Not so funny, after all


Why is there a picture of a sleepy Phebe Cat here, you ask? Why wouldn’t there be a picture of a sleepy Phebe Cat? Also, BAM. I just mastered click-bait. 

I’m not sure how it happened, but for some reason these past week, I dove into memoirs. Specifically, comedian and entertainer memoirs.

So far, I have read (not in this order) Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (this was a reread, actually), Jessi Klein’s You’ll Grow Out of It, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? 

Yes, I know that is quite a few books for a short time frame, but years of semi-anti-social tendencies and grad school have turned me into a book-a-day (sometimes two) kind of gal. (Yesterday, I also read Leah Remini’s book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, but that one was really just for my own entertainment.)

What started as me just looking for relatable nonfiction turned into a down-the-rabbit-hole brain explosion. There were threads that kept jumping out, and when your brain knots like that, you can’t just walk away. You have to untangle and promise to brush your hair on the reg from now on.

That meant I couldn’t just read. I had to watch, too. I’ve never had strong feelings about stand-up, but considering the role stand-up plays for so many comedians, it seemed sensible to start there. So I watched Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King,” then I went on to Amy Schumer’s “The Leather Special.” And then it just spiraled. Aziz Ansari’s “Buried Alive.” Maria Bamford’s “Old Baby.” Chelsea Peretti’s “One of the Greats.” Maz Jobrani’s “I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One On TV.” Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra” (this one a rewatch for me).

Did you know that out of Netflix’s current (summer 2017) 180 stand-up catalog, out of 135 performers (these numbers do not include the one special that features several comedians, “Sigue la Risa”), only 23 are women? And that out of those 23 women, only six of those women are non-white? And out of those six women, only one of those women (Mo’Nique) is black?

This is compared to their male counterparts, where out of the remaining 111 performers (several performers had more than one special available to stream), 39 of those performers are people of color. Out of the 26 comedians who had more than one special, five of those entertainers are women and only one of those women is not white. Thirteen of the remaining male comedians are white. However, while male comedians are more likely to have at least two specials available, male performers with more >2 episodes are (currently) more evenly balanced, with Kevin Hart topping the list at six specials and Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan right behind him at five (each).

This is nonsense. Not just the fact that out of all of these performers, only one comedian is a black woman, but also the fact that Netflix still only has eighteen categories for international films. Why do Chinese, Korean, and Japanese films all get their own sub-genre, but “African” is a monolith? I guess it’s an improvement, though; Netflix used to list Africa as a country. Not only is the diversification of comedians underwhelming, but the presentation of any non-mainstream entertainment lacks.

Also nonsense: the fact that I just spent three hours figuring out these few stats (more details to come on a different the-weather-app-is-a-lie day) and that I’m about to go cross-reference Netflix’s offerings with Hulu and Amazon Prime. Who does this on not-supposed-to-be-sunny Friday? More importantly, who does this for no reason at all?

I guess that’s me.

You know it’s bad when the dog settles in at your feet, looks up at you, and says with his eyes, We’re not done here.


Sources/Extended Readings 

Antoine, Katja. “‘Pushing the Edge’ of Race and Gender Hegemonies through Stand-up Comedy: Performing Slavery as Anti-racist Critique.” Etnofoor 28, no. 1 (2016): 35-54.

Bingham, S. C., and S. E. Green. “Aesthetic as Analysis: Synthesizing Theories of Humor and Disability through Stand-up Comedy.” Humanity & Society 40, no. 3 (2016): 278-305.

Bogdan, Alina. “Racial Issues in American Stand-up Comedy.” Cultural Intertexts 1, no. 2 (2014): 268-74.

Brodie, Ian, Laurier Turgeon, Pauline Greenhill, Diane Tye, and Holly Everett. “Stand-up Comedy as a Genre of Intimacy.” Ethnologies 30, no. 2 (2008): 153-80.

Double, Oliver. “Tragedy Plus Time: Transforming Life Experience into Stand-Up Comedy.” New Theatre Quarterly33, no. 2 (2017): 143-55.

Fey, Tina. Bossypants. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Finley, Jessyka. “Firespitters: Performance, Power, and Payoff in African American Women’s Humor, 1968-Present.” 2013, 144.

Finley, Jessyka. “Raunch and Redress: Interrogating Pleasure in Black Women’s Stand‐up Comedy.” Journal of Popular Culture 49, no. 4 (2016): 780-98.

Fisher, Carrie. Wishful drinking. London: Pocket, 2009.

Foy, Jennifer. “Fooling Around: Female Stand-Ups and Sexual Joking.” Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 4 (2015): 703-13.

Gillota, David. “Stand-Up Nation: Humor and American Identity.” The Journal of American Culture 38, no. 2 (2015): 102-12.

Jacobs-Huey, Lanita. “Gender, Authenticity, and Hair in African American Stand-up Comedy.” In From the Kitchen to the Parlor, From the Kitchen to the Parlor, Chapter 04. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Kaling, Mindy. Is everyone hanging out without me?: (and other concerns). Ebury Press, 2013.

Kenderick, Anna. Scrappy Little Nobody. Simon & Schuster LTD, 2017.

Klein, Jessi. You’ll grow out of it. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ReadHowYouWant, 2017.

Knoedelseder, William, and Ebrary Provider. I’m Dying up Here Heartbreak and High times in Standup Comedy’s Golden Era. New York: PublicAffairs, 2009.

Krefting, Rebecca, Project Muse, and Ebrary Provider. All Joking aside : American Humor and Its Discontents. 2014.

Lockyer, Sharon. “Performance, Expectation, Interaction, and Intimacy: On the Opportunities and Limitations of Arena Stand‐up Comedy for Comedians and Audiences.” Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 3 (2015): 586-603.

Lynch Morris, Amanda. “Native American Stand-Up Comedy: Epideictic Strategies in the Contact Zone.” Rhetoric Review 30, no. 1 (2010): 37-53.

Michael, Jaclyn. “American Muslims Stand up and Speak Out: Trajectories of Humor in Muslim American Stand-up Comedy.” Contemporary Islam 7, no. 2 (2013): 129-53.

Nittrouer, Christie. “Indulging and Divulging: Exploding Expectation in Stand-Up Comedy by Women of Color.” 2011.

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood. First ed. 2016.

Pate, George. “Whose Joke Is It Anyway?: Originality and Theft in the World of Standup Comedy.” Theatre Journal66, no. 1 (2014): 55-71.

Pelle, Susan. “The “Grotesque” Pussy: “Transformational Shame” in Margaret Cho’s Stand-up Performances.” Text and Performance Quarterly 30, no. 1 (2010): 21-37.

Perez, Raul. “Learning to Make Racism Funny in the ‘color-blind’ Era: Stand-up Comedy Students, Performance Strategies, and the (re)production of Racist Jokes in Public.” Discourse & Society 24, no. 4 (2013): 478-503.

Poehler, Amy. Yes please. New York, NY: Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow Publishers, 2014.

Remini, Leah, and Rebecca Paley. Troublemaker: surviving Hollywood and Scientology. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2016.

Stebbins, Robert A., and JSTOR Provider. The Laugh Makers : Stand-up Comedy as Art, Business and Life-style. Montreal [Que.]: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990.

Seizer, Susan. “On the Uses of Obscenity in Live Stand-Up Comedy.” Anthropological Quarterly 84, no. 1 (2011): 209-34.

Stott, Andrew. 2014. Comedy. Florence: Taylor and Francis. Accessed June 16, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Sturges, Paul. “Comedy as Freedom of Expression.” Journal of Documentation 66.2 (2010): 279-93. ProQuest. Web. 16 June 2017.

Thomas, James M. “Laugh through It: Assembling Difference in an American Stand-up Comedy Club.” Ethnography 16, no. 2 (2015): 166-86.

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