In this second installment in a series about the impact of the #MeToo movement on how and what women write, Leigh Anne Jasheway focuses on women who write and publish comedy and satire. Read the first installment here.
There’s a rule in comedy writing that says Comedy = Tragedy + Time. We who write comedy often grapple with how much time needs to pass before we write funny stuff to help lighten the pain. But when it comes to the #MeToo movement, it seems women writers had been dealing with so much pent-up anger and sadness that the comedy started to flow almost immediately.
Comedy = #MeToo + Time
I spoke first with Brooke Preston and Carrie Wittmer, who in addition to writing, performing and teaching, are two of the editors of The Belladonna, a digital comedy and satire outlet by women and other marginalized genders.
Having reviewed submissions from over 500 writers and published work from more than 175 contributors in the past year, Brooke and Carrie have had a bird’s eye view of how women have approached #MeToo in their writing. They told me that they’ve had many women submitting comedy and satire that tackles harassment and sexual assault. As Brooke noted, “Women are reclaiming their needs, demands, wants, and changing how they frame their view of themselves outside the frame of a patriarchal society. They’re finding ‘satirical release’ in writing satire about heavier topics.”
Brooke’s use of the phrase “satirical release” reflects what is known in academic circles as the “theory of arousal relief,” but most of us know it as “I don’t feel like the world sucks so much when I’m laughing.” Writing funny stuff allows both the writer and the reader to let go of negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, or that feeling someone is in the break room eating your vegan yogurt despite the post-it note with your name on it. It is one of the primary reasons humans laugh.
Brooke and Carrie, along with The Belladonna’s other editors Caitlin Kunkel and Fiona Taylor, penned an essay entitled “New Erotica for Feminists,” which quickly went viral. The article offers pick-up lines that women who have been triggered by #MeToo might now find sexy, for example: “There’s nothing I love more than watching two women in sweatpants engaging in hot political discourse. I love to watch… how you always let each other finish speaking without interrupting.” Carrie also wrote a Louis CK apology essay that was also very popular online, probably because it tapped into the fact that many women felt he had done such a bad job of it himself.
Silvia Bajardi is the editor of The Syndrome Magazine (https://thesyndromemag.com/), whose motto is “Empowering women, one laugh at a time.” The online magazine started in Italy but began publishing in the U.S. as well earlier this year. In addition to publishing essays and meme-like postcards on topics important to women worldwide, she has created a network of women comedy writers, many of whom are using their comedic talents to process daily experiences with misogyny and harassment.
Silvia noted that the women submitting to the magazine seem to be writing comedy with the mindset of creating a feeling of solidarity with their readers. After all, laughter helps us feel closer to each other and we feel stronger when we share a giggle with someone and understand that we’re all in this together. She also said that the #MeToo movement has helped women realize that jokes that have made us uncomfortable in the past aren’t “normal” just because they are accepted as funny in the typically male-dominated world of comedy writing and that we have the right to determine what is funny to us.
In 2017, Courtney O’Donnell founded The Pink Canoe, a satirical news site for millennial women. One of the first #MeToo-inspired satirical pieces she wrote was titled, “Having a Daughter: One Reason Why Men in Hollywood are Outraged by the Harvey Weinstein Scandal.” She told me, “The purpose of writing satire about these difficult issues is not to educate men or to solve rape culture, but to help people laugh and find relief.”
I also spoke with several women who write stand-up (a type of writing that often seems to be neglected in discussions of the craft). Dawn Lutrell noted that she feels more conscious of leaving audiences feeling empowered, not singled out or hurt, by her material. Gabby Jesus mentioned that she is more emboldened to make jokes based upon her personal experiences, while Lacie Wallace admitted that she is angrier in her writing and on stage, but at the same time she feels more genuine.
As for me, #MeToo has given me the confidence to know that there are readers who will appreciate and benefit from my jokes about consent (e.g., “Perhaps we need toy called ‘Don’t Tickle Me Without Consent Elmo.”), systemic oppression of women (“Does anyone else wonder if their deodorant will hold up while smashing the patriarchy?”), or cat-calling (“I called a cat ‘pretty kitty,’ then felt bad and added, ‘You’re a strong cat with good instincts who can achieve whatever you want.”).
A final way in which revelations about sexual harassment and assault may impact women who write comedy comes from the fact that three of those who have been accused publicly have been comedians (or former comedians): Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, and Al Franken. As Felicia Madison, a New York City comedian and comedy writer said, “The glass ceiling has been shattered by men falling through it.” This may provide both hope and opportunity to women who write comedy.
The great political satirist Molly Ivins once said, “Satire is the traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.” It makes sense then that #MeToo would trigger a barrage of satire and other forms of comedy from those who have felt powerless (both women and men). If you’ve been looking for a way to process your own #MeToo moments, no matter your gender, now might be just the time to add comedy and satire to your writing.