Female Comedians, Breaking the Taste-Taboo Ceiling

From The New York Times:

Sarah-silverman-5_20110817195141In a Rolling Stone interview from 1979, Johnny Carson, host of “Tonight” and the most important gatekeeper in comedy for decades, gave his take on female comics. “The ones that try sometimes are a little aggressive for my taste,” he said. “I’ll take it from a guy, but from women, sometimes, it just doesn’t fit too well.” That attitude is certainly durable — see Christopher Hitchens’s uncharacteristically dumb 2007 column for Vanity Fair, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” — but it no longer holds sway. Comics like Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr and Sandra Bernhard were trailblazers, but if you had to pinpoint one joke as a breakthrough for this new generation of female comedians, it might be this one: “I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.” When I saw Sarah Silverman deliver that signature one-liner in a downtown theater almost a decade ago, the audience exploded with laughter followed by groans. Then came the anxious chuckles whose subtext seemed to be: I can’t believe I laughed at that joke.

Jump-comedy-2-popupBlond and bubbly, Ms. Schumer is always light, even when saying dark things. Her performance is also more mannered, with gestural and verbal tics that make her stupendously realized onstage character more obviously a creation. (“Right?” often sets up the punch line, while “um” fills the time as the laughter dies down.) Her flamboyance has a distancing effect, yet she slyly baits the audience. She begins one of her most dependable jokes by triumphantly announcing that she slept with her “high school crush.” While this could come off like a boast, her sugary delivery makes it sound like a heartwarming dream come true, albeit over a decade late. Then Ms. Schumer gooses the crowd — “right?” she shouts, earning applause. Pause: “But now he expects me to go to his graduation.” The line between good and bad taste moves so quickly these days that a provocateur must be nimble, constantly looking to raise the ante. So at two recent performances Ms. Schumer added a second punch line, delivered with a catty sigh: “Like I know what I’m going to be doing in three years.”

More here.