“It isn’t enough for Bridesmaids to be a great comedy; it has to be a comedy that transcends the lady-movie ghetto, thereby becoming the thing to which all lady movies aspire. We don’t have the vocabulary to talk about what it is, so we elevate it into something it isn’t: a paradigm shift, a game-changer, whatever.” – Genevieve Koski , “Why Bridesmaids won’t save the ‘chick flick’ and shouldn’t have to,” AVClub.com
Lady E and I saw Bridesmaids this weekend and both laughed our asses off. Like most of Judd Apatow’s oeuvre, the movie has a laugh out loud quotient higher than almost anything else out there thanks to spirited and inventive profanity, humor driven from fully realized characters, and gross out gags that don’t hold back. Also like the rest of his work, the movie underlines a very sad protagonist that balances the comedy with understated poignancy. Real problems don’t have easy solutions, and the troubles faced by the characters in Bridesmaids don’t resolve easily either.
For as interesting a piece as Bridesmaids is, what I found more interesting was the dialogue Lady E and I had after the movie over giant mason jars of beer. I made the crack that we both should have been wearing our “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts while we chatted, but ultimately I came to realize something similar to what Ms. Koski argues above. I have very little distinction between male and female comedy anymore. Funny is funny. And that’s a good thing.
As little as five years ago, I didn’t have a favorite female stand-up comic. Lady E and I used to argue about this. She found this assertion ridiculous, and in retrospect, it was. I realized the inherent absurdity of this statement when I saw a woman named Lori Callahan open for Mike Birbiglia and absolutely kill. She told a joke comparing her husband’s O Face to Burt Lahr as The Cowardly Lion that put me on the floor. A short time later, Iliza Shlesigner clearly outclassed her fellow competitors on “Last Comic Standing” and won. It was then I realized the problem wasn’t the dearth of funny women, it’s that I just wasn’t paying attention.
My favorite current show is “Parks and Recreation” by a fairly wide margin. Following that is “Community,” and in a distant third is “30 Rock.” In an interview with Parks & Rec’s showrunner Michael Schur, Schur explains that he envisioned Leslie and Ann’s friendship to be the core of “Parks and Recreation.” While the idea of a female friendship as the core of a show isn’t new by itself – “Kate & Allie” focused on two women moving in together after their divorces back in the 80s, as one example– what is different is that I never bothered to consider the Ann and Leslie thing as the central premise. I simply didn’t care. “Parks and Recreation” fucking kills, and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
As I think back on my careless assertion that I didn’t have a favorite female standup comic, I manage to slowly put the pieces together like Agent Cujan dropping his Kobayashi coffee cup that remind me of the erosion of my casual sexism. My favorite Weekend Update team of all time is Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The episode that sealed the designation for me was one in which Tina Fey coins the term “Diabetes Explosion” in discussing a (fictional) new product offered at Wendy’s. That’s shortly followed by Amy Poehler talking about drinking chardonnay out of a Whizzinator on Friday nights. The image of a sweet-looking, petite blond woman drinking wine out of a fake penis put me down for the count and still makes me chuckle as I think about it now.
I remember a few years ago reading a Playboy interview with Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman that occurred while the two lived together. One of the couple’s running gags was Sarah’s insistence that girls don’t poop to uphold her feminine mystique and Jimmy’s constant attempts to disprove those statements with cute notes left near the toilet that said (and I’m paraphrasing) “I know what you’re doing in here, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” After a fresh dump, Sarah would emerge from the bathroom and yell at him “Girls don’t do that! Gross!”
I remember this as a common joke (and possibly bald faced denial from some boys who couldn’t handle humanizing a pristine species) during high school and college. Girls don’t shit. End of story.
We’ve come a long way in our scatological humor as a society since that interview. Remember Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle? I put this question to you: What was more shocking about the “battle shits” scene? Was it that a movie can feature two extremely hot girls taking horrific taco dumps and trying to one up each other’s farts, or that the scene was uproariously and grotesquely funny? I don’t think I could have laughed at that when I was 14 because I couldn’t handle the idea of such an uncomely act happening to such unassailably beautiful creatures.
Yet on “30 Rock” when Jon Hamm accidentally walks in on Tina Fey sitting on the can after too much cheese soup, I laugh and don’t think twice about it. Because the truth is, and be prepared to have your mind blown here, women do shit. And really, with a reliable writer, it’s pretty much just as funny as when guys do it.
Take the bridal store scene in Bridesmaids. It’s fundamentally no different than in American Pie when Stiffler gives Finch (or Lloyd gives Harry in Dumb and Dumber) a bunch of laxative and we laugh at their resultant assplosions. Seeing Maya Rudolph squat in the middle of the street wearing what is probably a $20,000 wedding dress and unload a hurricane of toxic Brazilian steakhouse fare out of her ass and then soberly announce on the drive home “I took a shit in the middle of street,” made the audience howl with laughter, me included. Crude humor is funny no matter the gender, and knowing that speaks to the point Koski makes above. We don’t know how to discuss what we’ve just seen because we haven’t yet realized that no additional classification is necessary. What we saw is comedy, plain and simple. Only that it comes from girls do we have stop and think.
It’s fitting that before we went to Bridesmaids, we dropped in on Mean Girls replaying on TBS and the night before we watched Bobby Slayton’s “One Night Stand” episode from 1990. The latter is interesting only because it highlights how far comedy has come in 20 years. I’m a big Slayton fan, but his 1990 shtick is awful – repeated use of the term of “Femi-Nazi,” stupid observational pandering about his wife’s nagging, and a casually chauvinistic approach to all of his jokes. Lady E hated him, calling him “Rush Limbaugh” at one point. If this was your only encounter with Slayton, I’m in no position to argue about your feelings.
Mean Girls, meanwhile, acted as a primer for what was ahead for female comedy. The film arguably crests during the meeting in the gym after the Burn Book is disseminated throughout the school. Mr. Duvall threatens to cancel the Spring Fling (but doesn’t because they’ve already paid the DJ – a joke I find hilarious for its reality and its sad comment on the economic reality of our poor, beleaguered school systems) and explains that the junior girls will learn to relate to each other lady to lady.
He asks if anyone has a lady problem they’d like to talk about, and Bethany immediately volunteers, “Most people think I’m lying about being a virgin because I prefer jumbo tampons, but I can’t help it if I have a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina.”
That’s probably my favorite line in the whole movie both for its earnest and animated delivery as well as Tim Meadows’ uncomfortable reaction to the candor. I can’t in any way relate to her situation, but how many jokes about balls are funny to women despite their inability to experience them firsthand?
In October 2008 I wrote an article called “E Dagger’s Top 5 Chick Flicks of All-Time.” The reactions to that article were sort of all over the map, but in general, I got mostly tepid praise for putting myself out there with an potentially emasculating position. I suspect if I wrote this article now there’d be less apprehension from our male readers about endorsing some of the movies I wrote about (Titanic notwithstanding). Or perhaps that article would never even happen today. Back to Koski:
“Maybe if we weren’t confined to thinking of all movies made by and for women as either ‘chick flicks’ or ‘rom-coms,’ we’d be free to enjoy and critique these movies outside of some greater feminist discussion—and, conversely, wouldn’t have to force lady-movie juggernauts like the Sex And The City films into the feminist discussion simply because they pass the Bechdel Test and open at No. 1. Even better, audiences both female and male would be able to go into these movies without donning the armor of enjoying a ‘guilty pleasure.’”
I think I’m there already. The body of evidence is overwhelming. Of my three favorite shows on network television right now, one focuses on a female friendship while the other centers on (not to mention is written and produced by) a woman navigating her career and love life as the writer of a flailing NBC late night TV show. I can’t wait for the next season of the campy “True Blood,” which features several strong female performances, but also look forward to the macho posturing of 1920s organized crime bosses in “Boardwalk Empire.” My favorite record of 2011 is a toss-up between Adele’s “21” and The Black Keys’ “Brothers.” And I just recently chose to see Bridesmaids over The Hangover 2.
Why? Not for some half-cooked declaration of gender equality, but because it looked funnier, fresher, and just plain better than reheated gags I loved two years ago transplanted across an ocean.
I loved the movie Bridesmaids, and think everyone should see it. I’m not going to tell you it changes the face of female comedy any more than I’m going to argue gross-out fest The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate did in 2002. What I am going to tell you is that I look forward to a time when we can, as Koski argues, “enjoy and critique these movies outside of some greater feminist discussion.”
Then we can talk about what a force of nature Melissa McCarthy is in this movie and just how fucking funny her declaration to Air Marshall John of “You feel the steam coming off that? That’s my undercarriage” is. That’s the discussion I’d rather have.
But until then… I give you the above.
06 Jun 2011 E Dagger