Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sara Benincasa on Feminism, Stupid People, Power Dynamics of Humor

Sara Benincasa is a comedian, blogger and host of Cosmo radio's "Get in Bed" sex talk show.  (You may remember her from MTV's coverage of the election.) From Danna Williams' interview with Sara Benincasa from

Decider: Many female comedians consider “feminism” to be the other “f word.” Have you ever addressed feminism, explicitly or implicitly?

Sara Benincasa: On "Get In Bed," feminism is implicit in that we celebrate the female body and liberal and open sexuality. We celebrate “safer” sex: We say there's no such thing as safe sex, but there is such a thing as safer sex. Feminism definitely comes into play on stage. I make some jokes about it, but just the fact that I have that platform as a woman—to be up in front of people, in front of a live audience, on television, or YouTube—is one of the results of feminism. I feel privileged to have been born in a generation that followed generations of women who fought so hard for us. That's not to say that it's perfect. But I feel my grandmother had it a lot harder as a woman than I do.

D: A lot of people still think women aren't funny—including women. How do you confront that stereotype?

SB: The best way is by actually being funny. I hear some people who go, “I don't usually think women comics are funny, but you're funny.” That's not a compliment. To me that just says you're stupid, and I don't really need another stupid person liking my comedy. If you're going to see my show or paying me to make something, that's great—I'll take your money. But I'll think you're stupid. To tell me that most people with the same genitalia as me aren't funny, but I'm the exception is just bullshit.

In our culture, men are still socialized to only find one another amusing. I'm not sure why that is, but part of me thinks it's because the person who makes you laugh has some degree of power over you—to provoke a reaction in you that's very definitive, spontaneous, and kind of remarkable—just as the person who prompts you to cry has power over you. So if you’re laughing at someone, you’re in some way subservient to them. For so many reasons, some men—and some women—don't necessarily want to give control to women.

But there are many women who are so fucking hysterical. I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and of course Margaret Cho, Amy Sedaris, and Kathy Griffin. Since the beginning of time, ladies have been hilarious. But it's always going to make some men uncomfortable—because if you're funny, it's not because you're hot. You might be hot to boot, which is great, but your prettiness doesn't make someone laugh. What makes someone laugh is your brain. And women with intense, strong, active brains can be frightening.

Comedy can be a sexist industry, but you know that getting into it. I'm not going to change that on my own. It's something you accept. Maria Bamford is a great example of a comedian who is able to mix it up with the boys, so to speak. You don't have to become an insult comic to mix it up with the boys, and you don't have to become an aggressive asshole, or swear all the time, or be the most crass person in the room. You can just be you.

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