Christa M. Burgin | January 15, 2018
Empowerment can be conveyed in several forms. For many individuals, it thrusts and swings in the dance of music. For others, it cuts across paper in the rhythm of words. And for some, it ripples, and builds, and shakes through laughter. That is the calling of our comedians, for they have the ability to influence a vast number of people through media outlets, including Netflix specials, late-night television, and YouTube.
I, myself, believe comedy is most rewarding when it emphasizes empowerment. When British comedian Russell Howard discusses the news, for example, he concludes each segment with a heartwarming story about someone who managed to overcome their own tribulations or assist those in need. In Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special, Homecoming King, he outlines the awkward nature of being a young adult, while simultaneously discussing the severity of everyday racism. And the forefront of Iliza Shlesinger’s comedy is the admiration of women’s minds and lives. From discussing embarrassing scenarios of the dating battlefield to mapping out the functions of Girl Logic in the everyday world, Shlesinger aptly captures the female psyche.
Comedy is more than laughter; it is the celebration of our imperfections. And it is this insight that has allowed Shlesinger to create a comedy cocktail consisting of:
- 1 part Blatant Honesty
- ¾ parts Embarrassing Anecdotes
- ¾ parts Enthusiasm
- ¼ part Lamb Voices
And given Shlesinger’s following, it seems that this has become the drink of choice among many comedy fans, particularly women. While it is true that many of her jokes are directed towards women, her messages focus primarily on their empowerment.
This, however, seems to have caused a rift within the audience. In November of 2017, Shlesinger hosted a show in Los Angeles called “Girls’ Night In With Iliza — No Boys Allowed.” Despite its name, a man named of George St. George purchased a ticket to the event and was, ultimately, denied entry1. As a result, St. George has chosen to take up legal matters against Shlesinger, the foundation of his case being discrimination against men.1
But there is something larger at play here. As noted in the event’s description, “women of all walks of life [were invited] to come, laugh with her and at her and be ready to share and feel safe for an awesome night of comedy and love.”2 Shlesinger created this event as a safe place for women to speak, a place where they could let down their barriers to join in discussion and laughter regarding what it means to be a woman.
Therefore, even if we choose to justify St. George’s argument, one critical point remains: we live in a society where women still feel insecure around men. While many people may be asking why Schlesinger was willing to turn fans away because of their gender, it is more important that we acknowledge that women still need a safe space to laugh about the things they are so often ridiculed for, such as:
- Being boy-crazy (and yes, that includes looking up a guy you barely know on Instagram and planning your “wedding” on Pinterest).
- Stuffing every item of makeup you own into your bag before going out (and subsequently dumping everything out when you can’t find the one thing you actually need).
- Obsessing over every text you receive as you attempt to decipher whether this person is madly in love with you or has decided to disown you (there is no in-between).
And while this list is constantly growing and changing, each item on it is incredibly significant to women. After all, these are the things that make us human. Unfortunately, these are also the things that riddle us with insecurities because, as we are so often told, they are poor qualities.3 This, naturally, means that it can be very difficult to talk to men about women’s “quirky” habits.
And yes, one could argue that by hosting a women-only event, Shlesinger was leaving men out of the conversation. But perhaps that was done intentionally—not to exclude men from the discussion, but rather to give women a chance to meet, speak, and laugh with those who can relate to shared experiences. Shlesinger’s event was an opportunity for them to revel in self-acceptance and discover empowerment. That is, after all, the key ingredient to the twenty-first century comedy cocktail.
I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. Although presently studying Fiction, I’m also passionate about Literary Criticism and Creative Nonfiction. I’ve published various feminist critiques and creative works, and recently began The Nocturnal Navigator, a blog conveying the turmoil of life in my twenties.
The Nocturnal Navigator: https://thenocturnalnavigator.wordpress.com/
Article edited by Mary Pura, June L. Laurenson, and Sini Eikonsalo.