Like most forty-something women I grew up with an idea of what women in comedy "looked like." First there was Carol Burnett, who was so modest and provided guttural laughs from behind our 1,000 pound television on many an occasion in the 70s. Carol Burnett was never holding hands with Gloria Steinem chanting "We Shall Overcome" in front of the White House, nor was she bragging about her ancestral linkage to Susan B. Anthony. She was just...funny...and silly...very much a girl, a woman. There probably were very few job opportunities for women as funny as Carol Burnett - an awkward Stork, face contortionist who could sing and/or belt out Tarzan's call on occasion. A few women had already had variety shows prior to Carol, like the immensely talented Judy Garland, but that was not a comedy show, and instead made you want to grab a vodka on the rocks and a bottle of pills from the heartache of not only love, but of just being alive. In sum, it was a real downer. When I watch reruns of the Carol Burnett Show and I see the camaraderie of her comedy troupe - Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence - the laughs they often tried but failed to hold back, I kind of think that's the epitome of great comedy - Pleasure. Those comedians were enjoying themselves. I often see that in the best Late Night TV show hosts, when they are honestly cracking up at their own writing, I know it's going to be a good show. Carol Burnett's Scarlett O'Hara has to be a top ten TV comedy scene of all time next to Seinfeld's "The Contest."
The only predecessor as powerful on television to Carol Burnett, was Lucille Ball. Lucy had a mix of Carol Burnett and even the questionable darkness of a Judy Garland. Lucy was old fashioned and yes, she might have the balls to "throw it all away" just for a man. Lucy probably had the most understated beauty of all female comediennes and if you look at her early movie studio stills from her youth, you're just like "Wow!" The whole IDEA of Lucy, was a self-deprecating, delusional woman who in the end is the second fiddle to a man. Wait, isn't that the formula of EVERY funny female on television? Oh, how she wanted to be on Ricky's show! Or stab to death with her felt pen one of her annoying, sexist bosses(in later shows) during "dictation?"
Wait, women aren't funny? REALLY?
And Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows (odd looking, clueless) Gracie to George Burns(clueless.) Being clueless seems to be a key to getting a job as a woman in comedy.
The other example of a female comedienne was Phyllis Diller. I have no idea why I always gravitated toward this tenor voiced Madam. I always looked forward to her on Bob Hope's variety shows(again, am I making a point here that I miss variety shows?) I had heard that Phyllis Diller was actually a looker in her day, but purposefully made herself look ugly on stage. That was the only way she could deliver jokes. I do give her credit for wanting to be known for her material, rather than her looks. Ba-dum-bum.
Another one of my all-time favorite comediennes is Cloris Leachman. I like her because more often than not her comedy is absurd - costumes, accents and dirty jokes. I know my love for her stems as repetitive viewings of Mel Brooks movies as a young child, but she was also a fabulous foil to Mary Tyler Moore on the Mary Tyler Moore show, and you had the chance to see how beautiful she was.
Madeleine Kahn was used as Mel Brooks sexy ingénue. Now she was a tiger, she was so gorgeous. She was the perfect middle ground between sexy and absurd. And I appreciate Mel Brooks(for like a thousand reasons) but I do appreciate him for not being misogynist in the least bit. He made so many jokes about sex and even dumb women, but he never hated women(as some hard up male comedians do) and almost always showed the male counterpart in the wrong, or being a rascal. And he gave women great roles. High Anxiety is a masterpiece of epic proportions.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still the epitome of a beautiful comedienne. She was next generation Madeline Kahn but she is in on all the fun that all of the boys in the room are having. And I think she was the first to usher in jokes around the comic actress and her sexuality, which is standard now.
I guess I differentiate comediennes and scripted comedy actresses. I feel like comediennes are the ones who did a tour in improvisational comedy, or at the very least, have an innate ability to be funny, without a script, and I'll leave it at that. Lucy Ball was a scripted actress, yes, but the direction of her characters in terms of physical comedy and looks and sounds, was all her own.
The first movie I ever saw that made me think women were awesome was "Private Benjamin." I didn't know at the time, that it had been written by a woman, filmmaker Nancy Meyers. Goldie Hawn was amazing in this film, and let me tell you, to watch an entire film, any film, about a woman and her story, was spectacular. A woman owned the whole film. That was BIG. I was totally okay with her being neurotic and self-absorbed. In the end, she didn't want to be second fiddle to a man.
Another great scripted actress was Bea Arthur. Even as a child, I saw Maude in her pant suits yelling at Arthur and thought, "My God, I am going to look like this woman one day." I followed her to Golden Girls which was filled with sex jokes delivered by middle aged women, because its just too scary to hear sex jokes from women you might actually want to have sex with. Thank you, Chelsea Handler, for remedying this situation for us.
And then there were the women who surrounded Bob Newhart.
What I like is how today we have multiple offerings where the show revolves around the woman - 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project. That is progress. Roseanne Barr was brave, and had a show around her, but I just never got her comedy, so I have to "put her on a shelf" for now. I have too many morbidly obese hillbillies in my family eating mystery meat sandwiches, so her show just hit a cord too deep for me. She couldn't make me laugh, unfortunately. But she did make a lot of money. Good for her.
Designing Women? Another successful show based around women for a change but way too political, too scripted for me. Not comediennes.
Murphy Brown took some time to get used to. I always saw Candace Bergen just for her looks and her not-so-secret affair with Steve McQueen. But she proved everyone wrong and managed to exceed expectations and be funny. Cheers to her.
I don't know why I put Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler in the same category, but I just do. They are not meant for scripted television. Although Joan went to Julliard, she knows she couldn't cut it as an actress. They don't attempt to be Rhodes Scholars and are always the one to call out the Elephant in the room. They are manly women. They intimidate men. This is a different phenomena than the "clueless" woman who is second fiddle to a man. These women have balls and scare men. And it works for them.
Sometimes I think Chelsea Handler's writing is one part Sweet Valley High and the next moment Hustler.
I like that Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler exist. They are not shrinking violets. Okay, I'm still upset Carson never forgave Joan Rivers for getting her own talk show. She did owe him - a ton - there is no doubt, but she was being given an opportunity to be the first female late night TV host. Not a guest host - the host. This was huge for women everywhere. It just had to happen for progress, sorry.
My Dad was on the road a lot as a pool hustler and he always kept comedy tapes in his car that I heard over and over. Like RED FOXX. Do you have any idea how successful his comedy album was? It's hilarious. Every single Richard Pryor. I'll never forget the line of his, when he's recalling visiting a prison with Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor has to explain that men in prison who have sex with one another are not gay. And at home, always with the Mel Brooks. In my mind, great comedy always had a little sexiness to it, perhaps an undercover political statement, because of Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks was never afraid to make a fool out of himself. Even when he won like a thousand Tonys for The Producers, he still had the balls to try new material, make people uncomfortable, make himself look crazy. I love that. And don't think I forgot that his wife was an Italian girl, Anne Bancroft.
I can't begin to tell you how many dreams I had growing up where I was starring on a sitcom. Especially with Jason Bateman in it. This definitely puts me in the category of delusional, which is essential to comedy. I still dream entire film scripts.
Catherine O'Hara is probably another underrated comedienne who knocks it out of the park every time. And I miss Parker Posey and wish I saw more of her on television. She was a pleasant surprise on her guest spot on Louie.
For sanity sake, let's just skip over the NBC television show Friends which I pretend never happened. The only actor on that show that I felt had any innate chops was Lisa Kudrow. But again, lets skip it.
There was a lot of scripted television - Alice, Rhoda, etc., that definitely got some laughs out of me which starred women, but, again, I don't see those actresses as comediennes. They didn't live and breathe comedy. That's my differentiator. I'm attracted to the cult of comedy personality!
Let's get to what this essay is really about. Who would dominate in a mud wrestling match - Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling?
Okay, I feel like I owe Tina Fey so much, like a million, billion thank yous just for being successful and for this I mean, showing the world that women comediennes can make money for producers and networks. This alone is worthy of a statue in Central Park. However, and I do mean, however, I cannot relate to Tina Fey. But I can however, relate to Mindy Kaling. I feel like Mindy Kaling is someone I could actually have a drink with. Like I could make a joke about choking on a big dick and she would laugh and buy me a girlie drink. Tina Fey would probably move seats, roll her snotty eyes at me and say "I hate dicks" and ask "Where's the Souvlaki?"
So, difference #1 is that I think Mindy Kaling likes dicks and Tina Fey does not like dicks(perhaps other than her vibrator.) I don't trust women who don't like dicks. Like, it would be hard for me to go into business with a lesbian, for instance, because who could I talk about dicks with over the water cooler? Okay, maybe strap-ons.
Mindy Kaling is all woman. She oozes feminity. She is a delicious and delightful dark angel. If any man tried to finger Tina Fey their digit would turn into a popsicle and break off. If someone(and I'm saying one hell of a lucky guy) had the chance to finger the magnificent Mindy Kaling(and I'm not saying she's that type of girl, as I know she's extremely picky) their digit would emerge sparkling and shooting Harry Potter magic wand lightening bolts while tasting of the sweetest cinnamon and cardamom elixir that only Charlie and his Chocolate Factory could manufacture.
Every time a finger goes into Mindy Kaling, Slum Dog Millionaire's soundtrack begins to play and you feel the urge to dance, perfectly choreographed, with large groups of people.
When you finger Mindy Kaling, she enthusiastically sticks her tongue down your throat and says "I love this, MORE!"
When you finger Tina Fey, she sighs and says "you know, I'm wearing my Depends undergarment right now."
I WISH that Tina Fey was actually one of those geeky girls who wears glasses and flannel and granny panties who secretly like to be tied up and spanked. The girl guys around the water cooler(I heart water coolers, FYI) whisper, "No, dude, she's a Tasmanian Devil in the sack...and I've got the scars on my back to prove it." But I don't think she's secretly a horn dog. I don't know, I just don't.
How can you not like sex, Tina??? You need to sleep with some more guys, pronto. I'm telling you - it gets better. I'm just mad that you think you need to be an asexual cross dresser with IBS to get men to like you, buy you Meatball subs and/or laugh at your jokes/write you giant paychecks. WHY?
Mindy knows how to bridge the gap between smart/sexy/funny. She just does. She is a romantic at heart. I HEART that right back, sweetie! Not only are her television characters in love with love, her personality on social media suggests this as well. She thinks its fun and kind of cool to be a girl. To try on clothes and makeup, take pictures of yourself and to compare yourself to celebrities. And I'm not saying this is because Mindy attended an Ivy League School and Tina Fey did not (okay, shh, it might have something to do with it.)
Mindy Kaling is fun and looks like she's having fun. Like Carol Burnett. Carol Burnett would never let a camera shoot her with her pants down on the toilet or pretend to shit her own pants for laughs. Even Phyllis Diller wouldn't stoop that low! Tina Fey makes the prospect of being a woman like the worst thing in the fucking world. Maybe I'm delusional here, and that's her whole theme, but I like being a woman. I don't want to be a man. Why do I have to look like a man - and not even a cool man but the Steven Wright of men - in order to get laughs.
Tina Fey is the worst Frenemy you ever met before in your life. Mindy laughs with you, not at you. There's a difference!
Listen, both Mindy and Tina's range is limited as actors, I get it. Please don't make me watch Tina Fey in one more dramatic scene about a lost puppy - or a long lost child. I don't want to see it. You make me want to give up on life, Tina.
Mindy makes me feel energized, giggly and as bubby as her. I want to wear pinks and purples and paisley patterns. And it has nothing to do with Mindy being in her thirties, while Tina is in her forties. Like I honestly feel Mindy doesn't only want to be famous so she can punish everyone who ever cut her from the basketball team. Tina, you act like your desperate vengeance on those who wronged you in childhood will never be satisfied. That you will never be able to smile, but not because of an insecurity regarding a smile on your face, but because if you smile, than you have to admit you are actually happy and grateful for all of your millions and new Uptown digs and private school for the kids and "first look" at scripts and endless producer credits.
My father couldn't stop talking about Amy Poehler and how funny and adorable she was and "The only Liberal I could love." Like she was the second coming for Christ sake. "Tina Fey is a hideous dog" he would say and hock a luggie.
Mindy looks at her opportunities every day and is like "This is so AWESOME!" I want to wake up like Mindy Kaling, super high baby doll voice, size eight and loving it, selfies galore on my phone, praising my parents in public every day, believing in love and most of all feeling like my self-confidence is just that - a result of how I feel about myself rather than what other people tell me all of a sudden(Classic Tina.)
I'm all for the Mindy Kalings of the world. I want to go to a party with you. When are you NOT smiling?
I DON'T HATE PEOPLE LIKE TINA FEY DOES. I DON'T HATE WOMEN LIKE TINA FEY DOES. And most of all, I DON'T HATE DICKS LIKE TINA FEY DOES. I want to spread joy around the world. And the importance of water coolers. And selfies.
Lena Dunham has been removed from this conversation. I CAN'T EVEN GO THERE. We're not even in the same league, and by league, I mean the pedestal that Mindy Kaling(my new best friend) and I now occupy.
A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.