Column: As a female comic, I can be empowered by voicing insecurities

You can love yourself by laughing at yourself.

by Kate McCarthy

“Are women funny?”

Luckily, this insane question is no longer a viable topic of conversation or article headline. However, navigating comedy as an empowered young woman, I’m seeing new questions pop up in its place. Like, for example, what about when you’re just not feeling all that empowered?

A few weeks ago, I attended an event called the Femme Jam, put on by the fantastic campus group Women for Political Change. The evening proved to be an amazing space for art, connection and celebration of womanhood and femininity in all its forms.

I dropped by to do a five-minute set, excited to perform for my ideal demographic — and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My jokes went over just as I’d hoped — with a few exceptions. I noticed that any of my material that even hinted at self-deprecation or a lack of total self-confidence didn’t hit as much. It wasn’t met with hostility per se, but almost an alienated unfamiliarity or slight offense.

Maybe there was a hesitation to laugh at a girl laughing at herself. I almost wanted to shout mid-set, “No, it’s okay! I’m the one up here onstage talking with ease and confidence, so who won — me or the insecurities?”

Just a few days later, I scrolled past an acquaintance’s Instagram photo of herself and a friend onstage holding microphones. The caption read, “Wow, we feel like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey right now, except we don’t think being a hot girl is a crime.” And I remembered, “Oh, right — it’s not cool to love Tina Fey anymore.”

Her brand of Liz Lemon comedy, which is at her own expense, doesn’t ring true for young feminists of today. For me, Tina Fey is truly the emblem of “your fave is problematic.” Just a few years ago, she and Amy Poehler were the faces of women in comedy, perhaps even comedy in general, as they jointly hosted awards shows and languished in the success of their respective TV shows and movies.

And then audiences started to get real about critiquing some of their flaws as creators. This particular Instagram post was interesting to me, though, as I could think of several other things you might criticize Tina Fey for before self-deprecating humor, like traces of ableism and homophobia.

Diving into Tina Fey’s oeuvre and the attitudes toward her work is complex business. What seems to stand out to me, though, is there’s generally less and less tolerance in comedy for women being anything less than fully confident at all times.

Conversely, men are able to produce comedy all about low self-esteem and self-flagellation, while still maintaining the upper-hand and being considered a mainstream voice for all.

Like a lot of young women, I am working every day toward love and acceptance of myself, but in the meantime, I find it incredibly therapeutic and empowering to voice my insecurities onstage. In doing so, I’m able to take the power away from those little things that get me down. Everyone’s working towards full self-actualization, but at the same time, everyone’s insecure. So why not try to make it funny?