The Beauty of Female Comedians
“I’ve always loved independent women, outspoken women, eccentric women, funny women, flawed women.”
So begins Diane Keaton in her book of essays Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty
Diane fits effortlessly into the eccentric and outspoken categories, and I place myself dead center as a flawed woman. Hub says he married me for my quirky sense of funny and my independent spirit.
Diane and I – we’ve got it covered.
Diane writes of her admiration for women in the entertainment arts who thrive without becoming slaves to our beauty and youth-obsessed culture. She celebrates groundbreaking female comedians Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. Each made her mark using satire to deride her own physical flaws or multiple cosmetic surgeries.
I thought about which female comedians influenced me as they had Diane – women not deemed beautiful by societal norms who exaggerated their own physical features, using their comedic timing to create caricatures we could simultaneously laugh at and love.
In the late ‘60s, Carol Burnett and Ruth Buzzy set the gold standard for Caricature Comedic Beauty.
Carol Burnett’s comedy-variety show ran from 1967-1978. She and sidekicks Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and Vickie Lawrence entertained us with side-splitting skits of sass, silliness and unexpected improvisation. I don’t know who laughed harder – them or us!
Carol’s face was born to comedy – her wide, round, slightly protruding eyes; her too-large mouth with horsey teeth and generous lips, and her booming voice with her signature Tarzan yell. She used those assets, along with her wit and unabashed showmanship to create characters who became real in the eyes of her adoring audience.
Ruth Buzzy is best known for her 1968-1973 stint on Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. Like Carol, Ruth was a master at manipulating her facial features – doleful brown eyes, prominent nose and overly wide grin with big, white teeth – literally twisting herself into the physical embodiment of her character’s personality.
Who can forget Gladys Ormsby – the downtrodden park benchwarmer with the perpetually sour expression? Dressed in a dull brown sweater; sleek hair swept into a bun and covered with a black hairnet knotted in the middle of her forehead like a scary spider’s web. Her thick nylon stockings were rolled up to her kneecaps above her clunky, black tightly tied shoes.
Harmless and docile until a passing pervert incurred her wrath by daring to sit or speak, she’d grasp her purse in both fists, bringing the full force of her lethal weapon down upon that lecherous sap.
Two other female comedians made lasting impressions on me.
Goldie Hawn, another Laugh-In regular, represented Intellectual Parody Comedic Beauty. Sure she garnered attention for giggling and gyrating to funky music in her striking bikini cameos revealing her full body, psychedelic tattoos (risqué for ‘60’s tv). But beyond that titillation, what struck me was Goldie’s willingness to be the quintessential airhead blonde.
The late 60’s were dead-serious years for women when feminism and the sexual revolution gave rise to female voices clamoring not only to be heard, but to be accorded the same rights, opportunities and rewards as males. Goldie’s ditzy act taught 18-year-old me that even in the midst of taking ourselves seriously, humor is a healthy human counterbalance.
Lastly, two decades later, Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Elaine Benes in Seinfeld – taught me Obnoxious Comedic Beauty.
Growing up, and even into my adult professional life, I got the message that women could be a lot of things, but obnoxious wasn’t one of them. Females put the reins on ourselves. Whether it was my workplace where men outnumbered and outranked women – often jockeying with each other for badass boasting rights – or in a group of women where there was subtle pressure to fit in, I often came home thinking, “God, I hope I didn’t come across as an asshole when I …”.
Elaine, my Asshole Female Hero, behaved just as obnoxiously as Jerry, George and Kramer. And best of all, she didn’t give a shit.
I can’t say I ever intentionally behave as badly as Elaine, but I’d like to. Just once in awhile let that Asshole Comedic Beauty rip loose. Without consequences other than a laughing audience!