The Hidden Glamour of Women in Comedy
By Alyssa Haddad
Friends, loved ones, hopefully new readers, last month we got to know one another a little bit. Yes, it was incredibly one-sided, and hopefully you’re not terribly offended. But I’ve decided to slow things down this month to hop on my soapbox. Typically, I like to write about comical topics, have a little laugh about whatever’s going on, but in my annual reread of goddess Tina Fey’s 2011 memoir Bossypants, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the intersection of glamour and comedy.
In Bossypants, Fey details the moment the women of Saturday Night Live made it clear that they were not there to be cute. “Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start,” she recalls. “There were always a lot of noisy ‘comedy bits’ going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and ‘unladylike.’ Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said: ‘Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.’ Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don?t f****** care if you like it.’”
The notion of policing women’s actions by commenting on their image is a subject I know well. In my early 20s, I worked one summer as a counselor at a summer camp in Maine. Each day, counselors would get ‘hand picked’ for a secret mission to create and perform a sketch to announce the evening’s activities at the campus-wide meeting. The sketches, for most of the boys and a handful of the girls, became a competition – who was funnier, the boys’ side or the girls? Each day, the boys would clamor about, dressing up in costumes or rubbing dirt on their faces, unafraid and uninhibited by the fear of looking ugly or weird as long as they got the laugh. The girls, on the other hand, approached the sketches with trepidation, reserved from the fear of making a fool out of themselves, allowing the boys – despite a lack of any actual humor – to reign superior in our gendered rivalry.
There’s a spoken and internalized rule for women and girls that how we look and how we present ourselves is our most valued asset. From childhood, girls are taught to keep themselves in check, that we cannot, even for a moment, allow ourselves to look silly or dumb because it might change people’s opinions of us, and cause others to view us in a negative light. In comedy, there is no room to be self-conscious about image, but in a world that still places the highest worth on a woman’s appearance, we are supposed to laugh at the jokes, not be the source of them.
I’ve always found that there is a certain glamour that exudes from comedic women. Perhaps not glamour in the traditional sense, of flowing gowns and sparkling heels, but glamour at its core, a person with magnetism, appeal, and excitement that makes a statement. After all, to be glamorous is to be confident. To not care about the judgements of others. To take chances and insight a reaction. To keep people on their toes. To be Fergie in one of the greatest collaborations with Ludacris of all time. Maybe the thought of what we find glamorous needs a modern update. An update that gives women permission to venture out of their comfort zones, so that whether we are in a sequins or a fake Groucho Marx mustache, we can say that we don’t care if you like it.
Alyssa Haddad is a Brooklyn-based Playwright and Screenwriter. Her plays have been presented at the Capital Repertory Theatre, Theater for the New City, Sundog Theatre, Kraine Theater, and The Midtown International Theatre Festival where she was the recipient of the Playwright’s Award. She is an alumna of Living Room Theater’s New Play Incubator Lab and a current member of New Perspectives Theatre Company’s Women’s Work Play Lab. She is also an Artist-In-Residence at Adams State University’s Rare AIR program. Connect with Alyssa at AlyssaHaddad.com, on Twitter @AlyssaSwagdad and on Instagram @AlyssaHaddad.