A new book released this week takes a look at how comedy and feminism go hand in hand.

In “The Girl in the Show,” local writer Anna Fields charts three generations of funny women, from Lucille Ball to Gilda Radner to modern day comedians like Aparna Nancherla and Abbi Jacobson.

Interview Highlights

On the catharsis of comedy:

Author and documentarian Anna Fields. Photo courtesy of the author. 

The truth is funny, and funny things are true. And I'm not sure why that is philosophically, but I think it all comes down to some misunderstanding or misplaced belief that we are alone. When we laugh in a room together, when we are in a room by ourselves and we laugh with the audience on the screen, for that moment we are not alone.

On why she wanted to write "The Girl in the Show":

I've always been a fan of Gilda Radner. When I was a young child I would do impressions of Roseanne Roseannadanna for my mother constantly. I found out about this sort of half-truth, half-myth that to get butts into seats, the Not Ready for Primetime Players [cast of Saturday Night Live during the first five seasons] and the Lemmings used to announce that there was 'a girl in the show!' Because in 1975, even though Elaine May arguably invented improv comedy and led to people like Del Close expanding the form, it was still apparently a novelty to have a girl in the show. So I thought to myself, 'I wonder how things have changed for the girls in the show?' And sometimes they've changed, and sometimes they've stayed the same, for better or worse.

From props to no props:

It's hard to boil down to a clear progression [for women in comedy], but certainly props to no props is one way to do it. Another way to say it is we started off not speaking, specifically not speaking about 'women's issues,' because audiences, network executives, agents, the gatekeepers so to speak, weren't necessarily interested in receiving that type of humor, [then we moved] to 'winking' at these issues, sort of alluding to them. As the audiences started to change and become slightly more coed and things started to progress, we sort of began to be able to even allude to these topics, to finally today, just speaking, just saying it.

On speaking to women vs. speaking for women:

I think it all comes down to the old feminist saying, which is still incredibly current, that the personal is the political. And speaking to women is speaking for women. You're not necessarily speaking for all women, but you are speaking to your experience as a woman, so you're speaking for at least one individual person. And you're speaking to anyone of any gender quite frankly who identifies with the 'female experience,' who has any experience as an 'other.' So, you can't separate the individual from the group in this collective conversation about catharsis. If it makes someone feel better and it relieves pain, it tells the truth, then it's comedy.              




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