Today, I’m writing a serious blog. (‘NO! Don’t do it! Don’t’ <sounds of heels screeching on floor as body dragged offstage>)
I write comedy. I wrote stand-up, and had a regular column gig for many years. My published crime books and most of my short stories are (hopefully) humorous. My blog…well, that sometimes goes off the wall.
But I’m noticing that as I get older, the comedy seems to become more shocking. Or rather, I am shocking people more. They don’t know how to take it. I see them gasp and act confused. Did I really mean what I said just then? Was it meant to be funny?
I don’t believe it’s because I’m writing a different level of material. Nope.
So why? Why does my comedy seem to shock readers more than it did twenty years ago?
It’s not the readers. It’s my age.
Writing comedy when you are thirty is ‘cute’. I can’t tell you how many people told me that I ‘looked cute on stage’ as I innocently said some outrageous things that made people laugh.
Saying outrageous things on stage when you are over 50 is not ‘cute’. Women over 50 are never described as ‘cute’ (unless they are silly and feeble and quite old. Not to mention petite.) Women over 50 cannot carry off ‘innocent’ (unless portraying someone very dumb.) Women over 50 are expected to be dignified.
Phyllis Diller was a wonderful comic. She did outrageous things on stage, and we laughed with her. But she dressed like a crazy-woman and had us laughing AT her as well as with her. Some women I know dislike the fact that Diller made herself ridiculous in front of an audience. I don’t, because I know why she did it.
Forgive me while I pull a Pagliacci. Yes, I still write comedy. But I don’t do stand-up anymore. I’ve found that women my age are not well received by crowds (especially liquored-up crowds).
Women who are young and pretty can get away with murder. Even better, they can get away with comedy.
But this is what I've found: A woman over 50 who makes fun of younger women is (often) seen as jealous. A woman over 50 who makes fun of men is (often) viewed as bitter. A woman over 50 who makes fun of other women over 50 can get away with it, but the big audience isn’t there.
So my hat goes off to women like Rita Rudner, who do it still. I admire her so (and not just because she is slim and petite.) I’ll stick to combining comedy and crime on the printed page. At least that way, I won’t end up murdering my audience.
Postscript: I paid a tribute to Phyllis Diller, at the launch of my latest book, The Goddaughter Caper. I wore an outrageous hat and a sign that said, "Return to the Holy Cannoli Retirement Home." Everyone laughed and loved it. I made myself look silly. Which demonstrates that when a woman over 50 engages in self-deprecating humour, it is approved by audiences.
What do you think? Yes, an older woman can make fun of herself and delight an audience. But is there a similar acceptance if she makes fun of others? Ageism or sexism? Both?