The notion that women aren’t funny is as old as the people still bringing it up. These days in comedy, funny women are everywhere. And yet the men writing comedy still outnumber the women by a wide margin. So while the idea that women aren’t funny has been soundly defeated, a new question has taken its place — since we know women are funny, why aren’t there more female comedy writers?
My immediate reaction to this question is a residual, vague resentment, aimed at absolutely no one in particular. Someone, somewhere, is deciding women aren’t funny! This is an outrage! Show yourself, you amorphous oppressor! I want to know who I’m yelling at!
But the truth is this: more men are succeeding in comedy because, quite simply, more men are trying. Women have proven themselves just as capable of creating and running sitcoms as men, but they aren’t attempting to do so in the sheer numbers that men are.
Take network television, for example. Of the 27 creators responsible for the 15 sitcoms currently running in primetime, only three are women (Tina Fey, of course, along with Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline of The Middle). Well how dare you, NBC, FOX, CBS and ABC? What, did you pass over a bunch of presumably great, female-helmed sitcoms just to get some more boy writers in primetime? Also, ABC, were you as surprised as I was when you found out Cougar Town was created by two dudes? Because I was super surprised.
Let’s also consider the recent crop of new green lit series. Perfect Couples, Traffic Light, Mr. Sunshine, Mad Love, Breaking In and Happy Endings were all created by men. So what the deuce is going on here?
Here’s the missing piece of the puzzle — of the 71 creators with 41 pilots in consideration by the networks last year, only 9 were women. That means nearly eight times as many men had pilots in the running last year as women did — almost exactly the ratio of male to female creators we see on network television today. Overall, women and men are seeing success in comedy in the exact same proportions. And I am awesome at both math and proving things with facts.
I work at the comedy website CollegeHumor.com, where I am one of two staffed female writers within a writing team of 16 (boom — recognize that ratio, motherfuckers?). I am often asked why we don’t have more female writers. The answer is, again, depressingly simple: we are completely underwhelmed by the number of female applicants. Like any content publisher, we look for the best writers, period, regardless of gender. Our intern application ratio of guys to girls is 6:1.
It’s interesting to consider the possible reasons behind this imbalance. Do women still think that they can’t succeed in the “man’s world” of comedy? More specifically, are women intimidated by the lack of women in comedy and therefore don’t see the possibility of their own success? A self-fulfilling prophecy, where women don’t see other women succeeding, so they don’t try themselves, so they then aren’t able to succeed? God, I fucking hope not! That would suck.
So what can this impressive flaunting of knowledge and generous sprinkling of facts teach women who are either bummed about the comparably small number of female writers in comedy, trying to succeed in comedy themselves, or both?
First of all, aw, don’t be bummed. Women are killing it out there. In fact, while women only account for 11% of sitcom creators, they account for 26% of staff writers, and a full half of the writers at both Cougar Town and Community are women (bravo!). And a whole new generation of female show creators have recently inked development deals (Mindy Kaling, Liz Meriwether, Lena Dunham, Kelly Oxford, Julie Klausner), so those percentages can only go up. The bottom line is, and I hope this lights a fire under some butts, if more women put themselves out there as comedy writers, then more successful comedy writers are going to be women. [ATTENTION SKIMMERS: That last sentence is basically the crux of the piece, so make sure you got it.]
And there is SO MUCH ROOM for women to write comedy! Holy crap! The comedy marketplace is completely over-saturated with men and under-saturated with women. We just need to realize that the lack of female representation falls primarily on our (strong yet breathtakingly elegant) shoulders, and no one else’s. If you’re a strong female writer, now is the time to get noticed. The generations before us did the tough part, fighting hard against the misconception that women weren’t funny. Now all we have to do is not make it awkward for them.
Sarah Schneider is a staff writer and actress at CollegeHumor. She spent way too much time on Wikipedia for this article.