Thursday, August 12, 2010

Funny Grrrls

Today's topic, suggested by another super sexy reader, is this: The persistent and annoying myth of the humorless lesbian. I know, I know. It's such a bore. But, alas, the stereotype does persist. Recently I watched a few minutes of a very bad movie on Logo, and even a film about gay men contained a cheap shot at so-called humorless lesbians. Why is this so? I think we should approach this problem two ways: 1. We will refute the myth with examples of lesbians who are funny, and 2. We can examine why this specious criticism began and in whose interest it endures.

First things first. Let's establish the truth. Lesbians are funny. In fact, I, the Sapphist Gazetteer, am officially funny, as I like to remind anyone within earshot when I'm grouchy. Indeed, I was voted Class Clown during my senior year in high school. There you have it. But if that is not enough evidence, let us consider the following list of some of the most celebrated comics of our time: Lily Tomlin, Ellen Degeneres, Jane Lynch, Wanda Sykes, Rosie O'Donnell, Sandra Bernhard, and, uh, Stamie. Out lesbians, all. (In case you forgot how funny Rosie was before she went off the rails, take a look at her in the old days doing standup.) And even when we look beyond the specific category of comedienne, we find lesbians and queer women in popular culture who are known for their comedic roles. They include: Cynthia Nixon (who won an Emmy for best supporting comedic actress on Sex and the City), Portia de Rossi (see her doing the chicken dance on Arrested Development), and Queen Latifah (have you seen Beauty Shop?)

Even if we go back a ways, we find queer women who are funny. Tallulah Bankhead, for example. Very funny. Very queer. And Patsy Kelly, who debuted on Broadway in the 1920s and had a long film and television career, including a role in one of my personal favorites Please Don't Eat the Daisies (with Doris Day!) and the original Freaky Friday (with Jodie Foster...) Patsy Kelly proudly called herself a dyke. And she's looking pretty cute in the cap and pea coat.

There are also countless other lesbians in the world of comedy who should not be overlooked. They include Lea DeLaria, comedienne and jazz singer, who was the first openly gay comic (male or female) to appear on national television in the US; Sara Gilbert from Roseanne—who has a new morning TV show called The Talk on CBS; Amanda Bearse from Married with Children. Alison Bechdel created the classic lesbian comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. And let's not forget the many, many hilarious lesbian stand-up comics: Kate Clinton, Julie Goldman, Marga Gomez, Vickie Shaw, Jennie McNulty, Suzanne Westenhoefer, etc. You get the picture, and I'm getting tired of making the list.

But perhaps the best piece of evidence I can throw at the humorless lesbian bullshit is Fran Lebowitz. Everyone should have a copy of her 1978 classic, Metropolitan Life, which somehow made it into my rural New Hampshire childhood home and gave me hope that I might escape my surroundings. In one piece, Fran examines the pros and cons of children. On the pro side, she writes: "Children do not sit next to one in restaurants and discuss their preposterous hopes for the future in loud tones of voice." On the downside, she writes: "Notoriously insensitive to subtle shifts in mood, children will persist in discussing the color of a recently sighted cement-mixer long after one's own interest in the topic has waned." Oh, it's still genius.

Now that we have established that lesbians are truly and officially funny, on to the next question: Why does this myth persist? In addition to the cheap shots present in gay boy films on Logo (tsk,tsk), I have to believe that part of the problem is straight people. Not to blame heterosexuals with broad brush strokes (after all, I do love many of them dearly), but it's possible that lesbians might be mistaken as humorless because we generally do not show appreciation for the Jackass series.

1 comment:

M said...

I imagine the archetype of the dour, unhappy lesbo was meant to scare us all away from the dark side. Ellen, Jane, Melissa, Rosie, et al have been the poster children for those of us who live an out and happy life.