There’s an unnerving trend among female comedians right now. I call it “crying-in-the-shower humor” - women acting as if their world could come crumbling down at any second, and it often does, for our amusement. Guess what? When women joke about shame eating, or dying alone or “Plan B for breakfast… again!”, people aren’t laughing, they’re cringing. And then they end with: "Am I right, ladies?"
No, you're not right. You're clearly bananas and need to get your shit together.
This trend goes beyond stand-up. You can find it on blogs, Internet videos, television and now it’s even bleeding into our dinner party conversations (let’s face it, as adults, dinner parties are the new keggers). Take Fox’s The New Girl. The lead character, Jess (played by caustically cute Zooey Deschanel), is an idiosyncratic girl whose love life has just shit the bed and thus, she’s a mess. Five minutes into the pilot, Jess is sprawled on a couch, weeping and watching Dirty Dancing as her male roommates look on with apprehensive disgust. Later in the episode, Jess says, “Well, I guess I can’t hide my crazy” to which her roommate responds, “I don’t think you’re trying that hard.” No shit.
One of the taglines for NBC’s Whitney was: “The silent treatment, punishment or reward?” Is Whitney so nuts that all we want her to do is shut her mouth? Also, Whitney Cummings created and wrote that show for herself, so she’s not only perpetuating the idea that women are incapable of coping with everyday life, she’s profiting from it. Even on 30 Rock, the infallible Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, a bumbling lady-child who’s shepherded through life by her male superior.
Why is this happening? Not all of us are hanging onto a broken childhood and using it as an excuse for our “quirky” decision-making. Joking about it only promotes a negative stereotype. When someone walks into a stand up show, they’re not looking for a girl to demean herself with bits about how “bitches be crazy.” If you’re fucked up and want to laugh about it, that’s fine. But lumping all of us into your tattered category is a grave mistake. A lot of us are out there working hard to be intelligent and capable women. If you really do weep every time you orgasm, you need to get yourself in therapy rather than airing it onstage. Calling yourself crazy before anyone else can is a popular self-defense mechanism, but how about just NOT being crazy? Sure, you can argue that this style of humor is meant to be satire, but if that's the case, it’s boring. Can’t we take that energy and put it somewhere positive, as opposed to feeding back into the idea that all women are cut from a Cathy comic?
To be honest, I’ve been guilty of crying-in-the-shower humor myself. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue comedy in my twenties and thought I had the world on a string. I’d photobomb wedding pictures, pretending to cry in the background and make comments like “abortions tickle.” But as I graduated into my thirties, things shifted. I realized that being accountable and responsible is where it’s at and it’s from this grounded place that I can have a positive impact. At the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where I teach, female students often ask me if it’s hard to be a woman in the male-dominated world of improv. My answer is: not if you’re talented and on top of your game. Look at Jamie Denbo, Jen Kirkman, Tig Notaro, Lennon Parham, Betsy Sodaro, Julie Klausner, Amy Poehler… I can name dozens more.
The trick is to surround yourself with women who inspire you to rise to the occasion. Expect the best from them and they will expect the same from you - and I’m willing to bet your best doesn’t involve stalking your ex-boyfriend’s new baby and tweeting about it.
So ladies, it’s time to get out of that shower, put down that hot dog and start loving yourself. Oh, and crazy bitches, we’re coming for you.
Amanda Sitko teaches and performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. This is her website.
Editor's Note: This piece has touched a nerve - our proverbial mailbag runneth over with letters from comedians and artists from all over the country. Quite clearly this is a topic that merits further exploration, so we at DAME will soon be publishing a follow-up article about so-called "crying in the shower" humor and the comedy of incompetence as it relates to women. Thank you all for your input, we value it immensely. And stay tuned...