STAND-UP TUESDAYS: Bonnie McFarlane (Interview)

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Stand-Up Tuesdays is a weekly comedy spotlight written by the wonderfully talented Angie Frissore. Covering both known and unknown comics, Stand-up Tuesdays is your new source for all things funny.

This week, Angie puts a spotlight on Bonnie McFarlane’s comedy career. If you or your comedy troupe would like to be featured on Stand-Up Tuesdays, please email utgjames@gmail.com.

It’s been the subject of debate for decades now, and finally, someone is addressing it head on: are women funny? Comedian Bonnie McFarlane, along with husband and comedian Rich Vos, set out a few years ago to find the answer in their new comedy documentary (or, ‘Cocumentary’) Women Aren’t Funny, which was released today via iTunes – and McFarlane was shocked at what she encountered. Produced by Gregg Hughes (aka “Opie” from Opie Radio), Women Aren’t Funny takes a deep dive into the collective subconscious of the comedy industry to determine if female comedians are regarded as less funny than their male counterparts, and what makes people believe this myth.

And yes, I do label the concept that women aren’t funny as a myth.

There are some shocking revelations in the film, along with a plethora of working comedians who simply don’t understand why people think this way. Featuring interviews with Patrice O’Neal, Jim Breuer, Lisa Lampanelli, Michael Ian Black, Joan Rivers and more, Women Aren’t Funny not only gets inside the minds of the world’s funniest people, but also offers an endearing story as McFarlane tries to come to terms with the information she’s uncovered. We follow McFarlane as she takes some time off from the stage as she processes some of the opposition she’s met with. How does a female comedian keep carrying on when so many people seem to feel women just aren’t funny? McFarlane recently took the time to chat with Angie about the documentary and the struggles she faced in making the film.

UTG: So, congratulations on the film. I know it’s been out and about for a year or so already. Is this going to be the official on-demand release?

BM: Yes, it is the official release.

UTG: Exciting.

BM: Yeah, it’s just Rich and I; we had nothing, no one behind us. Opie [Gregg Hughes] and Lynsi [Hughes] gave us a little bit of money to finish the movie, but for the most part we didn’t have anybody who knew what they were doing helping us. We just kept fumbling along, which made it rather difficult. We went through a lot of lawyers trying to figure out how to get all the releases and everything, and then we ended up hiring a consultant that helped us. We had a lot of distributors over the years who wanted to represent the movie, but we didn’t know who to go with or anything. So, this consultant helped us pick a distributor, and then things went pretty smoothly after that. It was just a matter of we didn’t know what we were doing.

UTG: Well, you know, it’s definitely the most valuable way to learn how to do something – trial by fire.

BM: Yeah, right. But I won’t do it again.

UTG: Now, I know it sounds like a silly question, but what made you and Rich decide to take this on and put this together?

BM: After I had my daughter I was travelling with her, but I knew that at some point I wasn’t going to be able to keep going on the road. I guess it was shortly after she turned two that I started thinking about it —because then I would have to pay for flights for her. I started to try to think of a way I could still keep my creative juices going and take some down-time from standup. So just one day, I had been trying to think of an idea for a while, and then I hit on this idea and told Rich. He immediately was like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, we should definitely do it.” And we started really small, just interviewing a few friends. I didn’t even think it was going to be a feature film. I thought it was going to be a short film, because I had done a lot of short films when I lived in Los Angeles. It was kind of what I knew how to do. And it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Rich knows a lot of people and they all wanted to do it. It was almost that everyone we asked said yes. If we could get to them, and not to an agent or something, they almost always said yes.

UTG: That’s wonderful.

BM: Yeah, so making a feature was so much different than making a short film. I mean it was really crazy. There were times when I was on my way to editing where I was giving myself prep talks. I was like, “One step at a time. You can do this.” You know?

UTG: Absolutely. It’s an overwhelming undertaking.

BM: Yeah, it was like eighty hours of footage. I mean it was just insane. And then Christopher Hitchens, who I really thought was going to be a big part of the movie. We had a lot of people who knew him. We had not contacted him directly, but we did through other people. Through other people, he said we were going to get to interview him, and then he died. We knew he was sick. I really, really like Christopher Hitchens. I love his writing and there was no real animosity towards that article. I just thought it would be remiss if we didn’t put him in the movie. But then we needed to figure out a way to get him in the movie —we had all this stuff about looking for him. And then it’s like, yeah, we had nothing. You know, we shot a scene with Joe Derosa playing Christopher Hitchens, and we weren’t going to pass it off as real. But we thought it would be funny that we were winking to the audience. It didn’t really work in the movie so we put it in the end credits. But we were trying to think of a way, like how are we going to get out of this. There were a lot of issues like that that we faced.

UTG: In terms of the content, what are some “aha” moments you found along the way as you conducted these interviews?

BM: It’s a weird thing because I feel like after making the movie, I realized that there is sexism much more. I think I had blinders on before; I wouldn’t address it. Women would talk to me about sexism in comedy, and I wouldn’t deal with it. First of all, my experiences were pretty good, like getting into clubs and stuff like that, so I didn’t really have that much to complain about when I first started doing standup. So, when I started doing the movie, I was doing it like a joke. I just didn’t believe anyone really thought that women aren’t funny. I never went on stage thinking like this isn’t going to be good. I never thought that. That just wasn’t in my brain. And I thought when comics said it, it was just busting balls. It was just a funny thing. It never occurred to me that it could actually be something. Well, halfway through the interviews I started, especially with the club owners, to get kind of a sick feeling. People really think that women aren’t funny. That’s a real thing. I didn’t want to do standup after that for a while. It kind of affected me, like I don’t want to force myself on audiences if they don’t want to see me, you know?

UTG: Right, right. It’s alarming that it is a mindset. My mentality is similar to yours, you know. As somebody that works with comedians a lot, I don’t necessarily see it, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t exist.

BM: Well, that was the other part of it, was that when I was interviewing the women I realized that my experiences weren’t universal, either. You know what I mean? First of all, I was really young when I started doing standup and I think it helps. I think women are really getting more discriminated against as they age. For men, when they get to a point when they should start headlining and all that stuff, they’re coming into their own, and for women it’s like you’re already aging out in a way, you know? It makes it this time where you have to make some big decisions. Do I want to have children? It’s hard to have a relationship as a woman, when you’re travelling all of the time. So you have to make these bigger decisions than men have to make at that exact time in your life. Usually people start headlining after about ten years. So when you think about it, that’s about the time that you’re going to meet a guy, fall in love, have a kid, you know.

UTG: Right. And I wonder if that lends itself to that mentality that women aren’t funny. I feel like the women who plough through that maybe don’t pursue the settling down and raising kids, while having that career in comedy. I wonder if there’s some sort of cause and effect almost. I don’t know. I’m not wording that the best way.

BM: No, but I know what you mean. Rich would lose his mind if he heard me talking like this. You know what I mean? ‘Aren’t you supposed to be funny?’ But, the truth is men, white men, especially, can look at other groups and for whatever reason they can’t seem to see that their experience might be different from a woman’s experience. So, when men are like, “Who cares? Just get out there and be funny.” They’re not thinking about all the things that might stop them from being funny, like the audience might not give them the first two jokes the way that they give, say Bill Burr, or whoever. You know what I mean? Like, Bill Burr gets to walk on stage and be a comedian immediately from the jump, and even if nobody knows who he is. I think black comics have the same thing as Burr. There have been enough great black comedians that people take it for granted also. But I think if you’re Asian, or you’re Indian, or you’re gay, or you’re a woman, you still have that thing that you have to push through at the very beginning.

UTG: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s almost like, whereas the white male comic can get on stage, and by virtue of being there the audience accepts him, and there’s like this final step the rest have to take to get that acceptance.

BM: Right, so when a white guy’s like, “Just get up there and be funny,” it’s so much easier for him to just get up there and be funny from the jump, because he doesn’t know what it’s like to not have the audience get you for a little while. Like, you have to force your personality on them a little bit. But also I think as a woman, too, or even the other nationalities that aren’t so known for comedy, there’s a lot of baggage that you have to carry that a white guy doesn’t. You know what I mean? If I told a joke against women, people wouldn’t get it. It’s like you come with all this baggage, like you’re a girlfriend, you know, whatever it is that they have in their heads already about what women are like.

UTG: Now, I know that you’ve got some male perspectives in the film as well on the matter.

BM: Yeah, we did not prove that men aren’t funny. This is the thing about me, though, like even when they were saying, like if a truth was in it and he was saying that women aren’t funny, and I don’t know why, it’s just funny to me. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t believe they think that, because really at the end of the movie, too, the people who said that women aren’t funny list the most funny women they could think of. But the people who are like ‘no, women are really funny’, then they can’t even think of one. So, who knows? I do still think that it’s so ridiculous that after all the shit we’ve put in, all the hours we’ve logged on television, in movies, as comedians, that it’s still an argument.

UTG: I know, it seems so archaic and just silly at this point.

BM: But I hope that that’s what the movie shows, too. That’s what I really want to show, that, like the argument is so stupid.

UTG: Definitely. And I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to about it is that it will present it in that light.

BM: Yeah, I hope it does so.

UTG: Well, listen Bonnie, congratulations and I’m so excited to see this, and I know that most of the people I know are going to be just as thrilled. And I hear rave reviews from all the festivals it’s been in.

BM: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Women Aren’t Funny is an incredibly well-thought out and fascinating documentary that not only tackles a difficult subject, but does so with just the right balance of levity and conviction. From a single in-studio death-glare to Anthony Cumia to a pants-less McFarlane field reporting from, well, a field, the film combines almost all of the aspects that make a film enjoyable and poignant (with the exception of Michael Bay-esque special effects) – and, more importantly, finally putting this burning issue on the forefront of comedy. Women Aren’t Funny is available today for download at iTunes. Do it!

GRADE: A+

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