“Women Aren’t Funny” at All Jane No Dick Festival
On: October 23, 2013

“Yesterday at the All Jane No Dick festival, I caught a screening of comedian Bonnie McFarlane’s documentary Women Aren’t Funny, directed by McFarlane and produced by her husband, Rich Vos. The film purports to be a hard-hitting investigation of whether (or why) women aren’t as funny as men; it features pseudo-serious third-person voiceover narration, 20/20 style “on the scene” reporting from a pantsless McFarlane, and interviews with comedians like Maria Bamford, Patrice O’Neal, Todd Glass, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Peretti. There’s also—and this is a big part of the film’s charm—a through-line about the relationship between McFarlane and her husband Vos, a loud, crass, New Jersey douchebag of a comic who’s nonetheless incredibly supportive of McFarlane and the film. (The two have a podcast called My Wife Hates Me.)

McFarlane is a funny, sympathetic guide, and the comedians she interviews offer a great balance of humor and insight. The film feels distinctly low-budget and DIY, but that’s part of its charm: It resembles a conventional documentary only superficially, and is strung together appealingly with jokes, personal narrative, and a running gag about Vos trying to insert himself into every scene. As an audience member put it during the Q&A, “I only looked at my watch once.”

After the film, there was an audience Q&A with McFarlane, fest director Stacey Hallal, comics Phoebe Robinson and Monique Madrid, a woman from New Zealand? who was friends with McFarlane, and Jezebel’s Lindy West.

That lineup could’ve made for an interesting panel on women in comedy if it had actually been moderated, but it wasn’t; instead, it was an awkward free-for-all where the audience, with varying degrees of coherence, asked questions about the film, comedy, women, and combinations thereof. Some of the panelists talked too much, while others hardly got a word in. It was awkward and I didn’t get much out of it, save one comment McFarlane made about how, if “the system” (sexist old bookers running scuzzy comedy clubs) isn’t working for women, there other ways of going about being a comedian these days, thanks to the internet. Lindy also made a great observation to the effect that it angers her when women are blamed for their lack of representation in institutions, as though it’s up to women themselves to solve the problem; you know, like how the reason there aren’t women of color on SNL is because there aren’t enough who are “ready.”

Overall, I had a great festival weekend. Personal highlights: Totally Biased writer Janine Brito, Phoebe Robison, Canadian improvisers Tegan & Sarah, Maggie May, Kyle Mizono, and Aparna Nancherla. The festival opted to bring in a handful of up-and-coming comics rather than shell out for a big, expensive headliner (like a Maria Bamford or a Tig Notaro), and I think was the right move; I saw a ton of excellent young comics I hadn’t heard of before, and I came away feeling like my understanding of women in comedy, and the contemporary comedy landscape as a whole, is that much more complete.”

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