Never has there been a time in history when more women are absolutely killing it—at the box office, on television, on stage—paving their own way. And never has there been a time in history when the hard-knock stories of women rising through the ranks in entertainment been laid bare, causing society to cover their mouths in disbelief.
From Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K., the stories of ridiculously powerful men doing ridiculously horrific things to women have come to light in a meteoric way over the past few weeks. And while some may be shocked by these revelations, women everywhere are nodding their heads, not in disbelief, but in the #MeToo sense of solidarity and understanding.
Nowhere is there more nodding than from women in the comedy circuit. From Roseanne to Tig Notaro to Jen Kirkman, the charges against Louis C.K. seemed to be a long-time coming and highlight an even bigger elephant in the room – the things women in comedy have to overcome in order to stay in front of the mic (and camera).
Roseanne alerted the public to the claims against Louis C.K. back in the summer of 2016 in an interview with the Daily Beast where she said he was “locking the door and masturbating in front of women comics and writers.” Jen Kirkman didn’t name him specifically, but in a 2015 episode of her podcast, alluded to his inappropriate behavior making the decision to go on tour with him very difficult for her as a female. She later deleted the podcast episode after it gained negative attention.
Tig Notaro similarly had to put her career on the line in order to call him on the carpet about the claims considering his influence as an executive producer on her current Amazon show One Mississippi(a highly underrated dark comedy inspired by Tig’s real life and enriched by her matchless deadpan).
And yet, it took more than a year after Roseanne’s initial outing for first-hand accounts of C.K.’s sexual misconduct to surface in the mainstream press. This seems to also show the plight of female comics (and females in general) and their voices being hushed, overlooked or even silenced.
The reason for that powerlessness is baffling. A look over the decades at the sheer success of these women and the incredible impact they have had on the world of entertainment should be enough to silence the “women aren’t funny” and “men are better” argument for good.
Beginning with Lucille Ball, and spanning the next sixty years with Carol Burnett, Roseanne, Rhea Perlman, Julie Louis Dreyfus, and Ellen, the path forged by these empowered women pioneers is still being blazed by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Mindy Kaling, Chelsea Handler, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and so many others.
From 1988 until 1997, Roseanne graced our TV sets, eventually beating out The Cosby Show to become the most watched television show in the United States (and will come back for a new season in 2018). In 2011, Bridesmaids smashed records, and became the biggest Video-On-Demand title of all time (like, ALL TIME). Girls Trip is the highest grossing comedy of 2017. Melissa McCarthy broke barriers by starring in four consecutive films that each grossed over $100 Million, all without the aid of a major franchise, shouldering it on her own after her breakout, Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids
The problem is not only the unfair standards for women, but also the tendency for other popular male comics to protect their own. Jon Stewart was asked last year about the rumors surrounding Louis C.K. and he was quick to dismiss them. After coming on the Today Show in November, Stewart said he was giving his friend “the benefit of the doubt.” During the same interview, he also admitted that “comedy on its best day is not a great environment for women.”
This is something that has been discussed regularly by women of comedy over the years. Roseanne mentioned in an interview with the New York Times that she would constantly be introduced as the “woman comic” which she said she despised, and that she was never given the full props she deserved. “I wasn’t the funniest woman in the club, I was the funniest person. Period.”
At some point, the balance of power is going to have to shift to give funny women equal opportunities, pay, and credit. It’s necessary to create an environment for women coming up in comedy to get a fair shake.
If the current groundswell of inspired and influential women bursting into our mainstream entertainment bubble is any indication, the rise and dominance of funny women are only getting louder. It’s time to take their rightful place in the kingdom of comedy. They’ve more than earned it.