Last year, after months of rewrites and nerves being stretched and tested, my short comedy piece, ‘Never Better’ won The Sitcom Trials: So You Think You Write Funny? at the Gilded Balloon.
The piece centred on a character I created called Hayley. Hayley is gullible, insecure and eager to please. In awkward situations she panics and makes rash decisions with catastrophic results.
I am performing a comedy show, Fall Girl, about Hayley at the Gilded Balloon for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
The idea for the character came 3 years ago when a disastrous one night stand left me reeling and I decided to make a comedy sketch out of it (as you do.)
It was a pretty masochistic exercise but ultimately, empowering. In my early twenties, most of my romantic exploits ended in eye-gouging humiliation. While reading Hadley Freeman’s book Be Awesome, I was pleased to see that this was not a singularly Rosie Holt experience. Freeman noted that many women internalise the message to “appeal to all, especially men, and male validation is the only validation that really matters” and that sometimes it makes them act in a way that can be interpreted as a bit mental.
So where on TV were all the crazy, insecure, needy BUT intelligent and strong women?
Please don’t say Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction.
Comedy history is populated with flawed, self-loathing and insecure men – Basil Fawlty, David Brent, Blackadder (First Series) to name but a few. With Dennis Kelly’s & Sharon Horgan’s marvellous Pulling being one of a handful of exceptions (this was pre-Girls) complicated and comically flawed women were harder to find.
In my youth (and still remaining today, like a bad smell) there was a rash of calm, sarcastic, ‘grown-up’ women on TV, presented as foil to lovable flawed men. These women rolled their eyes and went “oh those men! They are so annoying yet great!” They offered wise platitudes and nodded their heads in a knowing way.
WHO WERE THESE WOMEN? I didn’t know any women like that apart from my Year7 Maths Teacher.
Comedy is all about presenting people’s flaws. It’s reassuring. It makes us laugh with relief.
It is not very reassuring for women when they see a comedy with a flawed loveable man but a straight dependable woman. Like that horrible, horrible poster for ‘Grown-ups 2’ (starring Adam Sandler, continuing to wreak punishment on those who thought he was great in The Wedding Singer.) If you haven’t seen it, google it. Now. It’s frightful. All the men in the poster are having fun while the women look disapproving and roll their eyes. “Silly men!”
I repeat, WHO ARE THESE WOMEN?!
Now with Girls and Drifters, women in comedy are changing (thank god). Yet it continues to trouble me that there remains a very prescriptive idea of how we should portray women in comedy, especially ‘flawed’ women. Miranda may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is it really misogynist? Really?! Because she’s clumsy? Wasn’t Mr Bean clumsy? I didn’t see any journalist adopting an earnest tone to claim the Mr Bean was bad for men’s image.
I read an article in a feminist magazine recently that made my blood boil. It criticised Drifters, it criticised Miranda, saying when were we going to portray women in the right way. But what’s wrong with showing that women like men can be childish, clumsy and indecisive. Why do we have to attack it just because they are not having dark demeaning sex by the credits? Can’t we be a bit more inclusive? Can’t we have a range of different women in comedy like we have a range of different men?
So yeah, see my show about a well-meaning, insecure, gullible girl who also likes weird sex. Come see that.
Fall Girl is showing at The Gilded Balloon Teviot in August 2014 at 13:45.
Follow Rosie on twitter @RosieisaHolt