Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Does it Take for a Woman to Get Laughs: Not Be A Woman?

I've only watched the Sarah Silverman Show on Comedy Central once. It was pretty lame as far as I was concerned. She plays a self-involved, narcissistic, potty mouth. Some people find this funny, but I don't. I have a name for her kind of humor: orifice humor. I usually associate it with comedies aimed at men where there is all sorts of farts, burps, and random references to anal sex with animals or whatnot. Most men laugh hysterically at orifice humor, but I need something else.

But, my post is not about why I don't really like Sarah Silverman. Instead, I am sort of curious about how a couple of men I know reacted to her show and why I finally get the problem with women breaking into comedy. Last year Kate Clinton came to speak at my college, invited by the Women's Studies program. She mentioned how few women really make it in comedy, let alone get their own show. And then there was that provocative piece written by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, back in January, that claimed that women have more important things to do (read: reproduction) than be funny. Hitchens agrees with my assessment that men are into "orifice humor," although he doesn't put it that way:

The plain fact is that the physical structure of the human being is a joke in itself: a flat, crude, unanswerable disproof of any nonsense about "intelligent design." The reproductive and eliminating functions (the closeness of which is the origin of all obscenity) were obviously wired together in hell by some subcommittee that was giggling cruelly as it went about its work. ("Think they'd wear this? Well, they're gonna have to.") The resulting confusion is the source of perhaps 50 percent of all humor. Filth. That's what the customers want, as we occasional stand-up performers all know. Filth, and plenty of it. Filth in lavish, heaping quantities. And there's another principle that helps exclude the fair sex. "Men obviously like gross stuff," says Fran Lebowitz. "Why? Because it's childish." Keep your eye on that last word. Women's appetite for talk about that fine product known as Depend is limited. So is their relish for gags about premature ejaculation. ("Premature for whom?" as a friend of mine indignantly demands to know.)
So, Hitchens would argue that men are funny because they are allowed to be childish. Clinton, on the other hand, would point to some sexism and double standards operating in comedy.

Alessia and I were partial to Clinton's explanation. After all, Silverman's humor is the classic guy filth humor that Hitchens is describing. So why does her act deep bother a lot of men? Could it be that she is crossing the line of what is acceptable humor for women? She is not just making fun of women's issues/stuff, but acting in all sorts of ways like the male jack ass comedians on Comedy Central and elsewhere. Alessia and I even compared her outrageousness to Andrew Dice Clay; she is shocking--pushing peoples' comfort levels.

So what do the rest of you think of Silverman? Is she funny? If you find her offensive, why? Would you find a male comedian making similar jokes equally offensive?