Here’s a scene from a year or two ago that I won’t soon forget:
My then-9-year-old daughter sat reading on the couch.
“Mommy, will you please get me a glass of seltzer?”
“Sure, Bess.” Since you asked so nicely, and because you enjoy seltzer, the official beverage of our people.
“You know, Mommy, I think seltzer is my third favorite drink. After lemonade…”. She paused and looked straight at me, expressionless. “And blood.”
I’ve never been prouder.
I mean, blood! She used a perfect deadpan delivery and the rule of three. That’s like the hammer and the screwdriver in the essential comedy toolbox.
My (hilarious) husband and I, who have entertained each other for 14 years, have purposefully labored to teach our kids to be funny. (Another burstingly proud moment: When our son, Sam, interrupted by his big sister right when his silly story peaked, hollered in protest, “BESS! You STEPPED on my PUNCHLINE!” He was four.)
I want them both to be funny. (They are.) I want them both to enjoy being funny. (They do.)
But I want it especially for Bess. And I want more girls to find their funny and share it with the world. Why? Because comedy is power. I want more girls — and women, and anyone outside the (straight white dude) mainstream — to have that power. Especially now.
Yes, I realize that recent revelations make bright ideas like “Let’s get more women into comedy!” sound like “Let’s get more women into burning buildings, or rush parties at Delta Tau Chi.”
I know. I did stand-up for years starting in the ‘90s, enduring many (not all) of the torments now (finally) making headlines. But let’s think more broadly. Consider why comedy is power. Comedy — whether you’re an aspiring pro or a funnyperson-about-town — lets you rearrange and reconnect the dots, tell the story your way. In the case of stand-up, it means it’s you on the mic, making people laugh, making people listen.
And here is just one thing that makes comedy extra powerful for teenage girls: The best, most authentic comedy comes not from your best self, but from your true self. Which means: that thing you think is “wrong” with you, that you’re self-conscious about, or that you think is weird about you, or even that you get teased about — that’s your funny. Your shape, your size, your geeky hobbies — all of it. You get to double down on exactly who you already are.
Another good one for girls: “Comedy kills perfectionism,” says Lynn Johnson, co-founder of Spotlight: Girls, a San Francisco-area company that educates, inspires, and activates girls and women to take center stage. “You can’t be funny and perfect.” So: What makes you “flawed” is what makes you funny. And what makes you funny is what makes you strong. What’s more powerful than that?
Caveat: Comedy is power, but it’s not magic. Just because a girl can tell a joke doesn’t mean she can close the wage gap. But part of what’s sending us both forward and back, and back some more is the cultural status of women and girls. And that’s where our individual, intentional actions can add up to change.
So let’s go out of our way to encourage our daughters (and everyone else outside the comedy/society mainstream) to tell a joke, amplify their voices (literally, with a mic!), let their funny flags fly, and own their stories, if not also the stage. Let’s go out of our way to encourage our sons (and whoever else has default power), to…sit down and listen. And laugh.