Funny Girl(s)

I take on the question of women in comedy — and why they're undergoing a resurgence the last few years — in today's column for TOH:

Sure, Fey’s impression takes advantage of certain facts not of her doing — her resemblance to Sarah Palin, the fact that the candidate was already prominent in the zeitgeist. The reason why it works not only as adept mimicry but also as political satire, however, speaks to the ways in which women are mining a new vein of humor that appeals to anyone, male or female, burnt out on bland romantic comedies and wayward slackers. Fey, unafraid of cutting to the quick, displays a glimmer of empathy, too; there’s a subtle-yet-raw vulnerability to her Palin impersonation that takes it beyond the realm of caricature.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking here about “women are weak” vulnerability, which is a sham idea anyway. I mean that this is full-blooded comedy, reliant not only on audacity but also on the recognition that part of what’s funny about people is their propensity to fail miserably and find a way to get up smiling...

The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, among other sharp comedies of the last decade, did the same thing for those of us stuck between comfortable stoner-dom and the “real” world, but the premise is no longer current, the subgenre nowhere near fresh (witness the full-frontal dreadfulness of The Hangover: Part II). But the vein of vulnerability I’m talking about isn’t a woman thing, though they’re the performers who’ve capitalized on it most. It has broader appeal: it’s a human thing, a darkly funny reminder that we’ve created this monster of a troubled world...

But the delicate balance of pathos and penis humor in New Girl, easily the best in this new crop, suggests how America’s funniest women are facing vulnerability with a candor that puts most of the guys to shame.

Actually, I think the gents are coming around to what the women have already discovered. Last I heard, the best-reviewed comedy of the season was a little picture spawned from the Apatow stable—but independent of him—called 50/50. A cancer comedy, huh. Isn’t Laura Linney already making one of those?

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