Smart Female Characters in Comedy

I mentioned a few months back that I was planning to take a comedy sketch-writing intensive at the PIT Theater. And I did. And I LOVED it -- loved it like, I felt like the heavens opened up and were like, "DO MORE OF THIS, AMANDA." Which is similar to how I felt the first time I ever did improv. The heavens seem to like it when I pursue comedy.

Anyway, I'm continuing to study sketch -- I start a class with Armando Diaz at the Magnet Theater next week -- and in the meantime, I've been mulling other kinds of comedy writing I might want to try. Writing for The Onion? McSweeneys? Dare I consider.... writing for TV?

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My dream would be to get to write for Parks and Recreation. Amy Poehler is my hero. First of all, she's an amazing improviser, and no matter how famous she gets, watching her improvise, it's not all about her. She takes care of herself, sure, as any good improviser should, but she's a very supportive player, too... she makes other people look good. This translates to her work on Parks and Rec. The show is ostensibly about her character, Leslie Knope, but look at how much that entire cast of characters shines. She strengthens herself by surrounding herself with other awesome performers.

The other reason I love that show is that it has heart. I read an interview with Amy Poehler in that bastion of entertainment reporting, Amtrak magazine, and she talked about how at the kernel of the show was a genuine interest in exploring the idea of whether government can work. Obviously, they don't hit you over the head with that idea, but it's there; the show is ABOUT something. And 90% of the time, the humor isn't mean-spirited... they aren't getting laughs by cutting people down (except for that one poor character, Jerry).

I'm not saying comedy has to be nice, just that I find such positive humor to be tremendously refreshing, especially when it's anchored in an interesting subject that doesn't get explored much in popular entertainment (government).

Most of all, I think what I appreciate about Parks and Rec is that Leslie is a strong woman with integrity. Sure, she has her foibles, but she is never portrayed as a moron. When she messes up, she's a smart woman messing up, not a ditz.

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I think of all of this in direct contrast to 30 Rock. I adore Tina Fey -- her book, Bossypants, made me literally guffaw (I woke Jordan up with my laughter) -- but I remember the first time I watched 30 Rock, I was so disappointed. Why was Liz Lemon so... dumb? The reason we all liked Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live was that she played it smart. So why wasn't she playing to the top of her intelligence on her own show?

Leslie Knope wants to govern well. Liz Lemon wants a donut.

As I think about writing for television, I find myself assuming that anything I write would have a female lead. I don't consider myself a feminist, but as a female writer/performer, I just can't see creating yet another comedy about a man. Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill seem to have quite enough work, thank you very much, and there's still so much unexplored potential for telling women's stories in funny ways -- especially, smart women's stories.

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As a bit of research, I rented The New Adventures of Old Christine via Netflix. I don't watch many sit-coms with laugh tracks -- they just aren't my style -- and this didn't seem like my kind of show, but I adore Julia Louis-Dreyfus from her Seinfeld days (next time you watch a re-run of that show, pay attention to how much of Elaine is her characterization, versus the lines on the page... she's a genius). And I knew the show had won some Emmys, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Last night, I settled in on the couch and watched the first disc of season one.

What a disappointment! JLD completely overacts, and her character is a tremendous ditz. It was heartbreaking to watch. Why couldn't Christine be smart??

My life is filled with smart, funny women. Why can't I find more characters like them on TV and in the movies??

It's enough to make me want to do something about it.

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