“Funny”, in females, is not portrayed in American media as a desirable trait. It’s something reserved for the sidekick or the comic relief wing-girl, not something for the romantic lead. I have often believed that girls are encouraged to keep their hilarity within the confines of what’s still considered cute: witty banter, not full on vulgar humor. There have been women who have gone outside of this mold as comedians, from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman, but they are an exception. Comedy, whether vulgar or smart, can be constricted to gender roles.
Recently, there has been a sort of paradigm shift in how women are portraying themselves in television. They didn’t come here to play “cute” They came here to laugh, and they are all out of f’s to give if people do not like it. There are sitcoms now with female leads that are far from charming, who are not polished, who are just going to go with their characters and all the vulgarity that comes from it. Now, we have Julia Louis-Dreyfus making statements like, “I just got Brit-fucked by that balloon animal,” and Ilana on Broad City saying, “I am so hard right now,” Now we are getting somewhere in allowing women to put their energy into being hilarious, and not asking them to make sure it stays “cute”.
Fifteen years ago, the closest thing we had to a show where women just went for that kind of bawdiness was Sex and the City – and that was only because Kim Cattrall is an amazing comic actress. Still, the show felt it had to represent all the areas of the female psyche, so it gave us the traditional female elements and their shocked reactions along with the less traditional characters and their shocking statements. When Samantha talked about Richard’s “long, pink, perfect dick”, there was a reaction from half the characters where they were somehow still shocked at her crudeness. Those reactions are there to provide empathy to the poor shocked audience, to show an acceptable reaction to a woman making a sexually explicit statement. Now, we have episodes of Broad City where Ilana says, “I think I’m just craving pink dick,” and her friend doesn’t even blink. And just the way she says it, and the way it’s accepted, makes it NBD. That is what I’m looking for: a universe where hilarity and comedy can come from anyone, and not be defined by their gender.
I often wonder if this is an actual generational gap. Is it that the generation of fifteen years ago felt constrained to these traditional gender roles? I think that is what frustrates me the most about that mentality when I re-watch Sex & the City. It was a groundbreaking show for the time, but it still frustrates me how much it adheres to traditional female archetypes, especially since it is essentially conceived and developed by men.
And now we have sitcoms with flawed female leads! Look at 30 Rock, a show I’m shocked not only was made, but that ran for as long as it did. Or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a total phenomenon based on a woman whose behavior is completely out of touch with social expectations. Or Parks and Rec. It’s not “ladylike” behavior. It’s just funny behavior. We have hundreds of shows where brassy, bossy, bawdy behavior is taken for granted when it’s done by guys. Now we finally have a handful where it’s done by women, and in the universe they live in, it’s totally OK.
I love that we are finally getting to shows that do not feel like they need to map characters to traditional female roles. It’s no longer required to put a Charlotte in, or to channel Helen Lovejoy in a sort of Greek chorus. This is where something like Two Broke Girls fails: it has a traditionally female character to be shocked by her smartass friend. It still has a traditional female gender role to balance out, and tell us that we should be leery of this kind of unladylike behavior.
It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by. Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief. Having a person just be hilarious, without anyone reacting based on gender stereotypes, is what I really love about this next generation of female comedy. I hope the next seasons of all these sitcoms I’m so into can keep it rolling to remind us that our gender restrictions can no longer keep us from being equally bawdy and hilarious.