Women Comedians Making Trouble
Over the past few months, the media has been flooded with articles about women in comedy. Jewish women in particular have been in spotlight with Sarah Silverman’s sky-rocketing ratings, Comedian Cory Kahaney’s “The J.A.P. Show: Princesses of Comedy” and Judy Gold’s one-woman show “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.” Indeed, these women know how to keep us laughing. And yet, why aren’t there more of them?
About a month ago, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post mused about women’s place in comedy in his article “Rules of Game Different for Female Comedians.” The article begs the question “What are the factors behind so few females getting paid to be funny?” Farhi references Comedy Central’s initiative from a few years ago to survey a panel of comedians and draw up a list of “100 Greatest Stand-up Comics of All Time.” Ninety men made the list, compared with just ten women. Ten! While “Top 100” lists don’t usually lend themselves to credibility, a 9:1 male/female ratio is glaringly pitiful... not so different from the mere 5 women selected in this year’s “Top 50 Rabbis in America.”
So what’s going on? With so many funny women out there, why are so few gaining recognition? Comedian Eddie Brill has a theory. He tells the Washington Post:
“My gut tells me that society doesn’t like to see a woman in power, and standing on a stage [telling jokes] is a powerful position. Some of the best comedians on the planet are female. But a lot of men are afraid to laugh at a woman. It sometimes can turn insecure men into even more insecure people.”
And Joan Rivers explains: “Most girls, when they’re young, realize that they don't get attention for being funny... [Girls] want to be pretty or sexy. Funny isn't sexy. Comedy isn't sexy... [Stand-up comedy] is a very masculine form. You're taking an audience and dominating them. You're like a ringmaster in a lion's den. You have to be very strong.”
Is this true? Do most people think that stand-up is a guy thing? Are men really too threatened by women being brash, ballsy, or catty on the stage? Are women comedians just making trouble?
The embarrassing omissions in Comedy Central’s “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time” shouldn’t leave us worrying that women haven’t had an impact. They have. And Jewish women in particular have a rich history in comedy. Women like Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Gilda Radner, Wendy Wasserstein, and yes, Joan Rivers. These women paved the way for so many of today’s women in comedy, turning the old “death is easy, comedy is hard” joke completely on its head.
Keep your eyes and ears out for Making Trouble, a new full-length feature documentary about Jewish women comedians presented by the Jewish Women’s Archive. Making Trouble will premiere in the SILVERDOCS Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland on June 16th and from there, make its way to San Francisco.
Click here to view the film trailer, and stay tuned for the official Making Trouble website!
How to cite this page
Namerow, Jordan. "Women Comedians Making Trouble." 30 May 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/makingtrouble>.