Feminism & Co.'s Funny Women: Can you be too much of a woman on stage?
Friday night's installment of Feminism & Co., the third in this season's series at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, was titled simply "Funny Women." But as the MCA has shown itself to be very good at doing, the museum had booked an expert in the field of funny: comedian Cory Kahaney. In turn, Kahaney offered some valuable insight into the history of women in stand-up comedy.
Comedian Cory Kahaney
Kahaney -- a veteran comedian who has hosted her own HBO and Comedy Central specials, as well as a finalist on NBC's Last Comic Standing -- opened with a reference to a quote from Jerry Lewis: "A woman doing comedy doesn't offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world," Lewis famously said at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen in 1998.
At that quote, so early in Kahaney's talk, many in the audience were visibly -- and audibly -- taken aback. She then paraphrased from Christopher Hitchens' 2007 Vanity Fair piece,"Why Women Aren't Funny," and those comments sounded as absurd as the Lewis quote. With slices of historic sexism now on the table, Kahaney took the opportunity to highlight some of the women who'd faced this attitude decades earlier.
She showed clips of such early shock comedians as Pearl Williams, Belle Barth and Totie Fields, several of whom were cited and charged with lewd behavior for their routines -- long before any male comedians had gotten into legal trouble, Kahaney noted. I had never heard of the half-dozen women she chose to showcase, which made this particular edition of Feminism & Co. an even greater learning experience than usual. (The audio clips Kahaney played from Williams and Barth's comedy albums from the '50s were indeed salacious and really raunchy, even in present-day context.)
Between the brief history lessons and wonderfully curated clips, Kahaney played to her own routine -- she told jokes about life before marriage and the age gap between her kids, and also offered a little background information on her career. While Kahaney's brand of humor did not particularly resonate with me, the response from the crowd was overwhelmingly the positive.