Screenshot: Ali Wong / Ali Wong: Baby Cobra / Netflix
I recently talked to a living, breathing human person in the year 2019, who told me “women just aren’t funny.” They weren’t trying to be offensive or controversial, they were stating what they thought was an objective fact.
This person told me that they never watch female stand-up comedians, because they just know they won’t be as good as the male ones.
Never mind all the intervening factors - the fact that we have different expectations of what men and women are allowed to talk about, the fact that women are raised to be pretty and polite rather than funny, the fact that comedy is an industry dominated by men and can be really hard for women to break into - women are funny, plain and simple. And if I hear one more person tell me they’re not I’m going to lose my mind.
So, to prove my point, here’s a list of my favourite stand-up comedy specials performed by women that are available on Netflix...
Jenny Slate: Stage Fright
Jenny Slate is an anxious, frenetic, poetic joy to watch. In this comedy special, she reflects on her life as a 37-year-old Jewish woman, her divorce, and growing up in a haunted house. The stand-up is interspersed with documentary footage of Slate at her childhood home, interviewing her grandmothers (one of which she describes as having Nancy Reagan’s head, the body of a shrimp, and eagle talons) and talking about the intense stage fright she experiences every night before performing. One of my favourite elements of comedy is how people can take their worst fears and turn them into something that brings other people joy and relief, and Jenny does that beautifully in this special. I also enjoy how regularly she lets out animal-like shrieks into the microphone, it really keeps you on your toes.
Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room
Katherine Ryan is unapologetic. In her special, Glitter Room, Katherine Ryan quips on her life as a single mother living in the U.K, and pokes fun at the different expectations society has for men and women. If she was a man, she argues, she wouldn’t be single, she’d be “eligible as fuck.” She owns a house in central London! If she was a man, she would have been asked to be The Bachelor, there would be memes of her vacuuming with no shirt on,and YouTube videos going viral because she could braid her own child’s hair. Watch this special, at the very least, for Katherine’s impression of her posh British daughter who is obsessed with Anna Kendrick. It’s worth it, I promise.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s special is the most moving stand-up I’ve ever seen, and one of the most highly revered. For a moment there, Nanette was the Making a Murderer of comedy specials - you couldn’t go anywhere without someone asking if you’d seen it. So, if you still haven’t seen it, you either live under a rock or don’t have a Netflix subscription (which, in a way, are one and the same). In the special, Hannah talks openly about misogynistic and homophobic abuse that she’s faced over her life, and ends up using the special to question the act of stand-up comedy itself. Why is she turning her pain and trauma into jokes for other people to laugh at, rather than trying to work through that pain for herself? Nanette is fearless and heartbreaking, but also very funny (I promise!)
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra
Of everyone on the list, no one has made me belly laugh like Ali Wong. Wong has two Netflix specials - Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, which are both very good, but the former is my personal favourite. Heavily pregnant with her first child, Ali takes on the topics of sex, race, money, marriage and miscarriages boldly and brutally. There’s something inherently shocking (and inherently feminist) about watching a seven-and-a-half months pregnant woman reenact the sex she had with her husband to get pregnant, and the positions she had to contort herself into to help along her husband’s “Harvard nectar”, and that’s part of what makes Baby Cobra so brilliant.
Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats
We all know her as Gina Linetti, the best character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but have you watched Chelsea Peretti’s stand-up special, One of the Greats? Because you should. Right now. Go. Do it. This special doesn’t try too hard to give us the illusion that we’re in the audience, constantly intercut with shots of dogs in the audience, or Chelsea dressed as a clown to the side of stage - which shouldn’t work, but somehow does? Chelsea’s observations and delivery in this special show that she has wells of talent that were nowhere near tapped on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She truly is, unironically, one of the greats.
I strongly urge you to binge watch all of the above and then try to tell me that women aren’t funny. See how that goes.Support Villainesse