Jerry Lewis didn’t find Lucille Ball amusing. Not only that but the man who, ironically as it turns out, made a career of spastically yelling, “Laaa-dy!” at every opportunity says he doesn’t “like any female comedians.” Doesn’t find them funny
Jerry meet Tina Fey.
Jerry meet Kristen Wiig.
Jerry meet… I could go on but I think the point I’m making is that old Jerry is about as right about this as he is funny. Which is to say, not so much.
This summer has seen the release of two movies headlined by women and aimed at the funny bone. Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher, which premiers this weekend, both take the tried and true recipe of mixing vulgar jokes with sentimentality and heart—the boys have been doing it for years in movies like The Forty Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up—and folds in female characters that are used as more than set decoration.
Women have yukked it up on the small screen since the beginning of the medium. The aforementioned Ball gave way to Marlo Thomas, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Sarah Silverman and others, but on the big screen women have often been simply regarded as an attractive foil for the male star or given what Modern Family’s Julie Bowen calls the “finger shaking role.”
Women frequently headline big screen romantic comedies, but there is a reason why the word romantic comes first in the genre description. Sure Kathryn Hiegl or Kristen Bell will be allowed to do a pratfall or two in movies like 27 Dresses or When in Rome, but when it comes right down to it are there to deliver the romance and leave the chuckle-grabbing to their costars.
It’s rare to see comedic women front and center in the movies, but Bridesmaids had six of them and is already a hit and depending on the audience appetite for Cameron Diaz’s return to her There’s Something About Mary-esque comedic roots, Bad Teacher might usher in an era of funny female flicks that rely on chuckles and not C cups.
In an article called Why Women Aren’t Funny Christopher Hitchens wrote “women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing.” I would suggest Mr. Hitchens have a look at the food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids and rethink his position.
I would also suggest everyone take a gander at Lake Bell, an actress who shares initials and comedic style with Lucille Ball, and who never fails to make me laugh, which is more than I can say about Jerry Lewis.