How the comedy debate got pretty ugly quick

Nikki Finke, editor of Deadline, caused a stir while live-blogging the Emmy’s, claiming, “Beautiful actresses are not funny,” because “only women who grew up ugly and stayed ugly, or through plastic surgery became beautiful, can pull off sitcoms or standups.”

Emotional baggage, according to Finke, is the source of comedy, and only “ugly” people have any baggage.

Yahoo called it an “obvious ploy for attention,” dismissing the comment as outdated. Glamour pointed out the number of beautiful, funny women in entertainment, taking cues from Elizabeth Banks’s own blog response to Finke. The conversation revolved around both Finke’s obvious attempts to stir up controversy and her lack of evidence when we look at any of the comediennes in Hollywood.

This isn’t new. It’s not even a shock to see such sentiments in our modern age, as many articles were quick to point out Adam Carolla’s similar comments earlier this year. However, the controversy has inherent problems deserving more attention than simply, “Well, there are a lot of funny women who are also gorgeous, like Emma Stone and Tina Fey. So there.”

Let’s take a look at how we’re framing this conversation. When we argue that these women are, in fact, beautiful, we’re evaluating them based on their appearance. We’re putting them together in a group and making a sweeping statement about them as a category, not as individual people. We are, in essence, using similar logic as Finke in our response, focusing on looks to prove her wrong. Instead of listing all the pretty, funny girls in Hollywood, how about we remove “pretty” and “ugly” from the conversation?

That’s not to say we should dismiss Finke’s comments because, ignorant as they may be, they’re nonetheless grabbing our attention. On one hand, it is admirable to dismiss her words so as to not give them power. On the other hand, if our go-to response pivots around the same point, we need to re-evaluate our approach.

“Funny” and “beautiful” are nebulous concepts that can be debated until doomsday. What should be debated is how we’re assigning labels. What should be debated is Finke’s devaluing of individual experiences. What should be debated, in short, is how we view each other and how we can change the conversation.

Nikki Finke made a statement that put women into categories, and we responded by doing the exact same thing, but under the pretense of enlightenment. Her words were outdated and ignorant, and should be treated as such. But our response was also problematic.

We should look at our society and wonder what we’re making the focus of our conversations. This was a discussion about women and comedy, yes, but we also accepted Finke’s attempt to make it hinge on female appearance. We should look at how we interact in debates and pinpoint not just what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it.

The world took on Nikki Finke for all the right reasons, but perhaps not from the best angle. And any comedian will tell you the importance of coming at things from the right angle if you want to make an impression.

 

Reach the columnist at Esther.Drown@asu.edu or follow her at @EMDrown