OMG I have so many emotions right now! Originally this was going to be about the double standard between male and female comedians, but I can’t even begin to wrap my head around a subject so big. So instead lets just talk about the amazing funny ladies that inspire me every day and have helped shaped my sarcastic ass.
CNN has a new documentary series The History of Comedy. The second episode that aired 02/16/2017 is entitled The Funnier Sex. Which is entirely about the women of comedy. It was totally amazing! I Love Women, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Funny Ladies! The episode talks mostly about the struggles women have had to overcome in the dominantly masculine “Boys Club” of the comedy world. From Phyllis Diller, to “the Girls” of SNL, to Wanda Sykes. It was everything my little comedic feminist heart could ask for, and it brought up so many important points about the ridiculous uphill battle that women have had to take on.
I suppose we should start with my first fangirl Lady loves. Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Mary Tyler Moore. When I was a wee lass I’d say no more than 10 year old I would wake up at the ass crack of dawn (about 4 AM) every morning in order to get into the bathroom before the other 6 people that lived with us to get ready for school. But even more so I wanted to watch my shows. Every morning there would be reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. Back then I couldn’t understand why at the time I was obsessed over shows that aired over 20 years before I was born. I was addicted!
Looking back on it now I understand a lot more as to why I was so in Love with these women but it took me over 20 year to put the pieces together (as it turns out it’s partly because I’m a big old lesbian) But more so these were shows that showcased Women! Girls that I could relate to, look up to, funny women that made me laugh. It’s kind of hard to imagine today because in my opinion women run the comedic world now. But when these shows were on in the 60’s and 70’s, and even in the 90’s when I was growing up women weren’t supposed to be funny on their own. They were supposed to set up the joke so the man could give the punch line, or they were simply meant to be the bud (butt?) of the joke. Women were supposed to be beautiful not funny. Seen but not heard if you will.
I Dream of Jeannie was my first obsession in this long line of never ending obsessions. Looking back on it now (like many shows you grow up on) it’s not as magical as I remember it being. It actually cater more towards the Male counterparts of Larry Hagman and Bill Daily. The whole premise of the show is extremely sexist but it was the 60’s so it’s no big surprise. Major Nelson finds a bottle on a desert island which contains an attractive female genie named Jeannie. Because he found her bottle she is now to be his servant. Jeannie is usually a total ignorant air head with not a clue as to what is going on, or what the of consequences her actions are going to be for Major Nelson. The one redeeming quality of the shows sexist undertone is that Major Nelson doesn’t want Jeannie to be his servant or to wait on him hand and foot. As the show goes on they fall in love and it’s all very cute. Barbara Eden’s Light and bubbly character is very charming and sweet but it does very little for the progress of women’s independence. It actually does the exact opposite, but Barbara Eden is so delightful she makes the show so much better! She has a very strong premise and without her the show would have been intolerable. Over all it is a very fun and goofy kind of sitcom, but it really doesn’t have a lot of substance. One of my favorite little tid bits is that on I Dream of Jeannie the censors wouldn’t allow for Barbara Eden’s belly button to be shown because it was considered “indecent” and “sexual” which I find laughable now.
Bewitched on the other hand has a much stronger feminist feel. Elizabeth Montgomery was without a doubt the Star of the show, and without her it would have been a total bust. She was funny, smart, sexy, and witty. The fact that the show had to replace actor Dick York with Dick Sargant as Darrin mid series and didn’t miss a beat really proves how strong she was. Samantha is a typical american girl who falls in love with a typical red blooded american boy (First episode anyone?). But she isn’t so typical. She just happens to be a witch! Let the shenanigans begin! Elizabeth was so charming and charismatic the audience can’t help but be Bewitched by her (Oh lord stop me now). She had amazing timing and wonderful expressions that helped drive the jokes home. She didn’t always do many jokes herself leaving that up to a wonderful ensemble comedic cast but her reactions to the insanity that was the characters lives is was made her so funny. Again it was the 60’s and there is a lot of rather sexist things going on. For instance Samantha is a simple housewife. Taking care of the kids, making sure dinner is on the table when Darrin gets home, and cleaning the house. But what was brilliant about this show is that they didn’t allow the character to be defined as just a housewife. When Darrin was an ass, she didn’t put up with it. He didn’t like the dinner she made, he would have to fix himself something else. One episode It Should have Happen to a Dog has really stuck with me to this day. One of Darrin’s clients is a total Dog. Hitting on Sam making pass after pass, grabbing her and so on. When she tells him to stop but he doesn’t she turns him into the dog he is. Darrin is furious with her because it could result in him losing the account. Samantha becomes peeved with Darrin because he cares more about his client then how she was being treated. By the end of the episode she turns him back into a human and when Darrin notices how the client is treating her he calls him out and stands up for his lady at the risk of losing his job because he loves Samantha. To this day it is one of my Favorite Episodes. It shows the ugliness of the way men treat women, as if we are here only for their enjoyment. It also shows a women has a right to stand up for herself when she is being treated disrespectfully.
And then there is Mary Tyler Moore. Mary probably has had the biggest impact on my life out the three women at least when it comes to Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore show. She was an independent single business woman living on her own! Honestly when it comes to my own life I like to think I am most like Mary Richards out of the three characters. Mary had a wonderful drawl in her voice that could really land a good joke.She was a physical person and although she didn’t do a lot of slap stick she could give a physical element to the comedy that is very discreet. But mostly the Mary Tyler Moore Show tackled issues in a way that no other show could or had up to that point. This was simply because she was a woman. What better way is there to make fun of men and the way they treat women or poke fun at the history of how women are portrayed than to be a woman and call bull shit. Here is Mary Richards an “old maid” freshly broken up with her fiance moving to the city indirectly searching for a purpose. No apologizes just Mary doing her own thing. Being a Kind and tender person while not taking any crap. She can be a very sensitive character while being super strong and independent. She would go toe to toe with all the boys usually in a subtle, polite, yet powerful way. And the secondary Female Cast members where wonderful too! Rhoda the big mouth feisty best friend played by Valerie Harper another excellent funny lady who can hold her own and did on her own Spin off Rhoda. And lets not forgetting the legendary talents of Betty White, Georgia Engel, and Cloris Leachman. All with their very own Comedic brilliance that sparkled on this show. It really helped change a lot for the way women in comedy were seen. These weren’t just women doing overly female jokes or doing jokes written for men they were doing their own thing. They were telling funny jokes women would understand yet men could also laugh at.
So Much has changed in the world of comedy and I have changed as well. These are just the three women that made me laugh as a kid, and open my life to so many other funny woman. They helped shape me and my sense of humor and have helped define what I find funny as well as help me find the person I want to be. I am no Jeannie wanting nothing more than to please her man. I am no Samantha content to raise a family, But I am a Mary Richards working hard to discover myself and find happiness.
There will be more articles one the funny women who have changed my life which will include:
Madeline Kahn, Ginger Rogers, Carrie Fisher, Jane Curtin, Lily Tomlin, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gilda Radner, Kate McKinnon, Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Sally Field, Julianne Moore, Laraine Newman, Lucille Ball, Jane Krakowski, Megan Mullally and so many more!