It’s something of old news by now, but for people like me who just stumbled across it because that’s sometimes what you do during your day at work, let’s face it, Christopher Hitchens authored a remarkably uninformed and largely insulting piece in Vanity Fair in 2007 called “Why Women Aren’t Funny”. The misogyny of the piece is evident just from the title and let me assure you, it gets worse, but it’s also notable for the blatant racism and heterosexism it displays as well. (Seriously. He has awesome things to say about women who are non-white, overweight, gay or any combination thereof.) All in all, a great thing to read if you need to get your blood boiling, like maybe right before a big cardio workout or possibly if you’re being chased by bees or something.
It would be a measure of equality to treat Hitchens with respect and offer some kind of analysis of whether or not his argument has merit, but the problem is that it so clearly doesn’t that there isn’t any real reason to give it credence. It would be like offering an independent analysis to find out if someone was right when they bold-facedly asserted that water was not, in fact, wet. Whether or not women can be funny isn’t up for debate. Anyone who wants proof needs look no further than the recently announced fall line-up of TV shows.
I’m typically the last person to get excited about a sitcom about a neurotic young woman trying to have it all in the big city. Frankly, this story has been told more times than Chaucer. But after seeing the preview clips for The Mindy Project, I’m completely willing to give this one a shot. The brainchild of Mindy Kaling, former lead writer and supporting actor in The Office, the show follows Kaling herself as this season’s Liz Lemon, who herself has been described as 2005’s Mary Tyler Moore. For the curious, I’m also working on a theory that Mary Tyler Moore was just 1970’s Kermit the Frog, but that’s for another blog post.
Kaling’s understated witticisms are on full display and the humor in the trailer comes off as fresh and funny. The is especially remarkable considering that the set up is not only as old as the sitcom genre itself, but it seems like Kaling and her fellow writers have tried to mash about two or three other genres into the pilot just for good measure. As it is, the set-up runs the risk of being something along the lines of, “what would happen if Liz Lemon woke up in that melodramatic hospital in Seattle one morning and then decided to work there with all the other employees of Dunder-Mifflin?”
The original theme song was going to be called "How To Save a Laugh"
Kaling certainly inherits a lot of goodwill built up from the women who have gone before her. That genetic line officially starts at Eve Arden and Lucille Ball, meanders toward Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett and then runs straight through Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman, heading into Loretta Swit before diving through Roseanne Barr and Rhea Perlman and resurfacing at Ellen Degeneres in time to watch Tina Fey absolutely kill on Weekend Update. Each of these women held shows on their own and there isn’t a viewer in the world who isn’t going to laugh with them. Kaling is in good company and based on her successes in her previous projects, she more than deserves to be there.
All of which just makes that Hitchens article all the more ridiculous. You could almost see it being written as an attempt to be, well, funny; as if Hitchens were trying to illustrate exactly the point he was making in his article about men being more inclined toward humor and women just being pleased with themselves, with their reduced capacity for humor, when they realized that they were smart enough to get the joke. I kept expecting him to end his article in a self-congratulatory “gotcha” that would illustrate that he realized how ridiculous the article was and show that it clearly was intended to be hyperbole. That any writer who expects to be taken seriously would even question whether or not women are capable of being funny seems so oddly humorous in itself. Meanwhile, women like Mindy Kaling, who are finally allowed to anchor their own television shows, needn’t even think about Hitchen’s creaky patronizing and the rest of us get some (hopefully) solid entertainment out of it.
The Mindy Project airs this fall on FOX.