Your job isn’t to be attractive

Conversations about women in comedy tend to ruffle my feathers pretty easily, but I found this post in the Atlantic about Phyllis Diller and Tina Fey, entitled “Why Do So Many Pretty Female Comedians Pretend They’re Ugly?”, especially egregious.

Fey, similarly, is married with two daughters; she’s the face of Garnier hair color treatments, and lives in a posh apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But many of the running gags on 30 Rock revolve around Liz Lemon’s sloppiness and chronic singledom. So why are we laughing at Diller and Fey for their shabbiness, their sofa dependence, and their chronically sad love lives? Why do these well-loved, impressively accomplished women invent incompetence to fuel their comedy?

Let me preface this by saying that Tina Fey is my heroine (and by “heroine” I mean lady hero.  I don’t want to inject her and listen to jazz).  I happen to think that she’s a super good-looking lady … but that is not WHY I care about her at all. Her level of attractiveness is completely irrelevant to what she is trying to do.  

Tina Fey’s job isn’t to be attractive.

Tina Fey’s job is to write awesome things and play a character who makes us laugh and also feel things.  If she happens to also be considered attractive, that’s nice.  But what she does isn’t about her looks.  It is about her brain!  For most famous women, their jobs are to be hot.  Isn’t it nice that for this one famous lady, her looks aren’t her defining characteristic?

I think the thing that people often misinterpret about Fey’s character Liz Lemon is that she is somehow a symbol of failed womanhood because of her “shabbiness … sofa dependence, and … chronically sad love li[fe]”.  Guys, I have news for you:  for the vast majority of women, THAT’S REGULAR WOMANHOOD.  Other female television characters who are gorgeous and great role models who effortlessly “have it all” AREN’T LIKE US.  And they aren’t funny!  The thing being overlooked is that well-adjusted, successful characters make terrible comedic protagonists.  If Jerry Seinfeld was a sensitive fellow, if Woody Allen was dapper and laid-back, they would be completely uninteresting.  Popular culture tells us that the only way women are allowed to fail is to fail attractively, with rom-com clumsiness and adorable misunderstandings.  Liz Lemon’s failures are unattractive, like those of a real person (if perhaps more fantastical).  But the beautiful thing about her is that despite her failings, the other characters on the show care about her and believe in her, so there’s always hope for her.   That, I think is a much healthier message than to show us a paragon of unattainable perfection.

In conclusion, SUCK IT, NERDS!  Lemon out.