DETROIT — Are men funnier than women? It’s a great question for livening up parties and splitting up relationships.
The intelligentsia has been pondering the topic longer than Amy Poehler has had the most hilarious sitcom on television. What? You don’t agree that “Parks and Recreation” is the best? Chauvinist.
Four years ago, Christopher Hitchens wrote a buzzed-about Vanity Fair essay titled with thudding certitude “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It actually was a more complicated look at arguable points such as why men need comedy as a courtship strategy and how the female ability to bear children affects biological and social dynamics.
Even if you disagree with the article’s premise — and please, tell me you do — you might find yourself nodding at his observation that guys never brag this way about their girlfriends: “She’s a real honey, has a life of her own ... (interlude for attributes that are none of your business) ... and, man, does she ever make ’em laugh.”
Author Germaine Greer wrote an essay to elaborate on the male dominance of comedy after saying on TV that women aren’t as funny as men. Talk about making matters worse. She clarified that women are as smart as men and as hip to the absurd, “but they have not developed the arts of fooling, clowning, badinage, repartee, burlesque and innuendo into a semi-continuous performance as so many men have.”
This was from 2009, not 1979. And speaking of retro worlds, Jane Curtin said last month on Oprah Winfrey’s show that it wasn’t easy for female writers on “Saturday Night Live” in her day and that her colleague John Belushi asserted women were fundamentally not funny and felt “it was his duty to sabotage pieces that were written by women.”
Jerry Lewis also famously said once that he didn’t like any female comedians. Fair enough. Millions of women have probably remarked that they don’t like any Jerry Lewis movies.
Which brings us to “Bridesmaids,” the hit movie that may finally put such attitudes to rest. It was cowritten by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and feels like a new chapter in the book of comedy.
The R-rated film stars Wiig, a gifted sketch actress who’s one of the funniest people ever to grace the stage of “Saturday Night Live.” She plays a woman who’s a financial mess after a failed bakery venture and stuck in a self-esteem-sapping non-relationship when she’s asked to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend (Maya Rudolph, another standout “SNL” veteran).
Stressed out about paying for expensive pre-ceremony events and facing a snooty frenemy (Rose Byrne) for the bride’s attention, Wiig wigs out in ways that are subtle and over-the-top, but always hilarious.
“Bridesmaids” has a big heart that never gets in the way of a racy joke. And the cast is downright amazing, from Wiig and Rudolph, who portray the most realistic girlfriends with a shared sense of humor ever, to bridesmaids Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey (of “Reno 911”), Ellie Kemper (the naive receptionist from “The Office”) and the amazing Melissa McCarthy, who does a 180-degree turn from her sweet role on CBS’ “Mike & Molly.”
“Bridesmaids” is able to refute some of the conventional wisdom about women and humor. Women aren’t interested in crude slapstick? Check out the scene where the ladies visit a posh bridal salon after lunch at a dive that Wiig likes.
Shared laughs are more vital to male bonding? Watch as Wiig and Rudolph convey years of camaraderie by smiling at each other with food in their teeth.
Belushi wasn’t a fan of female-driven humor? He would have been if he’d seen McCarthy as a plus-size force of energy who behaves however she wants and has a hidden soft side. In her comedic abandon, she has more in common with Belushi’s gifts than anyone has had in years.
“Bridesmaids” builds on decades of funny trail blazing by icons like Mae West, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Gilda Radner, Catherine O’Hara and many more women too busy making people laugh to fret about gender debates.
As society has learned to accept women in all sorts of leadership roles, women in comedy have become more omnipresent and more outspoken — hello, Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman. And “Bridesmaids” makes another crack in the cinematic glass ceiling.
As a movie, it’s a departure from prevailing female-oriented comedies like “It’s Complicated,” a fantasy as much about having a great kitchen as having a rewarding love life, “Something’s Gotta Give,” ditto, and anything starring the gorgeous, frazzled Katherine Heigl.
“Bridesmaids” isn’t movie-pretty. Wiig drives a beat-up car and winces at the price of designer gowns. There’s no knight in shining armor, just a decent policeman (Chris O’Dowd) with a rumpled-cute face who wants to get to know her better. The other women in it are no Cinderellas facing temporary obstacles either. They’re uncertain, boisterous, vulnerable, anxious, cynical, hopeful, sad and exuberant, in various situations.
They’re all real.
Men and women’s styles of comedy may differ in some aspects, but our appreciation for each other’s punch lines can be mutual. If you’re a gal who’s laughed at “Beavis and Butt-head,” “The Hangover” and, yes, even “Caddyshack,” invite your favorite dude to see “Bridesmaids.” Because funny is funny, no matter who’s wearing the comedy pants in the family.