When Did Women Start Being Funny?!

Words by Honor Tuttiett

We always were is the answer of course, but why has it been such a battle to prove that we are? I grew up watching the likes of Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers being the quiet but nonetheless hilarious counterpart to John Cleese. The effortless and lasting humour in Absolutely Fabulous with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, and Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley. All of these women were my focus as a child, it didn’t occur to me that we weren’t considered funny until I grew up and started watching films where the girls were nearly all excluded from witty banter.

Where did this idea come from? I have heard my own boyfriend parroting the line ‘women aren’t funny’ but see him falling about with laughter from my own witty retorts. It is like a mental stigma for some men, but thank god we do seem to be breaking through of late. With the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler having storming success hosting the Golden Globes for the past three years, there is hope that the question of female humour will become erogenous to everyone in the very near future.

After reading Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography, Bonkers, I saw how hard it was for women to push through and be allowed into comedy. Lines like, ‘there can’t be two female acts in a row’ were a staple in comedy clubs in the 70’s and are still said today. Luckily in 2012 What The Frock comedy group was founded to combat this imbalance in the comedy realm and make more unbiased space for women. They regularly host successful female only comedy nights around the UK and began the project in order to prove the point that ‘there were some funny women out there, and that people are willing to pay to see them’. They did so well that it has carried on to this day, but considering that this idea begun in 2012 it shows how long it has been a struggle for females to prove their humour could actually entertain a crowd.   

Female led comedy is actually becoming a very lucrative industry for film and television now that people have realised we can make humour quite well. Bridesmaids (2011) was a breakthrough film grossing just under two hundred million pounds in it’s lifetime. This film was made in the current style of many male humoured films like The Hangover or This Is The End, which are great films don’t get me wrong, but it was amazing to see women do the same style just as well. Orange Is The New Black is also a game changing programme with a nearly all female cast. It shows how we are with each other (when we are at our most humorous), because of it being set in a female prison. It is such a refreshing programme when you think about it, not to mention extremely successful. Female led casts have now broken the film and television mainstream and aren’t going to relinquish their place any time soon.

We are casting off the shackles of being considered unfunny, we always knew it and it seems the world is waking up to the idea now too, although it’s a little late world.

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