When Christopher Hitchens wrote his inflammatory essay 'Women Aren't Funny' for Vanity Fair it not only inspired a tirade of feminist commentators refuting the piece as pure misogyny; but perhaps more troublingly; a majority of the comedy community agreed. Comedian Bonnie McFarlane, along with her husband and fellow comedian Rich Vos get in front of the comedic community over several years to see if females are indeed less funny than their comedic counterparts. For context, the article in question in point of fact didn't actually say that women aren't able to be funny but rather that it was a biological imperative for men to be funny as it was a tool required for less physically dominant men (in a traditional sense) to be a suitable mate. Therefore Hitchens considered that innate drive to procreate as an underlying reason for male dominance in comedy. Of course the 'tweet length,' click bait headline allowed that version of the argument to go viral. McFarlane was never able to get in front of Hitchens armed with years of research and document their tussle. Hitchens untimely passing during production didn't allow this film to really have a singular foe to vanquish and instead it makes the struggle for answers all the more slippery.
McFarlane begins with a defiant resolve out to smash the embedded gender bias that women aren't funny. Instead it opens a can of worms and tries to trace why the comedy business and more broadly the entertainment industry is built to propagate that simply untrue assertion. The comedy business (across America but definitely translates across the Western world), solely focused on money rallies around the predictable audience behaviours, and sure fire male 'headliners,' and women comics are constantly relegated to the reserves bench.
McFarlane is overmatched in her attempt to solve this issue in this little documentary and instead it becomes a much better personal insight into the life and challenges of a female comic that wants to pursue the art and live some kind of 'normal' life. The line-up of female comic killers such as Chelsea Peretti, Joan Rivers, Rita Rudner, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes and Maria Bamford all make the gross fraternity of the road and the tiresome slog to get themselves in the same rooms and in from of the same audiences as their male colleagues real.
The shooting over several years means different film stocks, different settings with varying degrees of production quality and often Vos doing something in the background that ultimately distracts what's unfolding in the scene. This is a documentary where the filmmakers colour outside the lines and those imperfections are what makes it endearing and engaging. If there's anything that’s worth complaining about it's wanting more time with the amazing late Patrice O'Neal, or more time with the genius Colin Quinn.
As the documentary progresses it realises that the question's redundant. Women are funny, even though there are far fewer women pursuing the art. McFarlane's documentary becomes a much better reflection of a women in comedy, without the explosive notoriety of television or film, enduring the road family and all.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Bonnie McFarlane
Written by: Joe DeRosa, Tim Disbrow, Jack Helmuth, Bonnie McFarlane, Rich Vos
Featuring: Maria Bamford, Adam Carolla, Anthony Cumia, Susie Essman, Todd Glass, Marina Franklin, Judy Gold, Gregg Hughes, Adrienne Iapalucci, Lisa Lampanelli, Artie Lange, Bonnie McFarlane, Jim Norton, Chelsea Peretti, Joan Rivers, Rita Rudner, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, Rich Vos,