When I got to my desk this morning, my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves was still open next to the anatomy book Adam gave me for its cross section of a vagina. Late yesterday, another writer and I worked on a women’s health update for tonight’s show. Though it’s the first time we’ve tried it, we wrote the piece as if it’s a longstanding segment: Women’s Health with Vance DeGeneres. Hopefully, the concept of an earnest newsman landing the Women’s Health beat will strike people as funny.
So, I saw Our Bodies, Ourselves lying open and thought I would write about being the only woman writer and about the composition of the writing staff in general. There’s a widespread perception that being a female comedy writer means dealing with a roomful of Michael O’Donoghue wannabes who tell you “to be funny, you need a piece of meat between your legs” and then light your jokes on fire. No doubt, there have been awful experiences, but I haven’t had them. No one’s alienated me; no one’s harassed me. I don’t know why there are still so few women in comedy. Once I read that humor is an aggressive act. Jerry Seinfeld was quoted as saying, “To laugh is to be dominated.” I think that’s true; getting a big laugh is essentially forcing a person into an uncontrolled state. Though it’s common to say that comedians just want an audience to love them, it may be more accurate to say that they want an audience to submit to them. I wonder if women are outnumbered in comedy because they’re often discouraged from expressing aggression.
My only problem with being the sole female writer is both aggressive and self-imposed. I feel it is my specific duty to take down several key female pop culture and political figures, as well as a number of products marketed to women. People and things that deserve it. And if there were more women writers, it’d be easier to take them all on. At my old job, writing questions for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, a $100 question was dumped when the head writer deemed it too hard to confirm through research. That question was “In what part of her body does a mother kangaroo carry her baby?” Apparently, we needed a source that said she doesn’t use her mouth. It’s a particular luxury of my current job to skip this kind of fact-checking and editorialize instead. Having it in for a certain person or movie or band is not unusual; there are some celebrities writers bring up in the joke reads twice or three times a week.
There are 11 writers; the youngest are in their mid 20s and the oldest in their late 30s. We’re all white. We all have Christian or Jewish backgrounds. We all went to college. A couple of us went to graduate school. Not everyone is liberal. Five of the writers got started in stand-up; another four were in college improv groups. Before getting the Daily Show gig, most of us worked day jobs and wrote or performed at night. We don’t “look like America,” although I think we pretty much “look like a late-night comedy writing staff.” We also look a bit like dot-com employees. People wear sweatpants and T-shirts to work and have Slinkys on their desks. A popular work break is playing “Burger Time” on the old ColecoVision.
I think all of us are much more interested in writing something funny than in trying to use the show as a political platform. We’re just comedy writers. That said, one thing I learned covering the campaign last year (and I speak only for myself here) is that Republicans make for much funnier jokes than Democrats do. There is no question of that. And I think Republicans would do well to embrace their inherent funniness. It’s a wonderful attribute. Be it.