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Perhaps you’ve heard of the 8th grade girl’s recent (and successful) petition to Hasbro to make a “gender-neutral” Easy Bake Oven so her younger brother can use it without being embarrassed by its sparkly pinkness. Yay for busting gender stereotypes!
However, I can’t help but being surprised that such an obvious gender stereotype still exists. Another hoary old bit of sexist horrible-ness is “Women aren’t funny.” It’s an idea bandied about in the media occasionally, usually by men who – surprising! – aren’t particularly funny themselves. (Adam Carolla, I’m looking at you.)
One book I read and loved this year was We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen, an oral history of funny ladies from Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, and Elaine May in the 1950s and 1960s up through with such contemporary comedians as Amy Poehler and Chelsea Handler. They offer the best answer to the “Women aren’t funny” charge: they are funny, and they are women. So there.
The remarkable thing for me is how many of these funny women have recently translated all of their funny into books. Not the usual standup-comedian nonfiction books (though Ellen Degeneres and others have certainly done that), but novels.
Once I started thinking about it, I realized that a number of my favorite funny novels of the last few years have been written by women who started out in the comedy business in one way or another.
Patricia Marx was a writer for quite a few of the funniest seasons of Saturday Night Live. I love love love her Him Her Him Again The End of Him – which not only has one of the best titles but also manages to tell a terrifically buoyant story about an erstwhile romance. She also manages to make the mention of Sylvia Plath funny. (Seriously.)
Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go Bernadette? has been on nearly every “best of 2012” list I’ve seen, and with good reason. Semple, who was a stand-up comedian in the 1980s, wrote for television comedy hits such as “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development” and then started writing novels. Bernadette? has the semi-madcap quality of an “Arrested Development” episode, complete with characters in slightly off-kilter families working at cross-purposes.
Finally, Sarah Dunn started out her comedy career with the snarky Official Slacker Handbook in 1994. She went on to write for a number of hit television shows in the 1990s – “Spin City” and “Veronica’s Closet” among them – before writing two of my favorite novels: The Big Love and Secrets to Happiness, both about young Southern women trying to make their way in New York City. Dunn manages to bypass the usual “chick lit” conventions with honest, sweet, and only slightly snarky characters and stories.