Five powerful women who are unexpectedly hilarious

 

This we know: women have to work harder to be taken seriously. AND to be taken funnily. And usually you don’t get to do both. So to me, the best is when we get to see the “serious” ones be hilarious.

 

TAKE FOR EXAMPLE…

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When I say “hilarious,” I’m leaving a bit of wiggle room, OK? Because Ginsburg is an 80-year-old lawyer-lady from Brooklyn, and when I read her bon mots, I can almost see my grandpa pursing his lips in amusement at his own dad-jokes.

 

But the fact is, Bader Ginsburg is er-mayzing in a lot of ways. Look at her river-rafting and riding an elephant! (With my least favorite Supreme, which is weird. It’s like this elephant contains the best and the worst and a trunk and a flower.)

 

And check this seriously witty shade in her dissent in Shelby v. Holder:

“Throwing out [the Voting Rights Act[ when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”


And then there’s the meme that took off a couple years ago, calling her Notorious RBG. She told NPR’s Nina Totenberg that “…a law clerk told me about this tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the Tumblr.”

 

THE TUMBLR, YOU GUISE. #ginsburgsqueeeeee

And then she wrote to a little girl dressed like her and I died THE END.

 

Madeleine Albright

As the first female Secretary of State (under Bill Clinton starting in 1996), Albright walked some incredibly delicate lines and made incredibly tough decisions—the kind that give most of us nightmares. And she’s an incredibly tough dame, who responded to a shocking, heartbreaking divorce by re-starting her career at 45 and becoming SoS a dozen years later. Damn, girl! Who could blame you if you became a steely-eyed virago? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

 

Ah, but one of Albright’s great gifts as an international diplomat and negotiator was her ability to poke a hole in the massive hot-air balloons of world-leader egos. First proof: See her collection of giant, bejeweled pins, which she chose carefully to send not-so-coded messages and start difficult conversations.

 

She, too, appeared as herself on The Gilmore Girls, as Lorelei’s dream mom (hilarious in itself) and played the role with as much quirky lovability as Lauren Graham. In fact, any close follower of Madam Secretary (she appeared on that show, too) already knows how magnetically charming she is.

 

Oh, and then there’s the time she tweeted back at Conan O’Brien.

 

Condoleeza Rice

It’s a testament to just how seriously I take George W. Bush’s Secretary of State is that I’m kind of embarrassed to talk about her being funny or sexy. She kept it on the down-low. But when you read about her, the articles are all “OMG she is a concert-level pianist and she runs marathons and she dates sports celebrities.” And I’m like “is it okay to talk about this? Because I want people to know her for being Secretary of State erg erg erg am I hurting feminism?”

 

But then she goes and appears on 30 Rock as Alec Baldwin’s ex, and I’m like STOP THAT MS. RICE. YOU JUST STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. And by stop I mean CONTINUE.

 

(Sorry about the state of that clip. It’s hard to find and keeps getting scrubbed.)

 

Now, is she a natural on camera? No. Do I have any immediate proof that she’d crack you up if you ran into her in the ladies’ room? None. What I do know is that every time I find out some new fact about this woman, she becomes more and more compelling.

 

We’ve established that we have to run farther and faster than the average dude to get to the same finish line. And in order to do that, we often take on the mantle of something that comes across as the opposite of frivolous. And if that’s true to us, fine. But don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that cracking wise, making a joke, or having a sly, offbeat take on something serious is professional poison. It’s not. In fact, it’s often the magic ingredient – the Chemical X, if you will – that can propel us up and over the top. Or at least keep us sane when the world turns upside down.

 

Ann Richards

When we talk about powerful women using humor as a combined shield and weapon, well, there’s really just one O.G.: Ann Richards, Southern woman, Texas governor, cultural icon. Being a Democrat in Texas is no picnic, and she worked her way up, even running training sessions for other women seeking office, throughout the ‘70s. She became state treasurer in the ‘80s, and began attracting attention for her combination of sass, smarts and more sass.

 

Her keynote at the 1988 Democratic convention was when she burst upon the national scene. Watching it now feels like you’re watching a late-night talk show host deliver a flawless monologue before she gets into the meat of her message. In fact, her life made for a fabulous one-woman show, written and performed by the also-faboo Holland Taylor, that seems to be touring constantly.

“Poor George,” she famously said about George Bush Sr. “He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

 

People will tell you that you have to be super tough to succeed in business, in politics, in this kooky ongoing Bonnaroo festival we call life. But Ann Richards didn’t turn every insult upside down and force it to work for her because she was tough. She did it because she felt the sting of every pointy word hurled at her, and this was the way she knew how to neutralize an enemy. And that’s the takeaway: Find your tender spots, and come up with your own, unique defense shields. One size does not fit all.

 

Michelle Obama

Make no mistake: Being America’s First Lady is a job. Not an easy one, and not one that would naturally to most people: You’re suddenly in this national (and international) diplomatic role, and everything you say and do is scrutinized. And you’re expected to pick a charity or cause and run with it – without making people mad.

 

Well, Michelle Obama ran with it – and danced with it, and did karaoke with it, and did Funny or Die videos with it. She gently made fun of her husband and even charmed former president George W. Bush, who has cited her sense of humor – well, her appreciation of his sense of humor, bless his heart – as the reason they get along despite ideological differences.

 

Maybe that’s the best part of being a woman of funny. Connecting. Even with dudes who get it, even when they don’t seem to. You laugh, and then you talk. It’s worth a try. From now, your power pose is mid-guffaw.

 

Stay GOLDen

Sign up for our newsletters


15 perfect answers to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

by GOLD staff

Hoo boy, do female comedians LOOOOVE this question. Almost as much as they love the word “comedienne.”

(Answers below without links are from GOLD interviews.)

 

Aparna Nancherla

What is it like to be a woman in comedy? I would say it’s 1% jokes & 99% answering this question.”

 

Cameron Esposito

On Take My Wife: “I think it’s a lot like being a woman in any profession, except maybe less dick jokes?”

 

In real life: “What’s it like being a woman in comedy today? To start, it’s being asked that question in every interview, and occasionally interpersonally, like at a party or something. ‘What’s it like being a woman in comedy and do you know where the bathroom is at this apartment?’…

 

To be a woman in comedy is to be pitted against the only other female comic in the city you came up in for every booking in town and to never share a bill with her. It’s to walk out onstage after this intro: ‘We’re really glad this next comic isn’t raped and dead in an alley.’ (That is an actual intro I have gotten.)…To be a woman in comedy is to look a little bit off standing in front of a brick wall telling jokes, only because we have seen and continue to see statistically more men standing in front of brick walls telling jokes.

 

I’ll speak for myself specifically to finish up. For me, to be a woman in comedy today is to want to be recognized as important to the field, because of my talent and because of my diversity. It’s hoping that comics who happen to be in the demographic majority realize the dominant position they hold and are stoked to have comics like me for running interference on sameness. Perhaps most importantly, it’s wanting to be seen as a comic.”

 

Ophira Eisenberg

“Very lucrative.”

Photo credit: Mindy Tucker

 

Wendy Liebman

“I’ve never been a man in comedy, so I don’t know the difference.”

Joanna Briley

“What’s it like to be able to breathe?”

Carole Montgomery

“Yawn.”

Amy Schumer

What’s the hardest part about being a female comedian? The rape.”

Jen Kirkman

“This question is the hardest part – it’s yet again another opportunity for guys to say that I’m complaining or to retread the same old stories. There is sexism in the world so of course it bleeds into every single area of life. I don’t answer this particular question anymore.”Faith Choyce

Getting put on pink flyers. Being asked to do shows that are marketed in such groundbreaking ways as ‘Chicks Are Funny Too,’ ‘Broads, Beer, and Belly Laughs.’ Being introduced as ‘a lovely lady.’”

Suzy Nakamura

“I don’t know that we’ll shake the idea that there are People in Comedy, and then there are Women in Comedy.”

Beth Stelling

“I’ve been called a “female comic” so many times, I’ll probably only be able to answer to “girl daddy” when I have children.”

Clare O’Kane

My gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to what I want to do as a profession. It’s only used as a way to say, ‘Hey so this next comedian is a WOMAN, so now you know what to expect! Period jokes and sh*t!’”

 

Phoebe Robinson

“I don’t want to validate that stupid-ass question. People get so hung on gender, sexuality, and race, and they don’t see you as a creative as they might, say, Jerry Seinfeld.”

 

Michelle Collins

“I find it annoying that funny women always have to talk about being a funny woman. I’m a funny person. We’re not charity cases. We’re talented. It’s done.”

 

Eden Dranger

Let’s be clear about this: Male comedians are never asked what it is like to be a guy in comedy. They might be asked what it is like being a comedian, but that is because comedian almost always defaults to “male” in people’s minds, just like doctor, astronaut, and assless chaps model. But the landscape is changing, and stand-up comedy is no longer the total sausage fest it used to be. That’s why when I get asked about being a woman in comedy, I can honestly say, “It’s f*cking great!” Because you know what, it IS! Walking on stage and making people laugh and forgetting about your own issues for a while is an awesome job to have.”



“What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

Tweet @GOLDgirlscomedy YOUR favorite answer!

 

Stay GOLDen

Sign up for our newsletters


How to “open with a joke” that’s actually funny

They always tell you to open with a joke. They never tell you how to open with a joke. They certainly never tell you how to open with a good joke.

 

So I’ll open with a joke…that bombed. Remember the scene in Say Anything where Diane (Ione Skye) opens her valedictorian speech with a joke? She’d workshopped it (good call) on the way over with her adoring dad, who guffawed. But at GO time, it’s CRICKETS.

 

GUH. No wonder public speaking is the number one most-cited phobia. (Well, not for me. I’m a middle child; I’ll take a mic at a funeral.) How to do better? For an expert take, I interviewed the fabulously-named Vinca LaFleur, a speechwriter for Bill Clinton in the 1990s and now a partner at speechwriting and media training firm West Wing Writers.

 

First, I made her watch Diane’s speech. “Ouch,” she said. “But you know what? That line—or the concept—worked elsewhere.” She noted a celebrated speech by the writer Russell Baker, who said, “The best advice I can give about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it. I have been out there. It is a mess.” He nailed it. What makes the difference?

 

Sell it.

“Whatever you do, sell your joke,” LaFleur said. “A lot of humor is the delivery. And a lot of a speech is performance. That’s what makes it different from an article or a blog post: The audience experiences it in real time, and you have this message and moment together.” There are standup comics whose jokes are not funny, or that were already as stale as matzo when they were told during the Exodus. But they tell them with the rhythm of a joke, they deliver the punchline with confidence, and they pause for a laugh—which they nearly always get. You learn this skill on the road. In the absence of actual humor, it works.

Follow joke structure.

Setup…punch. Expectation…whuh? The key here—and to almost any joke—is surprise. Write and sell THAT. It’s not all buh-DUM-bump. You can give advice from an unexpected source, like SpongeBob Squarepants (always funny), and give that unexpected source an equally unexpected title, like “The great philosopher [setup]…Miss Piggy [punch].”

Also tried and true: what GOLD ComedyTM calls “triple”—and what what LaFleur, fancily, calls “the triad formulation.” Her beginner example: “…three strategies for getting ahead at school or work: “Hard work, persistence, and chocolate.” (Look, we’re not trying to make everyone pee their pants here. We’re just trying to kick off a speech with a chuckle.)

 

via GIPHY

Know your audience.

“Think not only about your message, but also about your audience and what matters to them,” says LaFleur. Your best line about YikYak, for one, will bomb at the senior center. This is also why an opening joke you found on Google will likely fizzle: it was written in a vacuum. Pro tip: research and refer to something specific about the audience: their biggest sports rival, the fact that they serve waffles the first Wednesday of the month. Drop a reference to that—especially one that’s appreciative and complimentary of your crowd—and they’ll love you all speech long.

Limit self-deprecation.

Normally, LaFleur might tell a client that making fun of herself is a great way to “win people to your side: It humanizes you. George W. Bush would get a lot of mileage out of what a bad student he was at Yale,” she says. BUT! “I would not encourage a woman to do that,” she adds. “Because there are fewer women in leadership roles, we have the extra burden of making sure we don’t undermine our own credibility.” It’ll change, she says. But right now, that’s the deal.

Unless! You’re in the right room. Like when Arianna Huffington gave a TED talk on the importance of getting enough rest at night and said this was the way for women to (literally) sleep their way to the top. Result: raucous laughter, in a roomful of women who’d gotten to the top the Peggy way, not the Joan way. It was a double entendre of singular proportions. In other words, self-deprecation is an advanced move. Don’t try it without a spotter.

Relax! They want to like you.

The best advice I ever got for auditioning was this: Remember that the casting director wants you to be the right person for this role. She’s hoping you’ll do well. She’s not there to be critical or awful; she is as full of hope, as you walk through that door, as you are. Same with your audience. So if your joke tanks, smile and—in the words of the great philosophers ABBA, “Move on.”

 

About the author

Amy Keyishian (@madfoot) has done standup comedy, written a jillion articles (for places like Cosmopolitan and Maxim and who knows where else) plus a bunch of young-adult novels, and hung out with Big Bird. She moved to San Francisco but left her heart in Brooklyn. That’s super backwards, right?

GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! GOLD emails!

via GIPHY

Stay GOLDen

Sign up for our newsletters


The 5.5 essential types of jokes

How do you take an idea that sounds funny—dorky parents, stupid dress codes, the fall of Rome—and turn it into an actual joke? The first step is to learn, practice, and master the 6 essential types of jokes.

 

Maybe you’re thinking: “But when you deconstruct a joke, it’s not funny!” MAYBE NOT. But if you don’t CONSTRUCT a joke, it won’t be funny in the first place.

 

Of course, these six are not the only types of jokes in the world. But we think they’re the best place to start.

 

1. Setup…punch

If you had to boil all joke structures down to one, this would be it. You set people up to expect one thing, but then POW! Surprise! You went in a different and unexpected direction—yet one that, once you hear it, makes sense in a whole new way. That’s the punch.

 

Can you guess the classic, quintessential example? Hint: it’s perfect because it’s so short—only four words! We’ll give you a second.

 

Don’t know? Well, it’s an oldie. Hint: it’s sexist!

 

Here you go: “Take my wife. Please.”

 

See how Henny Youngman did that?

“Take my wife” = “Take, for example, my wife. I am about to tell an amusing story about how much I love and respect her.”

“…Please.” = OH SNAP! “Take her away from me, for she is an annoying unattractive nag!”

 

(We like the Cameron Esposito/Rhea Butcher version better)

 

Maysoon Zayid, who has cerebral palsy, uses a classic setup/punch to open her set and introduce her physical condition: “I’m not drunk. But the doctor who delivered me was.”

 

Here are two more little gems from GOLD’s own pilot workshop alums:

 

Emika: “I love to inspire people. I also love to see them fail.”

 

Thea: “I am not just a nerd. I am also a geek.”

2. Triple/Lists

Triple

Otherwise known as the “rule of three.” Basically, it’s setup, setup, PUNCH. The #3 doesn’t have to be a knock-your-socks-off M. Night Shyamalan shocker; it just has to be different from #s 1 and 2. This structure can follow many patterns, such as:

  1. Normal, normal, RANDOM. (Spot the example in the first sentence of this article!)
  2. Normal, normal, ALARMING. Here’s a seasonal offering from Jon Stewart: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
  3. General, general, SUPER SPECIFIC or short, short, REALLY LONG. Elicia Sanchez: “I was a super nerd when I was a kid. I liked video games, I liked comic books, I was the youngest mage in the D&D campaign I was part of with 30-year-olds at the Yardbirds in Centralia, Washington.”

 

List

Most famous, least safe for work/school: George Carlin’s “7 words you can’t say on TV,” which he refined and supersized over the years.

 

Lists:

  1. Have more than three elements (otherwise they’re triples!)
  2. Work best when the elements contrast all over the place. Here’s one from GOLD workshop alum Uma: “I have a bunch of really weird fears. Wax Vacs, heights, loneliness, darkness, Russia, transphobia, homophobia, white supremacists, nails, and push pins.”
  3. Can be funny by virtue of being extremely, even uncomfortably long. (Then it’s more about form than content, and also about delivery–the faster the better.)

 

3. Comparisons

Simile

You know this one! From English class! Here’s one from GOLD ComedyTM founder Lynn Harris, who used to play ice hockey. “You guys, we just won a tournament in Canada. We actually even beat a Canadian team. That’s like beating the Italians at opera!”

“It looks like a Bedazzler threw up on it.” – Tiffany Hadish in Girls Trip

4. Character/Act-out

This is more about imitation than impersonation. You’re not showing off your DeNiro impression (please don’t); you’re following the age-old rule of “SHOW, don’t TELL.” Instead of just saying “My bio teacher has the most annoying voice,” DO THE VOICE. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It just has to be funny.

 

Advanced: Character can also be commentary. See how Sasheer Zamata slams the racist caricatures on radio ads targeted to black people. If she didn’t actually do the voices, she’d just be angry. Doing the voices makes her FUNNYangry.

 

 

5. Callback

A reference to an earlier joke or standout word. Callbacks themselves don’t even have to be funny. Audiences love them because they feel in on things. They’re also great to close with. YARDBIRDS!

 

5.5 Tag

A tag is just that…a bonus joke tagged onto the end of what is already a complete joke. The joke is complete without it. But the tag gets you a free extra laugh.

 

Here’s the great part. A tag actually doesn’t have to be a fully formed joke. You can actually just:

  1. Repeat a word or underscore an emotion from your joke. As in: “Yup. Weird.” or “YIKES”. Or even just: “Yeah, so THAT happened.”
  2. Add detail that builds the joke and stretches out the laugh. As in this bit from Brooke Van Poppelen: “Do you ever put on your workout clothes, and then you’re like, ‘Yeah, that feels like enough’-? And then you watch eight hours of House Hunters? International!” “International” is a tag. Not a separate joke, just a tiny add-on that gets a bonus laugh.

 

Stay GOLDen

Sign up here + never miss a joke.