Women comedians thriving in their industry draw on a realm of issues to tickle, shock, or gross out audiences more familiar with the male-centered scene. But the racy topics rising from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer push more than the glass ceiling or the “taste taboo ceiling.” A recent article in the New York Times touches on rising female comics and the use of rape humor in their acts.
Jason Zinomen writes, recounting Silverman, “if you had to pinpoint one joke as a breakthrough for this new generation of female comedians, it might be this one: ‘I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.’”
Rape may fall logically on the list of things more approachable by female comics. But for my part, too many people avoid, or remain ignorant of, the realities of sexual assault. Making light of sexual violations belittles the physical and psychological trauma of the experience. That said, I am not here to criticize the risqué aspects of stand up comedy, whose primary purpose seems provocation.
I am interested in the way that women make a place for themselves within comedy entertainment. Vanity Fair, in 2008, printed the article “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” It covered 12 contemporary funny women, remarking on the requirement that they be simultaneously clever and sexy. The article featured Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, whose recent movie Bridesmaids included female-centered humor, and some ground breaking gross-out scenes with women.
But female comedians aren’t the only ones breaking ground. Female reviewer Emma Boyes touts the third installation of Saints Row, a violent, gangster genre video game, as “good for women.”
This game which features gratuitous violence and prostitution allows players to control the gender of their avatar. Within both realms (game playing and character creating) players experience gender neutrality uncharacteristic of video games in general.
Boyes writes, “the best thing about the way women are depicted in Saints Row is the fact that it never seems to occur to anyone to treat them any differently.”
The game, according to Boyes, includes a substantial number of bad-ass female characters and no diminutive language when referring to them. Male and female prostitutes are featured and objectified. Players have a great deal of flexibility when creating their avatars.
“All outfits, makeup, and hair styles are available to both genders, so there’s nothing stopping you from, say, being a girl with a beard or a fella with pigtails, lip gloss, and high heels. You can wear a sexy dress. You can wear a power suit. You can be androgynous,” writes Boyes.
Boyes’ review also includes disclaimers that the game is saucy, provocative, and sometimes immature. Gender equity will not necessarily draw a flock of female gamers if they weren’t already interested in gangster games. And the benefits, or consequences, of playing at theft and death remain debatable for all genders.
Does the new installation of Saints Row demonstrate progress? Yes, definitely. Although equal opportunity violence and rape humor still leave a bad taste in my mouth, women deserve a place in these fields. I remain hopeful that females advance in comedy and gaming on their own terms.