Tuesday, May 25, 2010 11:45 AM
Chloe Angyal over at Feministing has a smart essay on a recent Paley Center for Media panel on women writers working in late-night television comedy. Sensing that the female panelists didn’t think gender was the true explanation for the dearth of women in comedy, Angyal draws an acute connection between women comedy writers and female traders on Wall Street:
It is no coincidence that the discussion of why there are so few women in late night comedy sounded so similar to a discussion of why there are so few women on the trading floor. In both industries, women are perceived to be naturally less gifted, ensuring that only the best women will put themselves forward. And in both industries, being loud and aggressive is a job requirement. Given that women in our society are discouraged from being loud and aggressive, the real failure of the women who can't hack it in a male-dominated work environment seems to be that they are, well, women.
Listening to the panelists on Thursday night, I was frustrated, but hardly surprised, that they insisted on portraying what is partly a cultural problem as a purely individual one. In late night as on Wall Street, the stakes are high. Speak out too loudly and you risk rocking the boat. You risk inviting the disapproval of the many men, and the few women, around you. You might end up as a cautionary tale, one of those women who couldn't hack it. You might even lose your job.
Image by TheeErin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 2:36 PM
"My name is Maysoon Zayid and for those of you who don't know me, I am a Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy from New Jersey. And if you don't feel better about yourself, maybe you should." That’s comedian Maysoon Zayid at a performance in 2008 (see footage below).
Zayid is a founder of the wildly popular New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, now in its seventh year. In These Times reports on its corollary in Jordan, the Amman Stand-Up Comedy Festival, now in its second year. Dean Obeidallah, executive producer of the festival and co-founder of the New York event with Zayid, explained the more cautious approach comedians must adopt in Amman:
As common comedic topics like sex and politics would seem to be off limits in the Middle East, the obvious question is: What are Arabs laughing at? Obeidallah says that although comics who perform clean material are more likely to be successful in the more reserved culture, there are no specific objections to types of jokes. Performers adopt a common-sense strategy to political material, he says: “Don’t make fun of the leaders by name, but make a broad-stroke joke.” (Unless you’re making fun of American policies; Bush was a very popular subject, Obeidallah notes.)
The piece also includes a brief profile of Zayid:
A Palestinian with cerebral palsy, she jokes that she is the “most oppressed person on earth,” but her comedy work significantly funds her charity, Maysoon’s Kids, which pays for education and accessibility equipment for disabled children in Palestine. She performed in Amman in both English and Arabic, and credits her ability to flawlessly switch between the two for her success with both audiences.
Asked how the patriarchal Middle East reacts to her performance, she says, “The world of comedy is machismo. Regardless of where they are in the world, women are the underdog. The assumption is, women aren’t as funny. I think I’m blessed as an Arab comic, because I’m the only one who can do what I do.”
The challenge of switching between the languages is not about the content of jokes, Zayid says, but the pace of their delivery. “I would much rather do stand-up in Arabic because of the musicality of the language. It’s a much faster clip than English,” she says. “I’m setting them up and knocking them down. What takes me five minutes in English takes me two in Arabic.”
So, what does make Arabs laugh? “Family material,” Zayid say. “Talking about my dad kills, kills, kills!”
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 2:06 PM
A virus is like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star, with humans playing the part of the Empire. Humans have a huge size advantage, but a virus can still win the fight. Science comedian Brian Malow provides a few jokes on this David vs. Goliath battle, including this one:
An infectious disease walks into a bar, and the bartender says “We don’t serve infectious diseases here.”
The infectious disease says, “Well you’re not a very good host.”
Watch the video from Fora.tv below:
(Thanks, 3 Quarks Daily.)
Thursday, November 13, 2008 12:37 PM
After 9/11 we heard a lot about the death of irony, but after an initial period of mourning, humor prevailed and even thrived in the troubled early aughts.
But with the departure of the president who gave political satire its all-time easiest target, and the arrival of an unflappable and extremely popular president-elect, will practitioners of political satire run out of fodder?
Of course not. The Daily Show’s ascendancy coincided with Bush’s increasingly disastrous presidency, but Jon Stewart & Co. won’t suddenly be irrelevant just because Bush is. “Assuming the Daily Show can only be funny under someone like George W. Bush gives far too much credit to the outgoing President and is obscenely insulting to the writers of the Daily Show,” writes Matt Tobey on Comedy Central’s blog. “As if there wasn't plenty of failed Bush-based humor from shittier sources than the Daily Show.”
Meanwhile, the South Park boys pulled an all-nighter after the election to complete their extremely timely Wednesday broadcast, in which overzealous acolytes of Barack Obama see his victory as license to riot drunkenly in the streets, and Obama’s campaign team shows its true colors as an upscale band of jewel thieves a la Ocean’s Eleven.
These comedy institutions are bellwethers of the general categories into which Obama Humor will fall, at least for now: Poking fun at the extreme fervor of Obama’s supporters, and pointing up the absurd paranoia of Obama’s opposition (much like the New Yorker did all those months ago.)
The reliable Onion covers those satirical bases and more, with headlines like “International Con Man Barack Obama Leaves U.S. With $85 Million In Campaign Fundraising” and “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job”.
There’s also the hilarious animated video below, from Get Your War On creator David Rees, making the rounds. (Consider it a sequel to the New Yorker cover.)
And when Obama inevitably falls short of the astronomical expectations set for him, satirists will pounce. The Daily Show’s John Hodgman told Politico, “As much as the show is fake news, its soul is very sincere, borne of a desire that everyone shares, that we don’t want to be lied to. If there is a whiff of insincerity [Obama] will be taken to task.”
Tuesday, October 07, 2008 12:18 PM
By the time Tina Fey emerged onto the cultural landscape in 2000 as an anchor on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, the Second City alum was already the show’s head writer, quietly shepherding the comedy institution into its late-'90s renaissance and noticeably improving its ratio of funny-to-bad sketches.
Her star continued to rise with the razor-sharp satirical sitcom 30 Rock, which premiered in 2006 and solidified her status as the embodiment of geek chic in an entertainment climate where brainy, funny women are tragically undervalued. Fey has carved out a career in which she accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of injecting savvy cultural and political commentary into mass entertainment, with her cerebral, rapid-fire monologues on “Update” and then with the surprisingly subversive 30 Rock.
But no one could have predicted Fey’s next act until August 29 of this year, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. The world pounced on the striking similarity between Fey and the VP candidate, and Fey didn’t disappoint. She has returned to Saturday Night Live to lampoon the candidate’s disastrous interviews with Katie Couric and her debate against Joe Biden, and delivered a speech with Hillary Clinton as played by longtime collaborator Amy Poehler. For her part, Palin has joked about honing her own Tina Fey impression, telling reporters she dressed as Fey for Halloween. (When? Last year?)
This week, Fey signed a multimillion-dollar book deal for a collection of humorous essays in the vein of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She appears undaunted by relative missteps like the box-office flop Baby Mama or her shilling for American Express, and now wields enormous cultural influence—as writer, performer, and human barometer of that uniquely American nexus of politics and entertainment.
Fey doesn’t necessarily relish her newfound cultural clout, however. As successful as her Sarah Palin gig has been, Fey hopes it doesn’t last long: “I want to be done playing this lady November 5,” she said backstage at this year’s Emmys. “So if anyone could help me be done playing this lady November 5, that would be good for me.”
We’ll do our best, Tina.
Image by David Shankbone, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 9:24 AM
We all know how much fun it is to gather around a television with like-minded friends and shout snide things at the unpalatable speeches being broadcast. Now imagine doing that in a theater filled with 300 drunk liberals.
That’s precisely what I did last Thursday, at the tail end of Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead’s multimedia satire, Shoot the Messenger. The show holds weekly performances in New York City, where Winstead and her ensemble spoof the week’s headlines during a parodic morning news show called Wake Up World (“America’s only 6-hour morning show!”)
But last week, in dubious honor of the RNC, Winstead’s troupe brought their show to her native Minneapolis for three nights at the Parkway Theater. Each evening’s events went beyond mere theater to include live feeds from the RNC and musical performances from revered protest singer Billy Bragg and local legends Dan Wilson, Jim Walsh, and Grant Hart.
Before the show, the Parkway’s seats were mostly full of chatty people munching popcorn as the onstage screen showed eminently believable ads for the “24/7 Infonewsment Network’s” fake shows, such as Poll Dancing with sexy anchorwoman Emily Rackcheck and MedicAsian with Dr. Vijay Jay.
Winstead and her co-star Baron Vaughn starred as Wake Up World’s chipper, clueless hosts Hope Jean Paul and Davis Miles. Hope Jean Paul is, like her creator, from the Twin Cities area: “I’m originally from Coon Rapids,” she chirped, to which Vaughn (who is African American) replied, “Wow! Sounds like my kind of place!” Naughty laughter erupted and Winstead replied, “Now, Davis, try not to be offended by the name, just because it contains the word Rapids.”
That joke set the tone for the show, whose mix of absurdity and topical satire has made Winstead’s more famous brainchild the Daily Show a media phenomenon for over a decade. Wake Up World, even more so than the Daily Show or its cousin the Colbert Report, is an acerbic and overtly partisan takedown of our leaders’ hypocrisies and the 24-hour news cycle’s vapid excesses.
In true morning-show form, Winstead and Vaughn hyped insipid segments like Lumpy the Cancer-Sniffing Dog, who they promised would find the one lucky audience member with a malignant tumor. A pro–big oil energy “expert” was brought in to discuss his new book The Town Pump: Alternatives to Alternative Energy. And a member of private security contractor Blackwater sat down with the hosts to discuss his new miracle fitness regimen: “Extreme Waterboard Abs.”
Pulchritudinous newsgal Emily Rackcheck delivered hourly news updates in a low-cut sweater and miniskirt. Bloviators Hunter Carlsbad (wearing a bowtie) and Daniels Midland (host of the Complication Room) shouted at each other during a Crossfire-style segment touted as “a debate between both sides of the political spectrum: the Far Right and the Right of Center!”
Winstead also tailored the show to the region with pre-taped biographical puff pieces on Laurie Coleman and Michelle Bachman subtitled “Behind the Taut Canvas.” There were ads for “a 31-part investigative series” called White in America and a gauzy video appeal from Sarah Silverman for charitable donations to private contracting firms.
After Wake Up World concluded, the evening shifted gears for its second segment, where Winstead reappeared as herself and sat down with liberal talk-radio host Ed Schultz to discuss the RNC—specifically Palin, whose fur-coat photo Winstead captioned “Wasilla DeVille.” Schultz was witty and affable, assuring us that McCain’s campaign would buckle under the weight of its own hypocrisy: “Look, everything’s going to be fine. And if it’s not, then we get another vice president who might shoot someone in the face!”
This marathon mix of political discourse, satire, and campy theatre was only a prelude, however, for the evening’s main event: a massive group viewing of John McCain’s speech. The audience, now well-lubricated and ready to laugh not so much with satirical glee as incredulous derision, filed back into the theater as McCain’s hagiographic video was playing on the giant screen, which had been tuned to MSNBC’s live feed from the convention.
As the man himself took the stage, the theater audience erupted with boos and squeals. The people around me gladly obeyed the rules of a drinking game Winstead had announced earlier: that we hoist our glasses every time the word maverick was used. Genuine cheers burst forth when MSNBC’s cameras zoomed in on the IVAW and Code Pink protestors who had infiltrated the hall.
As the speech dragged on and John McCain’s smiling rictus became increasingly creepy, the Parkway crowd got rowdier and my convention fatigue peaked. Around the moment when the last poorly programmed image appeared behind the penis-shaped stage, I fled the theater for some fresh air. When I went back inside a few minutes later, I encountered a completely different scene which cleared my head, the perfect antidote to the televised nightmare we’d just seen: Dan Wilson was playing his ubiquitous and charming hit single “Closing Time” to a much smaller crowd gathered near the front of the theater, kicking off one of Jim Walsh’s famous Hootenannies. Then Grant Hart took the stage, and the aging avatars of the Minneapolis counterculture settled further into their seats to watch their heroes perform, resting after a long evening—and week—of politicized sensory overload.
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