The belief that women are not funny is not only incredibly sexist, but it is also flat out wrong. Generations of women from Lucille Ball to Gilda Radner to Whoopi Goldberg and to Ali Wong prove that such a definitive statement cannot possibly be true. Despite this, there are people who continue to believe this notion. For that reason, Hysterical is essential viewing.
As a fan of comedy (hot take, I know), I find myself drawn to comedians. The people who have philosophical tendencies while making humorous observations about the world stimulate the mind in such a pleasing way. The thing about comedians, though, is that too often that’s the only way that we see them. People tend to think that if somebody is funny, they are always funny. Or that if they are constantly poking fun at themselves, they don’t have more nuanced feelings. That, of course, is not true.
Comedians are people, just like everyone else. They have insecurities about whether or not a set is going to work, they feel embarrassed when they bomb, and they feel hurt when they are not taken seriously. This reality is important for fans to remember. The new FX documentary, Hysterical, delves deep into the world of stand-up comedy. And, most crucially, what it means to be a women comic.
Using interviews and footage from some of today’s premier women in comedy, director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins asks us to relate to those that we have spent years watching. Although there are clips of stand-up and sometimes their interviews are very funny, Hysterical relies on human’s ability to empathize. The women she is interviewing are telling their stories and begging to be taken seriously, for once. Nevins, to her credit, treats the subjects with proper care so as to not make light of some of their stories.
Not that one should ever confuse their real life stories with a joke. The women in the documentary allow themselves to be vulnerable, open, and raw with us. They tell stories of the sexism, harassment, and assault that they have all experienced throughout their career. It is heartbreaking to hear firsthand accounts about how some of the most powerful seeming women in the world of stand-up can be made to feel so small.
Born to be Funny
Despite the serious topics at hand, these women never lose sight of their gifts. Even while recounting horrific moments in their lives, they share a sense of happiness. Not with what has happened to them, but with the fact that they have gotten to where they are. They continue to make people laugh every day in spite of some of the conditions they have been put through. It’s what they want to do and what they feel they were born to do. It is clear that through it all, they have not lost their sense of humor.
The industry has a lot to reckon with before it can possibly move forward in a truly progressive way. With women like these leading the charge, the world of stand-up has a lot to look forward to. Thanks to Nevins, we have a better idea of what our favorite funny women have gone through. While we haven’t been there for them in the past, maybe this documentary will help them garner additional support that they so desperately need and deserve. No matter what, they will continue to pave the way for a better future for women like them. You can bet on one thing: Through it all, they will continue to be Hysterical.