Nora Ephron and the Women of Comedy
The evolution of female screenwriters
As a writer, filmmaker, humorist and more importantly, as a woman, Nora Ephron's legacy will serve as inspiration for many generations to come. She's left a hole in the world of comedy, but left the door open for hopefully many more to follow. Say what you will about the genre of rom-coms, but that woman knew her way around a bit of dialogue, and sought to represent male and female relationships in an honest and compelling way.
I was asked recently to name ten comedy screenwriters off the top of my head, but could barely break one hand. As a woman and a comedy fan, I was not only disappointed in myself but in the numbers as well. 2011 seemed to be the year of female comedy. With Bridesmaids as a smashing success, and other SNL alums, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler killing it on the small screen, it seemed to be an audible laugh in Jerry Lewis's face. Now with the arrival of Lena Dunham as this generation's scathingly funny, young wunderkind, there's a satisfying sense of "we told you so" to the age-old adage, that women aren't funny. But despite the outward cultural shift, the ratio still speaks loud and clear.
A quick look at the numbers reveal women accounted for 11% of sitcom creators, and 26% of staff writers in 2011, as reported by College Humor. So while women are being hired on staff, they're not running the show. The same can be said in film. The staggering amount of output from Ephron is just as impressive as the work itself. For those women who have gotten the green light from Hollywood, their credits were few and far between. But that's not to say women haven't been behind the comedic film industry for years. Elaine May was one of the original members of the Second City improv group and later on became Mike Nichols' writing partner. She helped write The Birdcage, Tootsie, Primary Colors, and Heaven Can Wait. She also directed The Heartbreak Kid, and wrote, directed, and starred in the film, A New Leaf. Why was her name not passed around at film school? Is there really only room for the Woody Allen's of the world?
Another stereotype that gets endlessly recycled is the assumption that women can only write about lady themes like heartbreak, cheating husbands and finding the perfect pair of khakis. I always counter this argument with the name Amy Heckerling. After directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, she helmed another film that coined an entire generation, Clueless. Woman can't make a blockbuster? As if.
The 90's were a boon for female screenwriters and filmmakers: from to Helen Childress' Reality Bites, to Peggy Marshall's A League of Their Own, and some classics thrown in, like Callie Khouri's Thelma & Louise, and my personal favorite, Slums of Beverly Hills by Tamara Jenkins. All of these movies have heart, but that's not to say there aren't some professional potty mouths out there. Before you had bridesmaids defecating in the street, there was the underrated rom-com, The Sweetest Thing, written by Nancy Pimental. Which really dealt more with adult female friendship, than about getting the guy. It certainly helped that Pimental cut her comedy teeth for four years as a staff writer for South Park, a veritable training ground for perversion.
Despite all of these leaps (not yet bounds) female comedy writers are still treated like rare tropical birds. Why aren't there more of them? Where can we find them? Look at that beautiful plumage! And now with the official spokesperson for funny things, Adam Carolla, weighing in, and basically chalking up any current female comedy writers as merely the result of Affirmative Action, it's clear the battle for representation is far from being won. But one can't really call it a battle when no one is fighting. Are there less women deciding for themselves to go into comedy, yes. Is it because it's thought of as a male-dominated field hard to break into? It certainly plays a factor. But if Tina Fey can deal with piss-jar filled writer rooms, and Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo can write one of the most talked about films of the year, I'd say the future of female comedy is going to be a wonderful, gross, self-effacing, smart and most of all, funny one.
|Clip from The Birdcage|
TV & Film News By Kristy Puchko
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