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Funny Lesbians
Funny Lesbians
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

Lesbians are funny.

Just a few years ago, this wasn't obvious. Lesbians were stereotyped as angry and whining. In fact, Lesbians were thought to take things way too seriously, to become offended by any slip of the tongue. It was dangerous to talk to Lesbians, because if you said something wrong, they might choke you with their flannel shirt, or run you over with their motorcycle. Remember this joke?

Q: How many Lesbians does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: That isn't funny.

Gay men had camp. Lesbians had anger.

We were the Gay community's wet blanket.

But now Lesbians are starting to be seen in a new light. We've got Rosie (who, OK, sometimes falls into the anger category, but still - she produces the Big Gay Sketch Show). We've got Lily Tomlin. We've got Kate Clinton, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Marga Gomex, Julie Goldman. We've even sort of got Margaret Cho, who identifies as Queer and Bisexual, though usually seems more like she's a Gay man in drag.

Best of all, we've got Ellen, who almost single-handedly has helped America find Lesbians to be endearingly funny.

Here's a joke from her, back when she did standup: "My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She's 97 now, and we don't know where the hell she is."

See? Lesbians are funny. And not just to other Lesbians. Lesbians are funny to THE ENTIRE WORLD (or at least the English-speaking, non-fundamentalist part of it. Westenhoeffer has made the point that people in the Bible Belt often will just not find Lesbians funny, no matter how funny the Lesbian actually is. Their morals keep them from laughing.)

Why the change? Why are Lesbians seen as funny now when they were seen as angry before? Well, it partly must be because of Ellen's wide audience and general folksiness. But it may also be due in part to the changing role of women.

Vanity Fair's April cover story examined the reasons why women comedians are now appreciated more than ever. It used to be, they say, that women were not considered funny at all (maybe because men valued male cut-ups, but women with wit were frightening and liberated). Women as a group were thought to have no a sense of humor.

But expectations for women and women's roles are changing. As women are more accepted in every level of society, they become more accepted as comedians, too. And women are more likely to let themselves be funny, and to hone their humor.

Or maybe there's an easier answer. Cable. "There are so many hours to fill, and they ran out of men, so then there were women," Nora Ephron joked to VF.

But straight women have an added burden. No longer is it enough that they are funny - now they have to be sexy and glamorous as well, in order to make it big.

As Vanity Fair points out, "It used to be that women were not funny. Then they couldn't be funny if they were pretty. Now a female comedian has to be pretty - even sexy - to get a laugh."

Female straight comedians have to be sexy. But Lesbian comedians? Lesbian comedians have a pass. They can be attractive - Ellen certainly is - but they don't have to take the stage in stilettos and a cocktail dress. Audiences understand that Lesbians aren't out to attract men, so they're not held to the same high beauty standards as straight women comedians.

Lesbians are outsiders, so they are expected to poke sharp fun at political figures and "regular" people. They are expected to have a quirky, non-mainstream, even shocking perspective.

And they are freer to have the range of physical attractiveness that men have. When's the last time that a male comedian was expected to be handsome?

Lesbian comedians are lucky that way. They don't have to be sexually seductive in order to seduce the audience into laughing. Instead, they can be more like Lucille Ball, emphasizing the comical over their cup size.

The fact that Lesbians are becoming more accepted as funny is lucky for the Gay community, too. Laughter is a great way to win people over. It's how outsiders have insinuated themselves into the mainstream from time immemorial.

Someday, our funny women might help us laugh all the way to our full civil rights.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at She edits the Gay political blog

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