I’m not a fan of vulgar. I love a well-placed curse word, but I don’t really do fart jokes (I cringe even writing that). I’ll give a polite smile. Maybe fake a laugh, because I also hate awkward social situations – but not a fan. I have no issue with the bodily functions themselves. I was a coach, a nursing student and now, a wife and mother. I’ve seen a lot. Like Vietnam a lot. But I draw the line at shock humor. It’s so cheap. Such a cop-out. It gets laughs sometimes, but they’re cheap laughs. Uncomfortable laughs. The kind of laughs you had to sell your soul for.
Instead, I’m a fan of silly. Of clever. Of ridiculous. Of Monty Python and A Bit Fry and Laurie. I love Arrested Development and Steve Martin. I love an unexpected callback. The precision of good stand-up. I love how a good joke unfolds and how one word can be the difference between a smile and a guffaw. I just love making other people laugh. It fills some dark place in my soul and right now is such a liberating time to be a #funnygirl.
You have women like Tina Fey, who can write, and act, and make fun of themselves in a way that makes them approachable, but you never question the confidence they have in themselves or in their craft. Women who can transform themselves at the drop of hat from Beyonce’ to Gwen Stefani and back, like Maya Rudolph. A woman like Mindy Kaling, who is so the opposite of what Americans fifty years ago would imagine themselves finding funny. I’ve read each of their memoirs and not-so-secretly plotted how to befriend all of them. All my best girlfriends are contractually obligated to, upon meeting any of these women, immediately invite them to be our collective best friends. You think I’m joking.
Chasing this writing dream of mine, I spent some time in California. I took a sketch writing class at UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. Home of THE. AMY. POHLER. (I would go on and on about her here but on the off-chance I make it big and run into her at an industry party I’d prefer to present my love in the form of an interpretive dance. I’ll let you know how it goes.) The class was four girls and two boys. We had a very adorable and hilarious teacher. In class, we would hand out our sketches and do a table read, meaning the other writers would play parts in your sketch that you assigned them. I am an awful actress unless I get pulled over for a speeding ticket, in which case I turn into Kate Winslet from Titanic and start taking off my clothes. (Just joking. See, nudity but not slutty.)
One of the girls in my class was super tiny and cute. (Note: If you are over 5’7” in Hollywood you qualify as an Amazon. Get a club and some cute loin cloths, but not fur. PETA is for real out there.) Every sketch she submitted for table reads was just disgusting. DISGUSTING. In every sense of the word. During our commercial parodies hers climaxed (for lack of a better word) with an anal rape. Hilarious, right?*
The next week her sketch focused on the female perineum. (No idea what that is? Google it. Actually don’t. Especially not at work.) I was the lead in that sketch and reading that dreck was an excruciating exercise in self control. It was that she wasn’t talented at all. I have no idea if she was talented, because I was busy hurling into the nearest trash can (ok, recycle bin. Let’s be real it’s California). I don’t know if she was talented because she was a one-trick-pony. She was trying to shock people.
She was a very attractive young woman and she was playing off of the contrast. The whole How could someone so pretty say that? – vibe. She was trying to do what both Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman do. Both beautiful women. Both with a taste for explicit comedy. While I’m not huge fans of theirs, I have the upmost respect for them because they’ve mastered their craft. What they do, they do really well, but it is because at their core – they are funny. The shock is a schtick. They are both very intelligent, incredibly witty females. The took a male dominated art-form and worked their way to the top. Did they shock people? Yes, but they also pointed out idiosyncrasies in society. They made jokes at their own expense. They each had a unique way of looking at the world and they were able to voice that. They were different. They were funny.
Instead, what tiny cute girl did was create an entirely unfunny sketch designed to be vulgar, and violent, and nasty. She designed a sketch to shock people because she couldn’t be funny. She talked about sex because it’s easy. It is a naturally interesting concept to humans biologically wired to search out pleasure and procreation. She was cheating.
Our teacher would laugh during each of our sketches. UCB classes foster a sort of safe-space for fledgling talent and this is an unwritten rule. A vote of support for your fellow comrades as you lay your soul on a table for everyone to see. Her soul was a sex crime and mine was a camel trying to get through airport security.
I’ve been back in Texas two years now but the comedy bug followed me home. So strong this little bug, I started a website dedicated to #funnygirls. A website for funny moms, funny daughters, funny friends and funny women. A place where women can be witty and clever and sharp and hilarious. For so many girls out there sexy is a slippery slope. To be beautiful, you must be sexy. To be cute, you must be sexy. To be powerful, you must be sexy. And now you have to be sexy to be funny. That sucks. And when does sexy turn to slutty?
Near the end of my time in California, I went to watch my little brother perform in an Improv comedy show. He’s so much funnier than me. He’s funny in such an organic way, he can’t not be funny. He led in a few scenes and just killed them. He stepped in a few sketches from the wall and saved them. A couple in front of me commented that “the tall skinny guy was their favorite”. My heart swelled in a way only a sister’s (or someone with pulmonary hypertension’s) can.
Mid-show a girl stepped off the wall to lead a scene and immediately everyone on stage pressed themselves against the faux bricked plywood behind them. If you’ve seen an Improv show you know what that means. It means she sucks and no one wants to perform with her. It took about 0.3 seconds for someone to step off the wall to join her, which in stage time is like 25 minutes. I’m pretty sure I heard an instructor whispering from behind the curtain for someone to get their ass on stage.
The scene bombed. The girl cursed non-stop, made drug references and proceeded to try and seduce the character playing her dad. If there is such thing as a comedy soulmate she was my comedy antiChrist. The audience, a forgiving group made of mostly friends and family members, collectively cringed. It wasn’t funny. It was pathetic. It was sad. It was slutty.
My brother came in as a pizza delivery guy and saved the scene.** When the troupe bowed at the end, the girl shook her breasts to the audience. An older woman in the front row laughed. The girl smiled. Pleased with herself. I watched the woman’s face who laughed. It wasn’t a good laugh. It was the laugh of someone who was disappointed. Someone who was disgusted. Someone at a loss for words.
The older woman stood and walked out without waiting for the cast. I wondered who she was. An industry professional? Likely not. A disenchanted tourist? Maybe. Either way she was unimpressed. I thought about the girl on stage. Flailing about to be something. If not funny, then something else.
I hugged my brother when he jumped off stage. We left the theater together and relived some of the jokes he made. We passed the Scientology Castle and the girl stepped out into the sidewalk far in front of us. Alone. My brother rolled his eyes. Once she turned the corner, he talked about how overtly sexual she was in every scene in practice. So this wasn’t a one time act – it was what she did night in and night out. It made me sad. I wondered where she learned she had to exploit herself to be funny? And why she didn’t have enough confidence to know differently? I wondered if she knew the kind of laugh she got. Then, I wondered if she cared.
*Mine was Kim Jong Un doing a “Cash for Uranium” commercial. It had a withered-armed-postman and a radioactive housewife. Hilarious. Also, North Korea, before you hack our site and publish our emails it’s mostly me and Jolie making superhero references. Enter at your own risk.
**It was a great callback. If you had seen the rest of the show you would have died laughing (not unlike someone with pulmonary hypertension).