jerry lewis still doesn’t think women can be funny. do you?
Cary Grant and Burt Reynolds are Jerry Lewis’ favourite funny ladies.
The old trickster recently enlightened the beautiful people of Cannes to exactly what he thinks of women in comedy. When asked to name comediennes he liked, he listed the two above.
When the interviewer recovered and started to get all, ‘Seriously though, what about Melissa McCarthy and Sarah Silverman?’ Lewis replied:
‘I can’t see women doing that [comedy]. It bothers me. I cannot sit and watch a lady diminish her qualities to the lowest common denominator. I just can’t do that.’
For years and years we’ve dissected humour along gender lines. And the final question is always the same. Can people with vaginas really make us laugh?
When this brainteaser is raised, the response usually goes something like this; the sane people, who understand that funny people are funny, get annoyed and start listing a heap of hilarious women to try to convince the other people who don’t get it. And too right.
But it doesn’t seem to be working.
That’s likely to be because Jerry Lewis’ views extend further into society than we’d care to imagine. It seems to come down to the fact that a lot of people think being funny simply isn’t in line with being a lady. And being a lady, after all, is the most important thing a woman should aspire to.
Which means many of the things people laugh about are off limits to women.
For ladies there should be no fart jokes. No sex jokes. No honesty. No gross body talk. No swearing. Nothing rude or obnoxious. Nothing true or real or gritty or queasy. That stuff is for the boys. Come on now, let’s not diminish our lady qualities.
This isn’t the first time Jerry has stuck the proverbial boot into funny women. In 1998, in a painfully famous interview with Martin Short, Lewis said;
‘I don’t like any female comedians.
‘A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.’
Sure, it’s irritating that journalists felt the need to rehash something from more than a decade ago (see above note about people getting a weird buzz from this ‘Can women be funny?’ thing). But Lewis could’ve used the opportunity to say something redeeming on the matter. Or at the very least, to say nothing at all.
Aside from the fact that the term ‘producing machine’ is offensive and problematic on at least fourteen levels (and maybe also grammatically incorrect?), Lewis isn’t the only celeb to voice such an opinion.
A quick Google search for ‘women aren’t funny’ reveals articles from the Huffington Post, Salon and heaps of others, dated all the way through the ‘90s and ‘00s. The most popular among them: Christopher Hitchen’s 2007 essay for Vanity Fair. It begins;
‘Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.’
Actually Mister H, I don’t really know what you’re talking about. But anyway.
Hitchens goes on to explain that humour is one of the first things his gal pals look for in a guy, but that the reverse doesn’t hold true. This kind of makes sense though, he says. Women have lady lumps and nice smiles to attract men, they don’t need to bother trying to make them laugh.
The thing about many arguments denying women’s capacity for comedy, those made by Lewis and Hitchens included, is they assign men the active role in decisions about what’s funny.
Essentially we’re told that male comedians are comedians. A woman’s comedy however, is women’s comedy. In much the same way that news involving men is news. And news involving women is women’s interest.
As these things have a nasty habit of doing, questions about female comedians often boil down to women and their looks.
It’s probably not a coincidence that quite a bit of time, effort and money has gone into researching whether or not men find funny women attractive. Apparently they don’t. It’s been proposed that this might be because funny women are, amongst other things; threatening, limelight hogging, too mouthy or not feminine enough.
And when they’re not predisposed to being loud and intimidating, female comedians are, ironically, tripping themselves up by being invisible.
Another old favourite in the ‘women aren’t funny’ camp is proving female comedians are a joke, by asking people to list their favourite comediennes. And some people honestly can’t think of many. Or any.
But to be fair, when asked to think of my favourite Fortune 500 female CEOs, I can’t really think of many. Whaddaya know? It’s difficult for women to get ahead sometimes. Sometimes people who are good at what they do aren’t given the credit they should be. Doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of smart female managers out there. Or plenty of hilarious female comedians.
Whether your favourite funny person has boy bits or girl bits or in-between bits, is pretty irrelevant; the point is that it’s harmful to all of us when silly, sweeping statements are made by people that a lot of other people listen to. Like Jerry Lewis and Christopher Hitchens.
To be respectable and attractive as a lady, this teaches young women, you shouldn’t even want to be funny,
But if we’re being real about it, maybe it shouldn’t even shock us that Jerry Lewis’ favourite comediennes are a couple of dudes. After all, we did name a horse Sportswoman of the Year.