Friday, 19 September 2008

Ha-Ha Her

I'm a bit of a tragic for falling in love with women on TV. When I was 12 I had a special page in my Garfield diary that listed girls who I fancied off the telly. I'm sure Kylie Minogue would be delighted to hear that she's the only lady listed who'd still make my 2008 list. If I had one. Which I don't. Actually, I still do I suppose - it's just in my head now so people can't prove how sad I am. However, now that I've confessed I'll take this opportunity to share with you my undying love (for now) for Saturday Night Live's finest, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

Funny is, of course, very sexy. Funny always ranks high on women's lists for what constitutes the perfect man. For men it often sits lower in the list behind some quite technical limitations on size of various parts of the anatomy. Many men still persist with the stupid assumption that women can't be funny. I've never been interested in this idea, often espoused in the eighties and nineties and mostly (from what I could see) based on the fact that there are more famous male comedians than females. This is a bit like saying Coldplay are better than Lambchop cos they've sold more records. Sort of. But anyway thankfully we live in slightly more enlightened times and TV executives, tour promoters and the general public are seemingly now more willing to give female writers and performers a chance to do their thing and be seen.

To the credit of the people behind Saturday Night Live, broadcast direct from New York for over 25 years, there has always been a strong female presence amongst the writers and actors; from the first season's Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner through Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo to the noughties genius of Rachel Dratch, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and of course Fey and Poehler. It may be true that the SNL gals are traditionally outnumbered by the guys, but the notion that they are outshone is one of the past. The problem of course has been that post-SNL far too few women then go onto the same stellar recognition as the post SNL men. This is likely based on a lack of decent scripts with varied and interesting roles to harness their talents actually getting funded (see Alex Remington's take on this

Tina Fey (left) and Amy Poehler from SNL's Weekend Update

The good news is that in the absence of a helping hand from the industry Poehler and particularly Fey have made their own DIY move from small to silver screen. Whilst in the role of head-writer at SNL, Tina Fey wrote the script and starred in Mean Girls - a teenage comedy (with a sisterhood twist) that was surprisingly watchable given its high-school setting. Now she's done it again with Baby Mama, a Fey-scripted Amy-Tina vehicle. The idea of watching a romantic comedy about a successful businesswoman trying to conceive through surrogacy makes my fingers twitch angrily as I type, but I quite enjoyed the experience.

It's all down to Tina and Amy of course and another chance to see what made them special as the first female co-anchors on Weekend Update. Fey's Sexy Librarian (now given greater prominence due to her uncanny Sarah Palin impressions) and Poehler's cheeky faux-dumb blonde are both flimsy covers for the wealth of talent which lit up SNL for years. Fey is now more famous for the excellent 30 Rock (she writes, she stars, she produces, she rocks!) whilst ongoing scene-stealing by Poehler in Baby Mama and SNL-linked Blades of Glory, will hopefully lead to increased prominence and a pathway for the likes of Wiig and Dratch et al. And I love them. Did I mention that? I do. A lot.

Gratuitous List Time
Away from the world of SNL the small-screen continues to prove what everyone knows anyway; that women can be as sick, violent, painfully embarrassing and bloody hilarious as any man. With no pretence to completion (my mum would be horrified that I’m not eulogising Victoria Wood) here are some of my favourite ladies of comedy…

Despite being virtually anonymous since 2000, Caroline Aherne remains peerless as a writer (and actor) of so-true-it's-painful comedy. As Mrs Merton she set a standard that Graham Norton has been ripping off for years whilst The Royle Family deserves repeated viewings and will probably outlast most its contemporaries in people's affections. And speaking of which, at least poor Cheryl (the Royle's dumpy and put-upon next door neighbour) gives and gets the last laugh through the genius of Jessica Hynes (Stevenson as-was) as the dippy and delightful Daisy Steiner in Spaced, co-written with Simon Pegg.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Morwenna Banks - from Absolutely to her work with Reeves and Mortimer and Steve Coogan. As a character actress she’s pretty hard to beat and blends like Maybelline foundation into any crazy world she inhabits. Julia Davis' Nighty Night and Amy Sedaris' Strangers with Candy are deliciously warped and well worth your attention and even if I don't love Catherine Tate as much as everyone else seems to (I preferred her straight-ish acting in Doctor Who) her characters are as spot on as anything in the over-praised Little Britain.

The ladies of the much under-appreciated Big Train (including Tate, Davis and Thick of It star Rebecca Front along with Amelia Bullimore, Doon Mackichan and Gina McKee) deserve special mentions in any comedy encyclopaedia for an array of scene-stealing supports in some of the best comedies of the past 15 years. A similar tip of the hat to Olivia Coleman for bringing out her inner Maggie Philbin on Look Around You and for making Mark and Jez seem even more inhumane on Peep Show (speaking of which I am in completely in love with Isy Suttie's Dobby and hope she'll be back for Series 6. Meanwhile Suttie is touring her own musical comedy act - let's hope she makes it to Australia some day).

Part of me would like to praise Gina Riley and Jane Turner's Kath and Kim but I'm still mad at them for making too many series with diminishing returns. I'll get over it. I will mention Jane Kennedy though for outstanding contribution to Australian comedy, especially as uber-bitch Brooke Vandenberg in Frontline.

Finally, a special mention to Julie Kavner for ongoing excellence as Marjorie "Marge" Simpson (née Bouvier) on the Simpsons. What would the show be without Marge's honest but misguided attempts at moral guidance, relentless love of her family and addiction to gambling in all its forms?

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