All y’all who read about SNL‘s two new lovely lady hires, Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad : rejoice with caution. SNL just leaked news that, as they welcome the newbies, they’re canning current cast members Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins.
A good deal of pro-girl press is shaming (SNL head honcho) Lorne Michaels this morning, and pointing out the irresponsibility of dropping serious comedic talent, particularly in the case of Watkins’ firing (which, in his Twitter feed, Entertainment Weekly guru Michael Ausiello calls the ‘DUMBEST. MOVE. EVER.’ ). But the supportive press is also reifying the comedy glass ceiling. Tom Shales’ (The Washington Post) report of the firings was full of image-conscious compliments: he referred to the ousted cast members as ‘cute Casey Wilson and glamorous Michaela Watkins’, and went on to explain that ‘Watkins may have been just too classically pretty to be hilarious’. Very nice, Tom, but this isn’t a pageant. Had Andy Samberg gotten the boot, or Will Forte fallen from grace, would we hear about how Samberg was just too adorably mop-topped, or that Forte was too squared-jawed and handsome for television? My guess is no.
Not that it’s bad to be beautiful. Nor is it bad to be funny. In fact, it’s awesome to be both; so why can’t we just leave it at that? For some reason, society’s still a little spooked by the phenomenon of funny women, maybe because humor is too frequently mislabeled a man’s game. Certainly SNL‘s male-driven cast and lady quota (swap two out, hire two replacements) supports that thinking. Then again, strong female comedians can be hard to find. Women’s stand up, for example, too often traps itself in stereotypes of ‘ladyhood’: jokes about losing weight, jokes about periods, catty jokes about other women. And female actors (particularly in the improv and sketch comedy world) frequently fall back on all-too-obvious roles: ditz, Donna Reed, sex fiend, wife. Again, it’s not that those roles aren’t funny. Still, can’t a woman be funny, not as a cartoon, but as a woman?
Enter characters like Seinfeld’s Elaine, 30 Rocks‘ Liz Lemon, and the funny women that play them: hysterical women whose work doesn’t read like a sexualized Cathy cartoon. And the looks of these ladies are nothing to scoff at, either. Hopefully the new SNL recruits will prove funny-lady skeptics wrong, and prove comedy ain’t just for boys anymore.