In children’s literature and film, the big-name comedy series are male heavy. Even when women write comedy and humour, they have the best chance of striking it big if they write about boys.
Even better? The girls are arch nemeses (or sexualised enigmas) to the funny boys.
Silly as it may sound, critics are still scratching their heads over the question of “can women really be funny?”, which bleeds through into fiction as the question “should women be funny?” or “should we write women into funny roles?” As Dee noted in the AniFem premiere review, female characters as the sensible “straight man” to the hapless, entertaining male lead is a trope entrenched in comedy.
CONTEMPORARY BEST-SELLING HUMOUR
At the top of best-seller lists in English speaking countries you’ll find the following humorous children’s books:
- Wimpy Kid series — male author — boy main character (American but popular worldwide)
- David Walliams books — male author — a range of adult/child main characters, with old and adult women funny but girl characters kindly and playing straight characters. (Especially big in the UK)
- Tom Gates books — female author/illustrator — boy main character, highly unsympathetic sister (UK)
- Beano books — an anonymous variety of contracted authors — boy main characters
- Treehouse books — male author and illustrator — author and illustrator friends are themselves juvenile characters in the books (Australia)
- Julia Donaldson picture books — female author/male illustrator — mixture of male and female characters (UK — the female characters who seem to break gender norms but who often actually don’t)
- Dog Man — male author/illustrator — male characters (USA)
- No one Likes A Fart — female writer/male illustrator — fart as main character, coded male (Australia)
- Wonky Donkey series — male writer/female illustrator — male main character
- Dork Diaries — MG — female author/daughter illustrator — female main character (USA — also has a spinoff series starring male character, Max Crumbly)
- Pig The Pug picture books — male author/illustrator — male characters (Australia)
- Hairy Maclary series — female author/illustrator — male gang of dogs and cats (New Zealand)
(As a side note, American bestseller lists feature more serious children’s books at the top, UK has more humour, and Australia/NZ has a higher tolerance for gross-out humour.)
Notice also that even when female characters are comedic, those characters tend to be older or elderly women. There are disproportionately few girls who star in their own comedies. There are even fewer in which boys play the ‘straight man’ to the girls.
A few exceptions exist in anime:
- Please Tell Me! Gaiko-chan — a cast of teenage girls engage in bodily-functions-based humour
- Lucky Star — an otaku comedy in which a female cast references and pokes fun at a geeky world traditionally considered the domain of boys
- Pop Team Epic — absurd, crass, slapstick humour carried out by two leading ladies, Popuko and Pipimi.
In general, though, female characters in anime are cute girls doing cute things, designed to be as appealing as possible. And so when a cute girl engages in shitpost humour, this employs the old ‘dog bites man’ inversion comedy. In other words, it’s even more funny because it’s a cute girl coming out with these crass things.
‘I mean, think of all those films or TV shows where there’s one woman, or one gay, in a script otherwise full of straight men, wirtten by a straight man? Or a book? Fiction and film is full of these imaginary gay men and straight women, saying what straight men imagine we would say, and doing what straight men imagine we would do. Every gay I eer see has an ex-lover dying of AIDS. Fucking Philadelphia. I’ve started to think I should get an AIDS boyfriend, just to be normal.’
‘Yeah – and all the women are always just really “good” and sensible, and keep putting the men, with their crazy ideas, and their boyish idealism, into check,’ I say mournfully. ‘And they’re never funny. WHY CAN’T I EVER SEE A FUNNY LADY?’
– from How To Be A Woman