The Feministing Five: Bonnie McFarlane

Bonnie McFarlane, pondering over the “women aren’t funny” debate

It’s 2013 yet the ever-pervasive myth that women aren’t funny persists. Men like the late Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the piece “Why Women Aren’t Funny” in Vanity Fair, and comedian Adam Carolla (if you could call what he does comedy) have ensured that this absurd notion has remained throughout time.

Thanks to Bonnie McFarlane’s new documentary entitled “Women Aren’t Funny,” we now have not only an interesting perspective on the debate, but a hilarious one. And from a woman! Bonnie and her husband Rich Vos, both comedians, tackle this question by asking various comedians, club owners, and writers for their thoughts on the matter. They feature everyone from Wanda Sykes, Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, and Dane Cook. At one point, Bonnie even attempts to do standup dressed as a male to compare the different reactions.

The documentary has been making its rounds this year. First at the New York Comedy Festival, and last month at the Athena Film Festival in New York, which Feministing has partnered up with for the past two years now. It’s not available on Netflix or streaming online just yet, but we’ll keep you posted if and when it does. In the meantime, follow McFarlane on Twitter and stay updated on this talented and, yes, funny!, woman’s latest endeavors.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Bonnie McFarlane.

Anna Sterling: What made you decide to pursue this pervasive yet ever-so-annoying myth that women aren’t funny?

Bonnie McFarlane: I had written a funny, satirical essay on the topic about ten years ago and it got a really good response. I thought about doing a documentary on it then but I didn’t have the resources and I just kept thinking the idea would burn itself out, that the myth would die since there were clearly so many funny women emerging. But the press kept trotting it out and people kept on debating it and I thought, well, I might as well do this. But I didn’t want to do something empowering or reactionary. I wanted it to be, above everything else, funny.

AS: Why do you think this rumor got started and what’s kept it around for so long?

BM: I really think it’s weird because there are so many funny women and there have been for such a long time. I even hate when people are like, well, now women are funny, because it’s so dismissive of the incredibly long line of talented women who have been around forever. But I think the reason it has traction is because of stand-up. There are fewer women who do it and that’s because, as I point out in the movie, it’s a little bit harder for women for a number of reasons. And stand up is really hard to begin with so add to that a little bit harder and it’s pretty fucking daunting! Funny women tend to go into other avenues of comedy like writing and acting and sketch.

AS: What surprised you the most when making this movie?

BM: I always thought the guys I met in comedy who would say things like, “women aren’t funny” were into being provocative and ball-busting and while that might be somewhat true, I was surprised to discover that there are people who actually believe women are not able to be as funny as men. Because of biology or some nonsense. I was like, “Oh, this is what sexism feels like.” Maybe I was being naïve or had blinders on before, because I was shocked.

AS: What women comedians do our readers need to stop and YouTube right now?

BM: Maria Bamford! Well, all the women in the movie, really. Chelsea Peretti, Morgan Murphy, Marina Franklin. Also, Tig Nataro, Jacqueline Novak, Lynn Shawcroft, Natasha Leggero, Annie Lederman, I could go on.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

BM: Wasn’t too happy about Melissa McCarthy being called a hippo by Rex Reed.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

BM: There’s still such an obsession with how a woman looks, even for a funny woman. Women who are trading on their comedic skills still want to be thought of as sexy. We can’t seem to shake this need to be a cum bucket for strangers. Whenever I post a video or a picture I get gross sexual comments and it’s not like I’m thrilled about it, but on some level, I am relieved.  It’s a huge character flaw.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

BM: Joan of Arc. She was young and hip and mentally ill, but come on, she got things done!  And Lena Dunham for the same reasons.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

BM: Diet Coke, salt and vinegar chips and Camille Paglia. I think you could turn her on like a radio and never be bored.

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