Well, gang, there is some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that feminist comedians and feminist critiques of comedy have been all over the news lately! Woo! Yay! The bad news is that this is, in large part, because there are a bunch of people who think that they have a constitutionally enshrined right to tell rape jokes and then never have to hear any criticism about them. Boo! Blerg!
There have been a lot of great recent critiques of this sadly evergreeen controversy (you can find some here, here, here, here and here) and also some awesome round-ups of rape jokes that don’t undermine or disempower assault survivors (some examples can be found here, here, and here).
But while challenging rape jokes specifically is an important way to show that comedy belongs to everyone, we can also draw attention to comedians who tell jokes that embrace women’s lives and experiences–rather than reducing them to blank canvasses for punchlines—showcasing the fact that comedy can embrace women far more often than it acts shitty and hostile toward us.
So, in that spirit, I’d like to highlight five of my favorite feminist jokes about feminism. Far from the stereotypical cracks about hairy armpits and angry vaginas, these comics draw from their own experiences and lampoon anti-feminist rhetoric to create something hilarious and illuminating (although if any of them did come up with a joke about an angry vagina, I’d be pretty eager to hear it).
Feminism is a part of our lives, just like families, dating, and airplane food—so why not celebrate it in joke form? (Also, what is the deal with airplane food? Did we ever get to the bottom of that?)
Jessica Halem is, as her Twitter bio notes, “Queer. Femme. Jewish. Funny. Not necessarily in that order.” She’s toured nationally, was voted “One of the Queers That Make Our City Great” by Time Out Chicago, and nominated for “Best Female Comic” at the 2008 Chicago Comedy Awards. Halem has balanced a career in comedy with a simultaneous career in activism, working as an assistant to Bella Abzug and as the executive director for the Lesbian Community Cancer (now Care) Project. In this clip, she draws on her past as a feminist organizer to expound on the hidden relationship between chickpeas and the activist community:
Jamie Kilstein co-hosts the daily politics and comedy podcast Citizen Radio with journalist Allison Kilkenny and kills it regularly on Twitter. He tours all over the world performing his lacerating political comedy, and has appeared on “Conan,” “MSNBC’s Up with Chris,” and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” among other shows. Kilstein’s specialty is side-splitting jokes about topics that lots of folks would have you believe are inherently unfunny—like veganism, gun control, and, in this clip, rape culture and the accusation that male feminists are only in it to get laid:
Emily Heller is an up-and-coming comedian who has appeared on “Conan,” “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show,” and was named one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch.” She is also the warm-up comic on FX’s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell,” host of the Baby Geniuses podcast, and completely awesome at Twitter. In the clip below, she riffs on feminism’s possible recruitment problem:
Hari Kondabolu is a writer and performer on FX’s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” (I have encoded a secret message in this post, which is that you should definitely be watching FX’s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell”). He’s performed on “Conan,” “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and has a Comedy Central Presents half-hour special (and, like everyone else on this list, constantly wins at Twitter). In the following clip, he takes on sexist criticisms of women in positions of political power with…stimulating results:
If you’re reading this website, you don’t need me to tell you who Margaret Cho is. But you can’t assemble a list of great jokes about feminism without her classic quip about how feminism is for everybody, from her 2005 show “Assassin.” While you’re at it, why not knock off work early and re-watch “I’m the One That I Want”? Don’t worry, I’ll totally cover for you:
Read the rest of this blog series on feminism and comedy!