Why It’s So Good: Female Comedians and Why They Need to Appear Unnatractive

Being a female in comedy is a tough business to crack. Being attractive and confident as a female comedian makes show business even harder. Why?


AP IMAGE (left) – NBC (right)

In Ashley Fetters, a writer for the Atlantic, wrote a fantastic article about comedic women who because of sexism and stereotypes, need to make themselves appear less attractive in order to be successful.

What makes this article so good and made it standout for me was the fact that Fetters began the article with a story and a little background knowledge on how far females push themselves if they truly want to be comedians. Up until recently, I had no idea who Phyllis Diller was. Diller was a female comedian who always was caught sporting an outrageous, almost just electrocuted hair style, she had infamously drawn eyebrows and would wear clownish suits. Aside from all these wacky features, Diller was hilarious.

Diller was once asked to model for Playboy as a joke, but when she showed up to take her photos, she looked beautiful. No wacky hair, eyebrows or suit, just a toned down Diller. But the snapped sexy photos of Diller never made it to publishing because the Playboys executives deemed the pictures too sexy for the comical spread they were aiming for with Diller.

Diller was a performer who built a career out of making fun of her supposed unattractiveness. “A peeping Tom threw up on my window sill,” she once told an audience. She also targeted her own social and sexual ineptitude; her decrepit, aging body; and her failures at traditional femininity. “My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor,” she famously quipped.

Fetter says that if a female comedian is too attractive, she isn’t believable. Which is why people like Tina Fey, who plays Liz Lemon on the show 30 Rock, is constantly laughed at for her awkward love life, her somewhat clumsy appearance, makes her the butt of some jokes by her coworkers on the show.

Fetter adds numerous appropriate sources for her article that make it that much more powerful for me and are all sources who better explain this strange pattern of attractive comedians lowering their attractiveness to get a good laugh.

Robert Lynch, a cultural anthropologist from Rutgers University and a part-time stand-up, agrees: “Maybe women have to go overboard with the self-deprecation because comedy can be an alpha thing,” he says–the alpha being the class clown, the attention-grabber, the presence dominating the room. “Women alphas in general tend to be disliked. They can sometimes be distrusted, I think. And they’re not sought after.”

Fetter fairly explains that men often need to dumb down a bit too, especially standup comedians, because if people notice that a comedian can make fun of their own life, the audience will feel as if they can relate with the comedian, or the comedian will appear less than and thus worthy of praise.

Fetters article was an eye-opener. She continues her article by addressing other female comedians who have stooped to a less attractive less and by adding more females to the list with examples of how dorky they attempt to be, Fetter only builds credibility. I was actually also beginning to wonder if Fetters was a comedic woman as well. Her article, though discussing a frustrating topic for women, she discusses in an informational context yet their is a humorous undertone in her writing.

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