[Guest Post] Five Women of Comedy Invited To My Ultimate Dinner Party
Here’s a guest post from For Books’ Sake‘s Gina Kershaw who sent us her fantasy dinner table of five funny women. If you have a guest post brewing in your brain, you know what to do: pitch us at [email protected].
Y’know how some people claim music makes their world go around/ they couldn’t survive without music/etc etc? Well, I’m like that with comedy, especially comedy by women, especially comedy by women that knocks the tired, old stereotype that “women just aren’t funny” straight out of the patriarchal pool of life.
Well, I’ve got my chicken sizzling in the oven, I’ve applied the final fudge flourish to the chocolate cake, and the 70’s throw back prawn cocktail is ready and waiting on the table. All I need now is a prime comedy guestlist of my favourite funny women to turn this evening into my ultimate fantasy night…
I try and live my life without putting a load of over-glorified idolisation on any one person (or thing) – but my rule just seems to break whenever I come across Jennifer Saunders. Since my table is limited, I had to choose between French and Saunders, but Jen made the cut for a few reasons.
I can’t talk about Saunders without talking about Absolutely Fabulous. Beyond the fact that it’s just genuinely funny, I think there are several important messages to be found in the programme. Joanna Lumley stated in an interview for French television that she accepted the role of Patsy because she had finally been offered a role where she didn’t have to be the soulless goody two shoes. Saunders has created characters that reflect real life – albeit a twisted form of it – much more closely than many other roles created for women. Because she has a ‘posh’ accent, Lumley is often cast in roles that reflect the character society wishes her to have, but in AbFab she fits perfectly as botoxed, pilled up, fashion obsessed Patsy, far better than anyone could imagine. At a human level, Saunders reminds her audience not to judge a book by its clipped accent or laughter lines; it’s a reversal of the stereotypes that just won’t go away – oh you’re old, so you can’t enjoy a drink, oh you’re a mother so you can’t have a personality away from the child. Then there’s the whole exposure of the fashion scene as the temperamental, judgemental, fat-shaming sham of an industry that it is.
She was amazing on Bad News and More Bad News, the music spoof by the people behind The Young Ones, in which she played a punk journalist that I ignorantly hoped to replicate “when I’m all grown up” (and still kinda secretly do). She’s written a Spice Girls musical which, as a 90s child, I couldn’t be happier about, and of course, I can’t round off this section without mentioning her stint as the fairy godmother on Shrek 2 and her a-maz-ing cover of Holding Out For A Hero.
Tina Fey changed the face of high school comedy with Mean Girls. High school-based comedy was always full of what I’d call ‘lad-laugh’ humour; the hunt for beer, the quest for tits, the montage of vomit. Very little high school comedy ever actually showed anything within the actual school, until Mean Girls. Adapting material from the sociological study-fuelled Queen-Bees and Wannabes, Fey produced a film that wasn’t only funny, but provided an actual critique of many people’s experiences and perceptions of high school. An unflinchingly look at bitching, cliques and passive aggressive bullying that can relentlessly curse students on a daily basis, the film provided insight for those that had already left school, and a beam of hope for those currently in school. Plus it made a legend of Glen Coco and gave me one of my all time favourite lines involving wide set vaginas and heavy flows.
Fey is an unashamed feminist, which I love, and she’s effin’ hilarious about it. I have always maintained that you should use humour to show the bastards that they can’t get you down, and Fey mixes important feminist messages without ever sounding preachy or obtuse. Bossypants is an amazing autobiography where she talks not just about her infinitely interesting life but discusses truly interesting topics. The Time I Was a Bit Skinny and The Time I Was a Bit Fat are two short chapters that discuss body image; her responses to anonymous online commentators are hilarious and powerful; and her discussion of Photoshopped images of women is refreshing, honest, and completely different from anything you’ll find elsewhere on the subject.
You might not necessarily associate Kinsella straight away as a woman of comedy since she’s best known as a chick-lit author. On For Books’ Sake you’ll often find me arguing the merits of chick-lit as comedy aimed at women and the importance of not being put off by ridiculous flowery covers and storylines about heterosexual thirtysomething romances. I often cite Kinsella’s Shopaholic series when discussing chick-lit as comedy for women for more than the fact that I just find them funny. The subject matter of the novel could easily turn a light story into a gritty social warning – the curse of debt and addiction, the crushing demoralisation of being stuck in a career you hate in order to pay the bills, the social anguish of being judged and criticised by those you can’t help but think are better than you. However, Kinsella approaches these subjects with the character of Becky Bloomwood/Brandon and makes them funny, and while I acknowledge that it’s a tired old trope that all women like shopping, there’s plenty of subject matter to relate to.
I also love her quiet acknowledgement of the ridiculous suggestion that to read or write chick-lit you must be stupid. In an interview with the Guardian Kinsella wryly brushes off the hideous suggestion by the interviewer that somewhere her life must have gone wrong if she has an Oxbridge degree in business and finance yet chooses to write chick-lit. Her calm attitude towards suggestions that would leave me chucking plates against the wall shows professionalism and class that many would not associate with the genre.
On a basic level, Caitlin Moran is on my list because I want so desperately to get her in a room and demand that she tells me how I can become just like her. When someone asks me what I want to do with my life, my response is always “to become a combination of Charlie Brooker and Caitlin Moran”.
I became aware of her work with How to Be a Woman. The fact that such an overtly feminist book became a bestseller is fabulously encouraging for all modern feminists, and the manner in which she writes her personal feminist agendas is inspiring. While I’m not a huge fan OF WRITING IN CAPITALS TO EMPHASISE EVERY POINT I MAKE, I am a fan of the messages she writes so simply and beautifully. Encouraging every woman to stand on a chair and shout “I AM A FEMINIST” without ever patronising those who may not automatically associate themselves with feminism is an attitude that I feel is necessary if we’re to get more young people to identify as feminists. Her statement that “you’re not fat if you can find a dress you look nice in and run up three flights of stairs” has become something of a mantra for me when I’m having a down day/week/month, and her unflinchingly honest approach to unfortunately controversial issues such as female masturbation and abortion is helping many women to finally be able to talk about them without any false shame or embarrassment. Plus, y’know, she’s piss funny and she went out drinking with Lady Gaga. Caitlin, on the off-chance that you’re reading this, STOP TELLING ME HOW TO BE A WOMAN AND JUST TELL ME HOW TO BE YOU. (End unnecessary capitals.)
Okay, so this is maybe the least obvious choice for my guestlist, but let me explain. While the early works of Carter may be the epitome of darkness, towards the end of her writing career and her life, her work began to pick up elements of obscure, magical humour. Wise Children, her final novel, brings together her developing interest in the lightness of human behaviour with the eye-popping spectacle of magic realism, all of which results in a beautifully hilarious final novel with heartbreaking undertones.
I don’t just want to invite Carter because she’s funny, though. I want to invite her because she is my ultimate feminist icon. Her (at the time) unique approach to feminism and sexuality, constant refusal to change her opinions and beliefs just because she didn’t fit in with current trends, and her skills as a writer (not only of fiction, but of intelligent and
persuasive feminist essays and arguments) make her one of my all time heroines. From what I’ve read from biographies she was really, really funny in real life too, making her the perfect final addition to my table.
So there it is, my funny women party guestlist. But which women of comedy would you invite? Do you love my choices, or is my sense of humour enough to make you laugh in disgust?
- Gina Kershaw is the Features Editor on literary website For Books’ Sake. She has a fortnightly column there, Gina Goes Pop, where she rants about all things pop culture. She has a degree in English Literature and hopes one day to turn her penchant for sitting around the house in her pajamas eating custard creams and writing into a career. You can follow her on twitter – @gmkershaw91 – or check out her blog.