As the resident fire-starter of the humor section, I suppose now’s as good a time as any to reemerge from the summer haze and use the toxic atmosphere leftover from block party to set the entirety of Central Virginia aflame. I’m gonna put my lighter to notions of masculinity first, and we’ll just see how this whole thing shakes out from there. Wisdom would guide me to limit the scope of the fire to a manageable area, but I’m a woman, so wisdom is something I lack entirely!
This summer, I held a job where I worked with people of all ages. My role was to give tours to people from a million different backgrounds and generations, exploring the intricacies of a controversial history while attempting to create a balanced depiction of a complicated figure. Surprisingly, dealing with tourists’ interpretations of Jefferson was nowhere near as demanding as dealing with tourists’ and coworkers’ interpretations of me.
Last month, an older male coworker of mine attempted to explain comedy to me. An old adage advises that comedy is all about timing, which is something he’s evidently mastered, as he dropped that bomb on me at the tail end of a nine hour work day. I was devastated, really. My livelihood this summer depended upon my ability to interact and communicate with people. How could I have been so reckless, so foolish to forget that women aren’t funny? I tried to call to mind various women who’ve made their names in comedy, and boy, was it hard. Mindy Kaling, Abbi Jacobson, the University’s own Tina Fey? D-list celebrities at best.
The success of these women is one of the universe’s many mysteries — they’re all distinctly unfunny and so deeply problematic. “Problematic,” you ask? Yeah, you heard me. First of all, sometimes you can see their shoulders when they do their sets. Second of all, they occasionally make jokes about the sociopolitical realm. Uhhh, yikes, ladies — anyone with a good head on their shoulders knows that that stuff can be offensive if done poorly, and the complexities of politics are way over your heads.
Thank God we have scores of male comics who we can trust to make funny, well-informed, considerate jokes that play well to wider audiences. Ever heard of Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K. or Andy Dick? Yeah, sure, they’ve all been accused of sexual misconduct, but hey, their inability to understand a concept as simple as consent has no bearing on their ability to understand things like foreign policy, right? Their disregard for the humanity of an entire half of the population isn’t important to their jokes, right? And their position of relative power as able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual men doesn’t limit the scope of jokes they’re able to make, right? Of course not! Just look at how much money they’ve made! If men weren’t naturally funnier than women, how could these guys be making so much more than their female counterparts? Institutionalized sexism? Who’s she?
Later that very same day, I was thinking about my colleague’s advice as I meandered down a public trail to the parking lot at work when my reflection time was interrupted by yet another old man. This elderly fellow was standing a mere step from the edge of the path, trou down, emptying his bladder into the forest vegetation. This encounter reminded me of yet another thing women should not do: pee outside! Anatomically, it’s possible, but uh. We have to squat and men don’t and… Look, don’t overthink it. Worrying will give you wrinkles, baby girl.
My dear reader, as I close this letter, do you really think I mean to suggest that women ought to act like men and pee wherever and whenever they’d like? That we should cancel all cisgender, able-bodied male comics because they represent a historically privileged elite? No. I’m not looking to silence any voices or, God forbid, keep a man from relieving himself as soon as the thought crosses his mind and regardless of his surroundings.
I think it’s fair to say that comedy is largely about operating with a novel perspective, so it’s essential for comedians to look at mundane things through lenses different from the one most people look through. In this way, humor teaches empathy, and empathy is key to a healthy society. I didn’t write this to target and shame the two men with whom I interacted a few weeks back, although that did factor into my desire to write this piece. I wrote to you with the goal of starting conversation about gendered expectations, prejudices and stereotypes, and hoping to facilitate a healthier social environment at the University and in larger society.
How typical of a woman to try to solve problems with words.