We need another documentary about women in comedy like we need another Holocaust movie.
Distressingly, still necessary.
So long as there are people who challenge genders, races, religions and varied upbringings, we’ll need to keep presenting evidence to contradict and convince them that anyone is capable of anything. Just because you have different chromosomes and sexual organs doesn’t mean you’re ineligible or unqualified to deliver a set-up and punchline, or just as importantly, that you need to be singled out or segregated because of it. And yet, here we are, still. In the past year or two, we’ve seen stand-up comedian Bonnie McFarlane present a wonderfully mischievous take on the subject with her documentary, “Women Aren’t Funny,” and Joan Rivers narrate and executive produce a group testimonial on behalf of her fellow funny females, “Why We Laugh: Funny Women.”
And so it was last night that the new MAKERS series of films about women in history kicked off on PBS with an hour devoted to comedians, and even in giving Joy Behar the final word, allowed her to say: “This is the last documentary I ever want to see about women in comedy. But we’re doing it one more time with this documentary. And I hope you keep that on the air.”
Here’s the trailer for MAKERS: Women In Comedy, which premiered Tuesday night on PBS. Kathy Griffin will host a virtual screening tonight at makers.com, and you’ll be able to watch it online there anytime following.
Rivers opens this documentary, too (and the film ends with a tribute card to her passing just last month).
Narrated by Leslie Mann and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, MAKERS: Women in Comedy goes the historical route, tracing the progress of comedic women onstage from Moms Mabley to Phyllis Diller to Rivers, to the small screen via feminist icons such as Maude and Mary Tyler Moore, and then to Roseanne, plus how women have fared in the ups and downs of comedy club booms and busts, and TV writers rooms from sitcoms to Saturday Night Live.
We rediscover that The Comedy Store’s “Belly Room” originally was borne out of Mitzi Shore’s idea to segregate the women in stand-up comedy to their own stage and audiences, away from the club’s mainstage. We hear once more Rivers and others talk about how glamorous Diller was in real life, only to ugly herself up for the stage. “In those days, people were intimidated by a good-looking woman,” Rivers said. As if that’s changed some 50-odd years later.
We’re also forced to confront once more the ugly opinions of Jerry Lewis and Christopher Hitchens, propagating the notion that women cannot or should not be allowed to be funny publicly.
Jane Lynch, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Mo’Nique, Whitney Cummings and Margaret Cho are among those who offer their own opinions and perspective on it.
Silverman, of course, provides the simplest, purest answer: “The way to win the battle of women aren’t funny is be funny! Be undeniably funny.”
MAKERS: Women in Comedy, premiered Sept. 30, 2014, on PBS. Kathy Griffin hosts a virtual screening tonight online at makers.com.