There’s been a lot of interesting buzz about women in comedy lately. After Olivia Munn made her debut as the new female correspondent on the Daily Show, the feminist response was a mixed bag. Jezebel had a fantastically informative piece about the “women problem” over at the Daily Show. The piece doesn’t lay down a harsh judgment on Munn herself, just on the historical lack of of female writers and correspondents (and the dismissive treatment thereof) on the show. Double X responded with a critique of Munn, who has a bit where she stuffs phallic objects in her mouth, among other things. Broadsheet ruminated on the larger problem of women in comedy– the whole “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect of being either too hot, or talented and not hot, or talented and hot, and basically no matter what, someone is going to judge you for it.
Watching the Joan Rivers documentary made it painfully clear to me how much looks are always, always a factor in how we perceive women comedians. But what seems especially painful to me is that this judgment is not always coming from men. Women– even feminists– hell, often feminists– offer up their critiques of women in comedy, and a woman’s looks are not always left off the table. It’s the responsibility of feminist writers to be critical of what we see, and to analyze the implications of a woman’s performance and the positive and negative aspects of what that performance offers. But if you believe, as most third wave feminists do, that each woman has a right to her own individual experience and a right to represent herself however she chooses, then perhaps it is time for women to become a little more forgiving of one another.
A helpful example of this is how some feminist writers talked about Tina Fey a few months back. Fey’s amazing Liz Lemon character on 30 Rock is perpetually insecure, always the victim of (hilarious) ugly jokes and fat jokes, always single and awkward with men, always embarrassing herself. Her SNL episode featured similar frumpy, downtrodden characters. Lots of bloggers, Double X included, were not having it. The column featured not one but two pieces criticizing Fey for “denigrating single women” and accusing her of seeking “married lady’s revenge.” Both articles made good points about Tina Fey’s positionality, arguing that as a successful, beautiful, married woman, it is not fair for her to be perpetually mocking single women. It’s an interesting question, but to me it demonstrates a very problematic presumtuousness on the part of the writers to tell a comic how to be a comic.
First of all, it’s not any other woman’s job to tell a woman whether or not she’s insecure. Tina Fey has not always been successful, she hasn’t always been married, and she hasn’t always been a sex symbol, so there’s nobody in the world who can tell her she’s not allowed to joke about insecurity. As anyone who has EVER been insecure knows, those feelings die hard, and they don’t always go away the moment you have some degree of success. But, more importantly, Tina Fey is a smart, intelligent writer and performer who is doing great things for women in comedy. Whether or not you dig her specific brand of humor, isn’t it more helpful for us to support each other, as women, in a field where women need all the support they can get?
So, back to Munn. As most of the above mentioned feminist writers (who, for the record, are some of my favorite writers) have said, it’s too soon to tell whether she’s a great fit for The Daily Show or not. It’s also too soon for me to decide whether she’s super funny– the stuff I’ve seen (specifically, her shoving gross food into her mouth) I’m not crazy about, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not talented. That she’s super hot doesn’t mean she’s untalented either. True, when you Google her, you’ll find lots of sexy bikini poses– but as feminists have long been arguing, women should be allowed to be sexual and still be taken seriously.
Certainly, as smart, curious, critical women, it is our job to always be questioning, to always be asking ourselves about the significance and meaning of what we’re seeing. But when it comes to women in comedy, I think it’s just as important for us to be equal parts supportive and critical. To criticize content is one thing, but to criticize individual women is something much more damaging. For now, let’s give Munn some time to find her voice, and hope that the writers give her good stuff to work with. She might suck, but we shouldn’t assume she will just because she’s a hottie. And let’s hope that The Daily Show continues to open some long awaited doors for women.