Women in Comedy
Instructor: Claire Graman
Dates and times: July 26, 27, 28, 29, & 30, 2021, 2:15 p.m.-3:15 p.m.
For ages 13-17
Platform: Computer with Zoom
Supplies/requirements: Writing materials and access to a computer with Zoom.
From the earliest vaudeville and minstrel shows, women have always been a part of comedy. In spite of sexism and stereotypes, women continue to shine in film, TV and standup venues.
In this class, we will study their work, as well as the conditions they worked in and the history of comedy. As a result, students will gain an appreciation for women’s contributions to the art form.
1. What is Comedy?
Students will learn the definition of comedy, why we laugh, and how what’s considered funny changes depending on your culture. Did you know that the oldest joke comes from ancient Sumeria? Comedy is also a tool for social critique, and can make us think differently about things.
2. Women in Comedy
This lesson looks at sexism in our society, as well as the stereotype that “women aren’t funny.” We’ll examine sexist and feminist jokes in popular culture. For example, Mabel Normand, born in 1892, was a slapstick comedian who worked with Charlie Chaplin.
3. Comedy in Film
What do commercials of the past say about women and gender roles of their time? Clara Bow and Colleen Moore made the so-called “flapper comedies” of the 1920s. Later, Mae West, Joan Blondell and Marie Dressler came to Hollywood. In the 1930s and 40s, screwball comedy became popular. In the 1950s and 60s, however, there was a backlash against feminism, resulting in more sexism in the media.
4. The Art of Standup
Standup comedy has its roots in vaudeville and minstrel shows. With HBO and Comedy Central, standup is more popular than ever. Shows like Saturday Night Live made sketch comedy popular as well. Women of color such as Moms Mabley were also important. Currently, Margaret Cho and Ali Wong are attracting huge audiences with their standup acts.
5. A Tool of Compassion
Comedy can be a powerful tool of empathy and understanding. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of sexism in the industry. Students will share and discuss examples from their research as we end the class.