Thursday, April 14, 2022

Yes, Women Can Be "Hysterical" (In a Good Way)

With so much emphasis on comedy and comedians in the wake of the Chris Rock and Louis C.K. flaps, I decided to watch the HBO documentary Hysterical, following a group young female stand-up comedians, with cameos from established comics. The title is doubly apt: "Hysterical" can mean "very funny" but has also been used to denigrate women as having uncontrollable emotions (the root comes from the Greek hystera meaning uterus).  

I didn't understand why Chris Rock was needed at the Oscars, since comediennes Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer were both hosts. Hysterical proves that women stand-ups can hold their on on the stage. The film is full of funny (dare I say, hysterical) stand-up moments from the women, who also tell amazing, and amusing, stories of the hurdles they still must jump to be heard. 

Filmmaker Andrea Nevins said some comics refused to appear in the documentary if a comment made by Jerry Lewis about women not being funny would be brought up. Lewis's statement, that he couldn't watch a woman "diminish her qualities" by doing stand up, is similar to arguments used to keep women out of politics, or even grant us the right to vote.

Margaret Cho for Cho-G
Nikki Glaser stood out to me in the film. She's been open about her marijuana use and how it helps her cope; she recently had a conversation about it with Chelsea Handler, also a pot fan. Margaret Cho, who loves pot so much she developed a strain called Cho-G, tells a tale in Hysterical about getting a call from the producer of her TV show telling her she was overweight. She manages to make funny the fact that she lost 30 pounds in two weeks, leading to an attack of kidney failure on the set. Crazy when you think about how it was rumored that Melissa McCarthy's sitcom was cancelled because she lost too much weight. 

Looking up Cho, I saw she has pinned a tweet about Rolling Stone putting her on their 2017 list of Top 50 Stand-Up Comedians. I checked out the list: there are only 11 women on it, and only one (Joan Rivers) in the top 30. Cho comes in at #48, with Sykes at #50, and Schumer at #43, just behind Phyllis Diller way down at #42. 

Ranked in the 30s rung are: Moms Mabley (#39), Roseanne Barr (#38), Tig Notaro (#35), Janeane Garofalo (#33) and Sarah Silverman (#31). That's it until you get to Rivers at #6. Arguably Barr should be higher, and I note the omission of her fellow working-class comic Brett Butler, who also had a TV show. It's good to see Garofalo on the list; RS says, "Her intellectual chops and timing are peerless." Yeah. 

Joan Rivers takes a toke
Along with Cho, at least five of the women on the Rolling Stone list are known Tokin' Women. Joan Rivers toked onscreen on her reality show with her daughter Melissa in 2012.  Asked by TMZ who else she'd smoked with back in the day, she replied, "Oh, Betty White, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby...we had fun." On an Access Live appearance, she said she loves marijuana "because it makes you giggly," but that she rarely smoked it because "it makes you eat."

Roseanne Barr calls marijuana the "Herb of the Goddess" in her book Roseannarchy. Her hilarious HBO special "Blonde and Bitchin'" contained her trenchant observation, "The War on Drugs is a war on poor people using street drugs waged by rich people on prescription drugs." She used the line when she ran for President, and spoke at Oaksterdam University during her campaign. 

Amy Schumer shops for a bong 
Amy Schumer picked out a pink bong in a store window on an episode of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and told Gayle King at Ellen DeGeneres's 60th birthday party she wants to get her high. Schumer, who experienced hyperemesis gravidarum during her pregnancy, joined a lawsuit on behalf of an Arizona mother with HG who was penalized for using cannabis, which just won a ruling in favor of the mother. 

Sarah Silverman won an Emmy in 2015 for her special "We Are Miracles," just after she showed off her vape pen on the red carpet, calling it "liquid marijuana." In 2019 she again showed off her stash on the way to the ceremony, and stole the show when she pretended to be asleep after she lost in her category. She made news by calling out the Emmys and our culture for silencing comedians. 

Male stoners on the list include Rodney Dangerfield (#26) and Bill Hicks (#13), who pretty much invented stoner comedy. Also named are Robin Williams (#12), Steve Martin (#11) and Dave Chappelle (#9). Mitch Hedberg (#20) is honored for "his genial stoner-dude persona was entirely charmed by the whimsical little absurdities he stumbled upon." 

Handler backstage at the Grammys
Coming in at #4 was Louis C.K., who just beat out Handler for a Grammy for his album on which (I hear) he jokes about his admitted sexual abuse. RS says he's "mapped the mind of a lazy, horny, gluttonous dude who happens to be a dad" (groan). By contrast, Handler's "Evolution" special has lots of keen observations about drugs, like, "Cannabis can now be a drug you control, instead of one that controls you" (because of dosage regulation and product testing). Oscar co-host Regina Hall "diminished her qualities" by going horny at the Oscars, and was panned—the bit fell flat; Queen Latifah could have pulled it off, but I can just imagine some exec demanding one of the three hostesses be pretty and skinny.

The #3 all-time stand-up comic, according to Rolling Stone, is Lenny Bruce, who started his career imitating his single mother Sally Marr's stand-up act, and first tried marijuana as a merchant marine in the 1940s. Very Important Pothead (and my personal fave) George Carlin comes in at #2, and #1 is Richard Pryor (no arguments there). 

Pryor's humor was about the Black condition in the way that much of women's humor is about our downtroddeness, and he was able to play off the stereotypes in a brilliant way. It's why I always liked Rita Rudner; she played off being the pretty girl so well, telling wide-eyed jokes like, "I want to have kids while my parents are still young enough to raise them." I looked up Rudner and found a recent video, on which most of the comments were about her still-hot appearance (and, yeah, she's still funny too, it was added). 

Jane Lynch as Sophie on "Mrs. Maisel"
Besides Rudner, obvious omissions from the Rolling Stone list are Ellen DeGeneres and Paula Poundstone, two comics who turn the bulbs outward to skewer society. Also missing is Judy Tenuta, who could be as off-the-wall as Andy Kaufmann (on the list at #14), and Kathy Griffin, who nearly got cancelled from our culture after making a Medusa joke about Donald Trump. (Medusa, BTW, was once a goddess.) Classic comediennes Sophie Tucker, Jean Carroll, and Totie Fields are also nowhere on the list. 

Two current TV series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Hacks feature female stand-up comics. Jean Smart has picked up every award there is for her Hacks performance, and when Jane Lynch won an Emmy in 2019 for her character named Sophie in Mrs. Maisel, she thanked Rivers, Fields, Diller, Mabley and "those gals who blazed the trail for us gals," dedicating her Emmy to them.  

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