A blog about comedy isn’t going be able to avoid the gender issue – as part of my licence to litter the internet with my musings, I’m obliged to devote at least five posts a year to such topics as what the producers of Mock the Week have against female stand-ups, or to analysing the latest nuanced and balanced arguments as to why no women anywhere have ever been funny. I thought I might as well face the issue head-on; and it doesn’t come much more head-on than a film called Bridesmaids, written by two women and with an almost perfectly distaff line-up of lead characters.
Paul Feig’s (yes, a man – perhaps he directed in drag) film has been hailed in some quarters as proof (for some, unprecedented; for others, merely the latest) than a surfeit of oestrogen is no barrier to being funny. A more interesting question is what it tells us about male and female approaches to humour. Along with the look!-It’s-a-funny-woman! bromides, there’s been a fair amount of comment on the rather crude nature of the humour. It’s certainly a lot more robust than one might expect of a film with that title. We’re accustomed to male actors casually tossing around scatological and sexual references, while their female counterparts roll their eyes or try to cajole them into taking this relationship more seriously. So to an extent, female characters being voracious, rude and occasionally disgusting are a welcome sight. Kristen Wiig is central to this. Billed as a story of female friendships and relations, Bridesmaids is at least as much a character study. Annie is often humiliated but never judged or demeaned, and Wiig’s dry manner and not-quite-papered-over emotion carries her and the film through every mortifying incident.
It’s possible to overstate how novel this is. The female relationships are the engine of the film, but they’re powering a rather more traditional chassis. The finale is, after all, a white wedding, and Annie gets her dream man, who is as adorably crumpled and open-minded as in any frothy chick-flick. This might be canniness on the part of film-makers pitching their wares to a predominantly female audience, but it might also have been simply following the trail of numerous other Judd Apatow productions where the bonds of friendship hold firm despite the twists and turns of high jinks and low laughs.
So what sign is there of distinctively female humour? I have two suggestions. One is a lack of cruelty – we might laugh at what happens to the characters, but we are never invited to sneer at them. That said, the films Apatow has been involved with tend not to be mean-spirited, so this may not be a sign of female comedy as much as a house style showing through.
The other contender for a distinctively feminine touch was the sight of Wiig having sex while still wearing her bra. Isn’t the whole point of underwear and coitus that the first is removed in order to facilitate the second? Having them together is like mixing starter and dessert, and not in a sexy way. But maybe this is just my male viewpoint skewing things.