Columns & Blogs

Craig Lindsey: Funny women abound on screen

Craig Lindsey.
Craig Lindsey.

Last month, actress Goldie Hawn and Disney CEO Michael Eisner engaged in an onstage discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Midway through the conversation, Eisner brought up to Hawn how there is one of type of performer who he’s always considered a rarity.

“From my position, the hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman,” he said. “By far. They usually – boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online – but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.” (When The Atlantic reported on his remarks, Eisner emailed a response: “I certainly did not say Goldie was the only one. My point was simply that Goldie, unlike many, has not been defined exclusively as one or the other.”)

Just as Eisner predicted, a lot of people (particularly women) didn’t approve of Eisner’s comments. Mindy Kaling and Elizabeth Banks, two funny, good-looking women in their own right, went on Twitter to voice their displeasure. Comedian Kathy Griffin wrote a piece in The Hollywood Reporter railing against Eisner and other like-minded decision-makers in her industry. “People who share his views, and all the other men who think the things about women that he is expressing verbally, should simply be subjected to a panel of women – women of my choosing – who decide his career fate and legacy based on his physical appearance.”

This is yet another bit of sexism women in the entertainment industry have to deal with. (Some of you may remember I wrote about current Hollywood sexism in my last column.) But this goes far beyond Tinseltown. The are-women-funny debate has been going on for years now.

In 2007, the late writer Christopher Hitchens infamously wrote a Vanity Fair column called “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” where he basically stated that, unlike men, women don’t have to impress people with their sense of humor.

“Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way,” Hitchens wrote. “They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.”

He also mentioned that women usually don’t find the crass, rude, dumb things guys find sidesplitting all that amusing. “Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is – or they are – extremely stupid,” he wrote. “Women aren’t like that.”

Look to TV

The column (which is no longer archived on the Vanity Fair website, by the way) must have really struck a nerve, since the magazine did a cover story/spread a year later called “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” which included many contemporary funny ladies, including stars Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman.

In the same piece, Fey stated how much easier it is to find funny women, whether they’re beautiful or not, on the small screen than the big screen. This is mainly because, as Fey stated, “Women drive what’s on television, and husbands and boyfriends decide on movies.” While that was said several years ago, it still rings true today. Whether they’re veterans (like Julia-Louis Dreyfus on “Veep”) or newbies headlining their own show (Ellie Kemper on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) or some alternative ladies out to make hipsters chuckle (Carrie Brownstein on “Portlandia”), there are many funny women – who are also lookers – making people laugh through their flatscreens or laptops.

Major players

But it’s not like comediennes can’t headline films. The two most successful comedies this summer both star women. With her globe-trotting, secret-agent spoof “Spy” making over $234 million at the box office, Melissa McCarthy continues to be the most popular comic actress at the box office. (She’s now shooting the highly anticipated “Ghostbusters” reboot, with former “SNL” cast member Kristen Wiig and current “SNL” members Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones filling out the rest of the crew.) Comedian Amy Schumer also became a major movie player this season with “Trainwreck,” which she both wrote and starred in. So far it has made more than $100 million.

But both McCarthy and Schumer are also TV stars with popular shows still on the air. Maybe studio execs should take the time to turn on the TV once in a while if they want to find funny gals that can bring in audiences. Man, if they’re really clamoring for women who are both hilarious and drop-dead gorgeous, they should get Vine on their smartphones. The social-media app is inundated with stunning clowns making six-second clips. Brittany Furlan, Manon Mathews and former Playboy Playmate Amanda Cerny are just a few of the ravishing heavy hitters with millions of followers among them.

I don’t know about Michael Eisner, but beautiful, funny women are everywhere. All you gotta do, as always, is know where to look.