I just saw Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and it got me thinking about the recent influx of women in comedy, and the movies where the females dominate now (Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, Baby Mama, Mean Girls, The Heat, Pitch Perfect, etc.). While I believe in feminism—the movement for equality between men and women—I also have some mixed feelings about these movies, and often prefer the comedies where the actors are primarily men (Anchorman, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Zoolander, Tommyboy, etc.), as that is what I’ve grown accustomed to. Does that mean that I think men are better at comedy than women? Definitely not. So I got to thinking about why I like some more than others and whether they can even be compared, or if they should be seen as two completely separate types of films.
Women comedies—ones that are either written by women or containing primarily women—has been breaking new ground. Amy’s book, Yes Please, and Tina’s Bossypants both discuss their time at Saturday Night Live (SNL). Tina’s book goes into more detail about how the improv companies they were in (which is what many comedians were in before being hired at SNL) were men’s clubs, with less parts for women than men. She said the women were not competing against men for any roles, but just against the other women. In the recent years, SNL has hired more women and gives female comedians lead parts in skits now, and Amy and Tina were a big part in making that happen.
However, can we compare the female comedies to the male ones? Maybe not yet, because there aren’t enough of these women comedies (for lack of a better genre name). You know the tears-in-your-eyes, stomach-now-hurts kind of laughing? Yeah, Sisters (or the other women comedies) didn’t do that for me like the male comedies have. But Tina and Amy were their usual awesome selves, and it was very funny nonetheless. While I was laughing, or just chuckling sometimes, I had thoughts such as: “This bit is actually very funny”, “Oh, that Amy and Tina”, and “Should I be laughing at this?” Sometimes I was nervously laughing when I noticed not everyone in the theater was. Other times I was just just smiling while other people around me were laughing really hard. It catered to different types of humor.
One difference I see is how there’s a fine line between being funny, trying too hard, and being laughed at for being “dumb funny.” And it seems that men can pull off this dumb funny more often, because women have for so long been going in the opposite direction (trying to be taken seriously as equals, and not called “dumb blondes”) that it’s hard to turn around sometimes.
Sisters vs. The Hangover: Sisters (much like Mean Girls, Trainwreck, and Pitch Perfect, to name a few) seemed to lean towards the Comedy genre, while still stretching into the Drama side of things (though not enough to label it a Romantic Comedy). Maybe this was to make sure the movie maintained its intelligence, or maybe it was to get a broader viewing audience. The main difference I saw between this movie in comparison with, for example, The Hangover, is that while both of these movies had drama, conflict, and resolution, with Sisters I walked away with more to think about and learn from, whereas after watching The Hangover (much like Anchorman or Zoolander) I just walked away laughing and thinking about how silly the movie was…with funny parts to talk about with friends and new quotes to reference.
Bridesmaids, on the other hand, went the other way for me. Again, it catered to a particular type of audience. It was not my favorite, because I do not appreciate gross or embarrassing humor, so I felt like it was trying too hard. But it did really well, and I know several women who disagree with my opinion of it.
So what exactly were the moviemakers’ goals for these movies? Did they want Bridesmaids to be the female Hangover? Did they want Sisters to be the female Zoolander or Tommyboy? Do they want it to be analyzed against the male comedies at all? Or is this new sub-genre supposed to stand on its own? Are there even enough female comedies yet to start comparing/contrasting with the vast number of male comedies? And even if it’s supposed to be a brand new genre, they still had to know that there would be a gender debate about it. After all, there’s now going to be a Ghostbusters movie with an all-female cast, and you know there will be people comparing that to the original in terms of funniness, whether it’s completely different or not.
Concluding thoughts for now: Whether we try to segregate the genres or not, just the fact that the women comedies are being compared to the men’s comedies means a greater step towards equality and away from inferiority. And the more we talk and think about why we have the preconceived or subconscious ideas of how men or women should act, the better we understand ourselves and overcome any prejudice or stereotypes holding us back.