking at you, The Hangover). We want real women doing real things – even if those things are sometimes kind of disgusting.

Which brings me to my counter point: I have read numerous articles praising Bridesmaids for taking on “gross-out humor,” a typically exclusively male sector of comedy. In one infamous scene, the six women suddenly and simultaneously come down with a case of explosive food poisoning. This scene was rather cringe-worthy for me as a viewer, even though I do enjoy a well-placed poop joke. In many ways, it felt as though I was watching one of the many crude “bromance” comedies Judd Apatow is so famous for churning out. I was not surprised to later discover via The Daily Beast that Apatow, one of the Bridesmaids producers, was the main individual who conceived of and developed this particularly messy scene. On the one hand, I agree that it is in some way revolutionary for women to claim a gross, body-oriented sense of humor as their own. Hooray, vomit, I suppose. On the other hand, part of me feels as though this scene is not about women carving their own path in the comedic world. Instead, it is about them conforming to a very particular brand of comedy that male audiences have decided is good. Why does part of a woman’s journey to prove that she’s funny have to play into the stereotypes of male-dominated comedic films? Why does a woman have to prove that she can be gross in order to be funny? Why can’t she just be clever and talented? I have a lot of mixed feelings.

Furthermore, I have to admit that I was somewhat bothered by the way the film ended. SPOILER ALERT: In the last scene, Annie (Kristen Wiig) kisses Mr. Handsome-Awesome-Irish-Guy (Chris O’Dowd) and the antagonist, Helen (Rose Byrn), is thrilled because she has successfully planned the perfect wedding. Despite the fact that Annie’s non-romantic life is in tatters and Helen is left in the middle of a lonely existence and a loveless marriage, the audience is supposed to buy the almost fairy tale finale because our heroine gets the guy and Helen does a great job buying a pretty cake and hanging up streamers. I sound cynical only because I thought the film otherwise did such a wonderful job of avoiding cheesy, rom-com snares. For the most part, Bridesmaids manages to represent real women — women who are not always picture-perfect, composed, and/or clean. So why does it feel the need to cave to a cliché trope of female happiness at the very end?

In conclusion, Bridesmaids is an important film. It showcases the incredible female comedic talent that is in existence today, but continues to be overlooked. It proved to producers that audiences want to watch female-driven comedies. If you haven’t already noticed, numerous other films with dominantly female casts have been green-lighted following the success of Bridesmaids. But is it a “social responsibility” to see this film, as Salon would have you believe? Probably not. This film proves two things: that the world has become a lot more welcoming for female comedians, but that we still have a ways to go.

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