Comedy Ladies, Doing It For Themselves

The trajectory of the whole women in comedy debate over the past couple of years could be summed up as follows:

1) Women aren't funny!

2) Oh yes, they are, here are a few and we will put them on the cover of a magazine complete with Maureen Dowd being underminey.

3) But here are some institutional impediments they face, with all sorts of gatekeepers who may or may not hate their mothers or be having affairs with staff.

Or maybe they don't and everything is awesome already. Sandwich joke!

Feels right about now like we're at a new stage:

4) Funny women are getting out there, both via traditional venues and by creating their own.

You could see that arc in miniature at South By Southwest, held last week in Austin. First the comedy lineup was announced, with one woman booked for a comedy lineup of 31 performers. Then there was an outcry. And then not only did festival organizers add more women to the slate, a separate all-female standup show was put together at the last minute by Rachel Sklar, who also happened to be moderating a panel on the topic (that included your humble correspondent.) With very little advance notice, it played to a packed house of women and men.

The night before, I'd accompanied some of my co-panelists — actual Female Comedians Jamie Denbo, her performing partner Jessica Chaffin, and Michaela "too classically pretty to be hilarious" Watkins — to a midnight screening of Kristen Wiig and Paul Feig's Bridesmaids. You won't like it if a fat joke is a dealbreaker, or you want a critique of the wedding industrial complex, or a tightly-constructed plot. You will, however, like Bridesmaids if you're excited by the prospect of a wildly talented ensemble of female comedians playing a range of elaborate, gross-out set pieces. Or if, in any case, it makes you laugh, as it did us. We left with some actual optimistic fodder for the panel, though we won't know how warranted it is, commercially speaking, until the May release.

It's not that the handful of women working in the industry don't face adversity, or that people still aren't starting articles about television comedy writers with sentences like, "Tess Rafferty could rule the entertainment industry. She's beautiful, with curves in all the right places." But we're hearing from them more. And for better or worse, the Internet is playing a big part. Here's the only female writer on Conan O'Brien's team, Laurie Kilmartin, interviewed by Marie Claire, on how she got her job:

I was getting slammed so hard on message boards, I got depressed. Someone wrote, "I don't like the shape of her face." I couldn't stop looking in the mirror for like six weeks. To get some positive feedback, I started writing jokes off the news and posting them on Facebook. You know you're desperate when you're going to Facebook friends you've never met for approval. At the same time, I heard Conan was hiring. I had about 200 jokes I'd just written, so I submitted my favorites. I have to thank Internet haters for helping me create a deep reservoir of jokes.

And just last week, a group of women launched Comediva, a lady answer to College Humor and Funny Or Die. (Tagline: "We've got ovaries.") "Our mission is to increase the presence of women in comedy and to create a platform for showcasing the work of talented female comedy writers, comediennes, directors, producers and actors," they told us.

Upcoming projects by Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Denbo (whose girl-stoner script was picked up by Natalie Portman) and the Lizzy Caplan-Julie Klausner mindmeld also have us feeling optimistic. We leave you with the latter crew's cat whispering. Because ladies love cats.

Conan's First Lady Of Comedy [Marie Claire]
Interview, Tess Rafferty [Working Author]
Comediva [Official Site]