Tuesday, March 16, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Hysterical

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Andrea Nevins
Documentary Spotlight

The idea that women aren’t funny, or aren’t as funny as men, is simply laughable. But like so much of human history, that hasn’t stopped one gender from assorting superiority over the other, assigning certain diminutive signifiers to women who possess the same traits and characteristics as men but are somehow deemed inferior for them. This enthralling and entertaining documentary shines a spotlight on many women who have successfully forged a career in stand-up comedy despite the many obstacles they continue to face to achieve even some semblance of stability in an often critical industry.

A number of talented female comedians share their stories, chronicling the formative experiences as children and in young adulthood that led them to pursue a passion that finds them standing in front of an audience on a regular basis. In each case, there are countless instances where they were held to different standards and told that two female comics couldn’t be put back-to-back or that they were funny, for a woman. In a few particularly powerful examples, like that of Kelly Bachman, they use the stage to amplify voices that are rarely heard, as she did when she called out an unexpected person in the crowd one night: Harvey Weinstein.

This film isn’t a repository for complaints about sexism and unfair treatment in this particular workplace, but there are surely many who will dismiss it as such. It’s precisely that unreasonable and malignant behavior that makes this film’s existence important, since it shows just how talented these women are, which as it turns out isn’t relevant for those who don’t want to think that a woman can be as funny or stage-ready. Like current conversations around racism, it also highlights the prominence of those who believe they are elevating or doing women a favor by spotlighting them while their accompanying condescending comments do exactly the opposite.

This documentary doesn’t attempt to capture the complete history of female stand-up comedians, but it does do a great job of mixing footage of acts by early influential comics like Moms Mabley and interviews with those still on the circuit who saw their predecessors’ work and were influenced by it in some way. Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin provide insight into the way that things have changed, and, in many respects, not changed over the past few decades. This film serves as a very worthwhile and unfortunately necessary reminder that there are so many hilarious women out there, and the fact that they’re female is only notable because it speaks to the experiences they’ve had and are likely to incorporate into their bits.


No comments: