On Finding Funny Women; Or, What I Laughed At On My Summer Vacation

July 13, 2016
by Miriam DesHarnais

by Miriam DesHarnais

In the last few years, podcasts, web series, vlogs and non-network TV have diversified our media choices—not just in format, but in the range of voices making their way to the mainstream audience. Women are, of course, still wildly underrepresented in writers’ rooms, at the host desks of late night shows, and around the tables of entertainment boardrooms. Compared to comedy’s past, we are living in a bright new era. But we still have a long way to go before the media landscape truly reflects the diversity of our society.

That said, if you enjoy the work of funny women, this summer is full of exciting, laugh-out-loud options in literature. If you’re looking for a summer read with substance, check out Tig Notaro’s I’m Just a Person and “The Bloggess” Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Both newly-published memoirs explore intense and personal subject matter through a comedic lens. These books deal with some heavy topics—cancer, grief, and mental illness, just to name a few—but will make readers snort with laughter through their tears. If you’re looking for a witty novel, Arrested Development alum and Where’d You Go Bernadette author Maria Semple just released a sharply observed new tale, Today Will Be Different. Helen Ellis’ American Housewife: Stories is darkly funny short fiction à la George Saunders or David Sedaris. How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad and You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein are on my reading list. Farsad is co-creator of the comedy-documentary, The Muslims are Coming! and Klein is Inside Amy Schumer’s Head Writer. Artist and BoJack Horseman Production Designer/Producer Lisa Hanawalt recently followed up her critically acclaimed 2013 graphic novel My Dirty Dumb Eyes with the food-centric Hot Dog Taste Test. Hanawalt’s work is not for the faint of heart, but if you like the combination of sight gags, animal jokes, rude humor and pathos present on BoJack, this one’s for you. And, if you can wait a couple months, check out Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, out in September. In the meantime, peruse Awesomely Luvvie, the blog that made/makes Ajayi’s work go viral and earned her White House speaking engagements and the dream gig of interviewing Oprah.

Off the page, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert just hired writer Heben Nigatu, who will continue to co-host my favorite podcast, Buzzfeed’s Another Round with Tracy Clayton. Both Nigatu and Clayton have an abundance of charisma and comedic skill, and Another Round features great guests, from National Book Award winner, Ta-Nehesi Coates to delightfully awkward stand-up comedian, Aparna Nancherla. Nancherla’s first full length comedy recording, Just Putting It Out There, came out last week (fun fact: it’s the inaugural album from Tig Notaro’s Bentzen Ball Records). The USA Network series Playing House, starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, features a profound and profoundly silly central relationship between hilarious lady besties, and debuts its third season soon. As for web series, comedian Jenny Slate’s baffling and genius new Catherine (now streaming on Amazon Prime) exemplifies the special combination of heart plus risk I most enjoy. Catherine very intentionally situates itself right between profoundly boring and extremely funny, presenting two minute “episodes” that look like a French New Wave film and sound like a kid’s idea of how adults talk at work. And, if you’re thinking ahead, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the fall premiere of web series pro Issa Rae’s new HBO show, Insecure.

A wise woman once said, “I guess some people object to powerful depictions of awesome ladies” (Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, of course). We have enough pain, fear, and prejudice in our world. Take a cue from these funny women and celebrate how we’re different and how we connect—and laugh while doing it.

Miriam DesHarnais is a Research and Instruction Librarian and Liaison to the College of Education at Towson University’s Albert S. Cook Library. She reviews books for kids and teens for School Library Journal.

Author photo credit: The Baltimore Sun.