Hunter S. Thompson, who, I must say, has always been a literary hero of mine, is often known as the “father of gonzo journalism”. I find this moniker to be wholly misguided. While it might have served him as a form of branding, it did nothing to explain either the genre he excelled at or the observations he made.
Now let’s be clear, Thompson was a seriously weird dude.
In a dangerous sort of way, Thompson held a mirror to 1960’s and 70’s society and forced them to look past the tie dye, free love, and drugs and begin to examine the absurdity of the whole of human existence.
Drug-induced hallucinations and a general animosity to Richard Nixon seemed to help in this process.
In the Iroquois Nation there was a similar character: The Kosarhari. The Kosarhari was an individual who had been either self-selected or asked to represent the negative traits of all tribal members. His job was intensely specific and fraught with peril. But with violence being an all too real outcome of human interaction, his presence helped keep the growling dogs at bay. The Kosarhari would publicly mimic the anti-social and irritating behaviors of specific individuals. When he would mimic, everyone knew whom he was portraying… including the one he was mimicking. This served dual purposes: In the first instance, it served as a sort of “Don Ricklesesque” roasting that allowed people to laugh at their misfortune of having to deal with such a boor on a regular basis. It also provided a certain level of corrective instruction to the boor himself. Realizing this is how the tribe perceived him, even in hyperbole, the theory was the subject would correct his behavior to become more socially acceptable.
Or, the subject would murder the Kosarhari in the middle of the night for humiliating him. This happened quite frequently too.
Now, what I am about to write may very well come back to haunt me in the future, yet I believe the truth… well my truth… has a degree of validity to it.
When I was in middle school (well, perhaps high school; the timeline gets a little loose that far back), Jerry Lewis was being interviewed on 60 Minutes. During that interview he was asked who his favorite female stand-up comedienne was. His response nearly ended his career, and did tremendous damage to his “Jerry’s Kids” telethon. Even back then the seeds of “cancel culture” were being sown.
He responded by saying he didn’t think females should do stand-up comedy. They are not funny. They can certainly do physical comedy, and they can do scripted comedy, and he pointed out that Lucille Ball was a genius at both, but as stand-up comediennes, they fell flat.
Well… Gloria Steinem… did not find that funny at all. (Which, in a sense, is kind of funny in and of itself.)
But as the controversy around his statement reverberated around the pre-internet newsfeeds, and the managing directors of the various Vegas casino showrooms, it got me thinking… I didn’t find female comics funny either. Why was that?
Now to be clear, there are a couple of women I can specifically identify who have caused me to grab my sides in uncontrollable laughter. Both of my daughters are natural comics, and some of their “routines” are empirically very, very funny. There was also a woman I went to law school with, Ronnie Reed. After graduation she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she runs a solo practice… she was a truly funny human being.
Other than that… not so much.
I believe the reason for this is a combination of believability, relatability, and, ultimately, how we deal with tragedy.
Comedy must be born out of tragedy. In fact, it is a prerequisite. It is the great cosmic yin and yang. The dark dragon of the yin has an eye of the opposite color. That color promises to consume the dragon and complete the circle. Yet, on the opposite side the yang dragon has a similar contrasting eye… promising the same thing. Chaos (tragedy) creates order (comedy)… and the reverse happens as well.
More importantly, the greatest comics don’t simply point out the tragic events of society at large… they point out their own failings, their own tragedy. The self-deprecation makes the comic at once accessible, as well as relatable. Their tragedy is our tragedy… even if we have never realized it. They hold the mirror up to us, and we see ourselves reflected in their own circumstances.
So… why does this become problematic when it comes to women comics?
Generally, it is because self-deprecation by them is met with either disbelief, a desire to protect, or complete lack of understanding of the subject matter.
Women are fond of saying that men “just don’t get it”.
They are absolutely correct. Our version of the universe is different than theirs, and our empathic skills are nowhere near as sophisticated.
Don’t tear my head off. I am speaking of generalities, but generalities matter. Men and women are different, and while there has been a concerted effort to negate the uniqueness of our respective sexes, the differences go beyond the plumbing. They also go beyond social norms. They are endemic to what we are as a corporal unit.
This is why a particularly empathic man is and should be valued by society. They are rare.
That ability to be empathic translates to the ability to relate to an audience and create a shared experience. That is why some of the best male comics are, in fact, very empathetic. (It is also why so many of them are such flawed human beings.)
There has been a concerted effort by the collectivists and social engineers to cancel comedy. Many believe the regime cannot handle the presence of the jester… or the Kosarhari.
That may be true. However, it is also because so many cannot stomach to be forced to see what we have become.