There it is, I’ve said it. Was that shocking, or just what you’ve come to expect from a female comedian?
Let’s be real. A four letter word isn’t as threatening as it used to be. Actually, fuck is one of the most underrated words in the English language. Try to name another word that’s a verb, a noun and an exclamation. Now of course, one must use this gem sparingly, lest it become devalued in times of actual need (insert basic supply and demand chart here). But there are times when one seeks to intentionally employ a powerful tool – if tastefully crafted with precise emphasis – to shock an audience and instigate change.
Easy enough, right? We all get the point I’m trying to make: sometimes you’ve got to throw in some gunpowder to light a fire. How else can you quickly and memorably shine a light on what’s wrong with the world – whether it’s political, religious, racial, or gender-related – on a larger scale than just case studies and letters to Congress?
And that’s exactly fucking why comedians are doing what they’re doing today.
Think of your favorite comedian – male, female or otherwise – and recall a powerful joke of theirs. I’ll bet you they said something shocking. Perhaps it wasn’t the f word, but something just as jarring. Now of course, some comedians are known for being “clean,” like Jim Gaffigan, Seinfeld, and Ellen DeGeneres, but just because they don’t curse or mention sex, doesn’t meant they’re not using unexpected comedic ideas to elicit a reaction. Sometimes that response is favorable and manifests as a cultural stepping stone, while other times, it backfires and ironically unites people in anger and outrage.
Case in point: Kathy Griffin.
Kathy Griffin Courtesy of StyleBistro
In case you missed it, comedian Kathy Griffin is in a lot of trouble. In May, she posted provocative photos taken by celebrity photographer Tyler Shields, holding a bloody sculpture resembling Trump’s mutilated head. For the first time in what seems like forever, there was bipartisan agreement: everyone was pissed.
Before we go any further, let’s just get something straight: I don’t think what Kathy did was a good idea. I’m all about freedom of speech, and the right to express your opinions through art, but this took it to an extreme. Alluding to killing someone is pretty serious, especially when things like this are actually happening elsewhere in the world. It’s one thing to post a risque shot with dreams of being an Instagram model, and another to…ok, you get the picture.
I have to say though, I am a bit perplexed about the backlash she’s receiving. Almost instantly after the photos were released, Kathy was punished aggressively: CNN fired her from her annual Co-Host position on the New Year's Eve Countdown, her remaining 7 tour appearances were cancelled by their respective venues, industry peers like Anderson Cooper and fans alike denounced her publicly, she was interviewed by the Secret Service, and was dropped as a marketing spokesperson for Squatty Potty. The last of these punishments was the shittiest, pun intended.
Here’s the thing though – this isn’t the first time she’s been canned or blacklisted for doing something shocking. Throughout her career, Kathy Griffin was also banned from appearances on shows at venues including: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, E!’s Red Carpet Award Show Coverage, Hannah Montana, and at the Apollo Theater. This was all due to things she said, people she made fun of, who just couldn’t handle that. For instance, many were outraged at her 2007 Emmy acceptance speech, when she joked, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award...no one had less to do with this award than Jesus...suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now!”
The balls this woman must have! Well actually, on the subject of balls...
A few male celebrities were in the news during the same time frame regarding their shocking remarks, but have interestingly been met with different public responses. For example, Bill Maher used a racial slur in his show “Real Time,” Johnny Depp made a Trump joke that alluded to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and comedian Stephen Colbert made a homoerotic joke about Trump as well.
So what happened when the media heard of their questionable behavior? People were pissed, the men apologized, and that was that. Was Johnny Depp’s career ruined? Not because of this (P.S. please stop making Pirates movies). Was Bill Maher’s show cancelled? No. Oh, and Colbert came right back and ripped Trump apart with a new set of jokes in his monologue the next day (though I can’t say I didn’t love it).
I know it’s not an apples to apples to comparison – words versus severed heads – but Kathy Griffin paid a heftier price for her expressions, which she attributes to it being a “gender thing.”
Bill Maher Courtesy of Wikimedia
She held a press conference apologizing for crossing the line, regretfully admitting that, “I don’t think I’ll have a career after this.”Only time will tell if that’s true, but isn’t it sad and alarming to think that one mistake could reverse all the work this comedy icon had accomplished in the industry, especially for women? After all, Griffin was the first female comedian to debut at the top of the Billboard Top Comedy Albums chart, and broke the Guinness World record for the number of aired TV specials on any network by any comedian in the history of comedy.
Being a female comic isn’t easy, which has been brought up with another story that’s been floating around recently. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger made a comment in June critiquing today’s female comedians in a Deadline article where she stated, “Everything’s about sex, or how weird I am...I think shock value works well for women, but beyond that, there’s no substance.”
For readers not tapped into the comedy world, you may not have heard about what happened with Iliza – but I couldn’t get away from the headline. I’ve been bombarded by it on podcasts, blogs, and Twitter; it almost broke the internet. I’ll spare you the exploration of what I think Iliza meant by her statement (also because I think she’s a talented comedian who’s come under a lot of fire for it) but after what just happened with Kathy Griffin, it makes me wonder if female comedians feel the need to employ shock value just to survivein a male-dominated industry? Sure. But is that the only trick we have up our sleeves?
Get ready for the joke callback: fuck no. Even triple-threat Amy Schumer has weighed in on whether or not comedians feel pressured to continue to push that envelope, to which she responded, “The most shocking thing is that I am not trying to shock anyone. I feel we should be able to talk about anything. I talk about what interests me. Sex is one of those things. I think it’s shocking that more people don’t talk about it.”
The bottom line is that I think Amy, Iliza, and Kathy are all right. I don’t condone their actions, but I think each woman is correct in having and defending their own artistic expressions and interpretations. As comedians, it’s our job to observe and report life, and deliver our analyses to call attention to issues that are important to us. I think it’s hard to prove that women are susceptible to harsher criticism, but I do think it’s a tougher road for females to pursue their dreams. In turn, this makes success that much sweeter in the end.
I’m just here to remind us why we should fight the good fucking fight.
WRITTEN BYReem Edan