T.J. MILLER, HELEN WOOLLEY, AND THE END OF THE BULLSEYE CLUB

I’ve read the newest article where someone talks about women being funny or not. I get why there was pushback and I appreciate TJ Miller clarifying his point. I like the guy and think he's pretty funny.

I also agree with the point – culture on the whole doesn’t support in women what is required to create comedy. I couldn’t be a bigger champion of that premise. As a matter of fact, I’ve been talking about that and doing workshops with women about that very thing for over 5 years. GOOD GIRLS AREN’T FUNNY IS that issue explored and unpacked.

Here’s the bulk of the debate it if you missed it:

ORIGINAL PIECE:

As it turns out, Miller — tall, scruffy, and slightly antic — has positions on a great many things, most of which skew villainous or maybe just honest. He admires the comedians Pete Holmes and Patton Oswalt, but of Louis C.K., he says: “He doesn’t say anything surprising anymore.” On Aziz Ansari: “He’s very good at what he does … like Dane Cook.” And on why, in his view, women aren’t as funny as men: “They’re taught to suppress their sense of humor during their formative years.” He also, should you care to know, has positions on Nietzschean moral relativism (“Frustrating, because it’s so dangerous”) and Hollywood kingmaker Ari Emanuel (“He only cares about money, collecting chips. That’s why I defected from him and WME [William Morris Endeavor]”). And don’t forget New York City, where he and his wife, mixed-media artist Kate Gorney, just relocated from Los Angeles: “It can be very lonely,” he says, but it does have “transcendent pizza.” After a brief digression on the Stoic philosophers, Miller turns to his publicist, whose presence at the table was a condition of his doing this interview, and asks, “It’s entirely inappropriate to smoke marijuana, right?” She says it is. He frowns, then face-spritzes. I ask what the spray is, and he says, “It’s embarrassing for you that you don’t know.” (It is, according to the bottle, Evian Natural Mineral Water spray.)

 

HIS FOLLOW UP CLARIFICATION:

T.J. Miller clarified remarks that he made in a recent interview with Vulture that seemed to imply women aren’t as funny as men. “It’s becoming frustrating that if I confuse interviewers they trash me. I DO NOT LIKE IT,” the comedian tweeted on Monday, July 24. 

He explained in a series of tweets that he was trying to make a point about society. “Okay, I guess everyone and their parents missed the point— #feminist SOCIETY depresses humor in women bc it is a sign of intelligence,” he tweeted. “that is THREATENING to men, & so women are taught to suppress those intimidations. It is about SOCIETY’s ills, the misogyny of women’s humor. Don’t get it twisted. The world gets better the more we empower our literal better half. Women ARE FUNNY, against odds that men don’t face."

 

Great. So...here’s the rub, “why women aren’t as funny as men”. That’s the statement that makes your head explode.  First of all, let’s just put this part of the issue to bed - women ARE just as funny as men. Humor is not a gender issue. Humans are funny, we have developed the ability to create comedy. Comedic ability is not a gendered issue – it doesn’t live in men’s brains any more than in women’s. It’s INNATE. It’s a Venn diagram of so many things – including observation, objectivity, irony, timing, storytelling, empathy, point of view. And I’m sure I’m missing about 10 more things.

Humor has developed right alongside of culture, so much so that it’s hard to separate the two. They are inextricably linked. What was funny in 1418 may not be funny in 2018. Then there is timeless humor like Chaplin was able to capture – what clowning and mime taps into. That can strike a broader audience for longer periods because it’s more relatable. More honest and true.

What irks me and many women I think, it being TOLD what is funny and not funny. According to whom? A straight white man? Well SURE…they may not find everything women do funny. They may not find everything an Indian man does funny…or a gay Asian man. And on and on. But there is a UNIVERSE of difference in saying "I don't find that gay Asian man funny" and "I don't find gay Asian humor funny" and "Gay Asian men aren't funny." The implications are completely different -- horrifically different. Opinions versus decrees.

The red flag that goes up for me time and again around this topic, which has been going on for a VERY long time, around a LOT of areas, is that there is a NORM. A “right” way to be, look, feel, think. Opinions of the NORM become decrees...they are experienced as the same thing. "I think therefore it is." That’s the downside of culture where there is a NORM. A center of the bullseye so to speak and everything close to it is deemed acceptable, right, FUNNY. And everything far away is not. Period. Intersectionality at its most simplistic.

Well, the world is pushing back on that way of life. There IS no NORM. There is no center of the bullseye any more. Newsflash: there actually never HAS been, it's just a perception, an illusion. That’s the maddening piece. Being told you’re not hitting that sweet spot only to find out you were never supposed to or needed to. The SWEET SPOT had to go, not you.

Examples? The COOL GIRL.

THE COOL GIRL has been described beautifully in recent years – a phenomena of “the good girl” and how she has morphed to stay alive in our current culture. She was perfectly dissected in Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL (2014) which you can read here

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/13306276-gone-girl

It is a straight woman’s attempt to change to fit what many guys fantasize about. 100 years before she would have been stoned to death probably for behaving that way so it’s not an absolute, timeless description of attractiveness…it fits the mold of the moment. That’s what being the center of the bullseye buys you: you get to make the rules, decide what’s ‘hot’, ‘funny’, ‘acceptable’. Everyone else slides around to find that sweet spot. The COOL GIRL is just one of the newest ways we find acceptance and that sweet spot. So is the MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL. (can read about her here) Another accepted and therefore established role we gals can play to be accepted. We are chided for stepping outside that sweet spot by being called a bitch, dyke, cunt, whore, etc. Sometimes we are 'taught' with more than just words. These are our cues that somehow this imaginary line was moved once again and we are being too something. Too loud, too independent, too sexy, too assertive, too comfortable, too confident, too passive.

But that’s what it means to be outside the ‘norm’…Simone de Beauvoir coined the phrase in the 1940’s…she called it being OTHER. When you’re OTHER, you don’t rely on your internal GPS because it has been deemed wrong, it gets you in trouble or makes you feel lost, depressed, angry...(hmmmm, I wonder what culture would have done to women expressing any of this...?) OTHERNESS makes you dependent immediately and forever on getting external cues, approval, and acceptance that you’re “doing it right”. That you’re a “good girl”.

So you can understand why it might make some blood boil when once again, someone sitting in the bullseye just because they were born there – meaning they’ve never really had to examine what it means to be there…nor have done much to actually WIN that position – when someone is sitting there, holding court and decreeing who is funny. Again, according to WHOM??!?

HELEN THOMPSON WOOLLEY in 1910 was part of something very radical. She and many women like her were asking if the current model of psychology, which claimed there were normal behaviors, thoughts, and mental processes, were actually just saying these are normal FOR MEN. (and even straight men? Anglo-saxon men? Privileged men? American-born men? All questions unasked at the time, just assumed by the Bullseye Club.) And by putting those standards ONTO another group – in this case WOMEN, an entirely different GENDER – might you be making assumptions that ARE NOT EVEN BASED IN FACT OR REALITY? Well that question implies a LOT that even to this day, you can get a lot of pushback on. The assumption that there is a RIGHT way to behave, to argue, to lead, to debate. When you start saying to those holding down the Bullseye Fort, they hear it so it seems, like "your way isn’t BETTER. HIGHER. THE GOAL. You are one of MANY. Your security that everything revolves around you, the earth, is being questioned." (by the way, the dude that dared to say the earth is NOT the center was put to death….just to give you some context of how much position means to some people….and why threatening that leads to so much insecurity and loss of power and control that they’d rather kill you than consider it. Good thing that’s all in the past, amIright???? Oh shit…wait…) It took until the 60's for there to be an accepted model for women that was different than for men. In other words, women have higher emotional intelligences which is completely discarded in the earlier model that assumed straight men's psychology was "right". Hello lobotomy!!! 

I appreciate Mr Miller shedding light on how culture is asserting itself on women and our ability to express ourselves and hey, we need as many guys as we can get interested and willing to even HAVE that conversation. So very sincerely I do appreciate his clarification and where his heart is. What I think is the almost ironic piece of this, is here is a straight white guy who has performed on TV, a few films, and done some improv, deciding what is “funny” for an entire gender. The statement ITSELF is part of the problem, as much as it was intended to help. It kinda does both. Helps and embeds the problem even more.

I don’t care if TJ Miller finds me or any of the multitudes of women I know funny. We don’t need approval and a diploma which offers us the affirmation to know what we're doing is funny. Because who the fuck are these guys anyway? Why do we allow them to decide things? Are there women who claim to be funny that just aren’t? OF COURSE!!! Are there TONS of men also who claim to be funny that just aren’t? HELL YES!!! Claiming you're funny doesn’t make you funny. Claiming to be a great athlete doesn’t make you one. We all get that. But unlike sports where you can see scores and observe speeds, strength, and ability, comedy is a more subtle and complex skill. It’s about truth in the end…all the greats have said it. Even ol’ Homer Simpson – it’s funny cuz it’s true. The thing is, the people sitting in the Bullseye may not relate to everything that everyone else is doing. And MAYBE, if they started moving around and realizing that, moving to the left and right of where they have taken hold, they might ACTUALLY broaden what their truth is. Like the rest of us have been doing for a VERY long time. Maybe it’s the folks in the FALSE middle - that worn-out bullseye that has deteriorated like the emperor’s new clothes - who are the limited, suppressed ones.