In a recent interview, comedienne, cabaret performer, and former stripper Lisa Faith Phillips discussed the life of a stand-up comic, MAE WEST, and whether women are actually funny,
• • Interviewer Betty Swallow asked Lisa: Why is it that men are considered funnier? Are men better at laughing at themselves, particularly physically?
• • Lisa Faith Phillips said: I was struck by a book that came out in 1986 Comedy Writing Secrets by Melvin Helitzer. In it he proposes that the two most important elements of why we laugh are superiority and surprise — — with the desire to feel superior the most important.
• • Melvin Helitzer writes: “There is a strong and constant need for us to feel superior… What we are often doing with humor is comparing ourselves with others we consider inferior by ridiculing their intelligence, their social standing and their physical infirmities.”
• • It seems easier for men to pursue this sort of comedy as they have been used to being in the power position for centuries. It is harder for women, though it has thankfully been changing, to come at the audience from a power position as for centuries we have been relegated to the position of helpmate, nurturing, and supportive. So women have to break the mold of how society has viewed them for centuries to follow their male counterparts.
• • Looking back over what comediennes were successful on television, there does seem to be only the “allowed” roles for women by the male controlled early movies and television. Gracie Allen — — ding-a-ling housewife, Lucille Ball — — ding-a-ling housewife, Phyllis Diller — — lazy, sloppy housewife, Rosanne Barr — — fat, lazy sloppy housewife. There was also the Mae West’s and Sophie Tucker’s brand of bad girl humor which didn’t thrive as well on TV — — though it has had a life in the comedy and cabaret clubs.
• • It is striking that many of the women comedians today who are the most successful are lesbians: Ellen Degeneres, Paula Poundstone, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, which ties into the aggressive outsider role that comediennes often are placed.
• • I am excited to see how comedy will change now that women are becoming a more accepted part of the comedy scene . . . .
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •