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Funny/Not Funny

So in As You Like It there’s a bit where Rosalind is pestering Celia for information about Orlando and then not letter her get a word in edgewise when she attempts to actually talk. Celia complains about her interruption. Rosalind (dressed as Ganymede, remember) says Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.

Through the first weekend, this line does not get a laugh. The director has given her a note, which she has tried, and nothing. So she comes backstage and asks us: why am I not getting a laugh with this line? I told her the problem is that she is not saying the line in 1974, which was the last time it might have been funny. Our Fool, more helpfully, tells her to draw out the pause between the phrases. She does this, and she gets a laugh at each of the remaining performances, often a huge laugh.

And I am bothering telling you so because this sort of women never shut up amirite joke is something that I just find Not Funny. Not Funny at all. There are a lot of jokes in AYLI about gender roles, and how people respond to crossed-up gender expectations, and a lot of those jokes are really funny—but not that one. Not to me, at any rate. And one of the things I have found that sort of lurks around the edges of the various misogynist nastinesses that have been turning up in fandom recently is the women never shut up amirite joke (and to a lesser extent the men! amirite? joke), and it is still not funny.

I lucked in to some tickets for the local professional production of Twelfth Night, to which I took my daughter this weekend, and it occurred to me that the production took very few opportunities to make gender expectation jokes. Yes, there were bits about the very masculine Orsino among his buddies, particularly getting a rub-down from the supposedly-male Viola/Cesario, but those were jokes about Orsino, not Viola. One production I saw (in Golden Gate Park in 1993) had Viola/Cesario chucking herself under her chin whenever she wanted to assert her male-ness; an odd gesture, and one I didn’t previously associate with the performance of machismo, but after a few repetitions we all got it, and it got funnier through the rest of the show. In this one, Viola pasted on a moustache and wore trousers, but didn’t spit or scratch or grunt or otherwise indicate guy-ness and masculinity at all.

Another Swat Digression: Darko Tresnjak directed the production we saw last week, and in the program mentions having played Orsino in college. Did any of y’all GRs happen to see that? Or be in it? I know some of you overlapped with him more than I did, and I don’t remember whether any of you were in any of the shows he directed there. I only saw The Visit and House of Blue Leaves, and The Skin of Our Teeth on video, I think, and I have no recollection of who was in any of them. I’d be curious to know what his classmates thought of him and his shows at the time. End Digression.

So I felt in the one production that I was missing some gender play, jokes based on our expectations of gender performance. And in the other production (that I was in) I was grouchy about the gender stereotype joke that was there. So is it that I’m just a gripey sort of person? Probably that’s a good deal of it. Probably a lot. Some of though, is a difference between reinforcing our gender expectations and blowing them up. A garrulous person-in-male-clothing claiming that she is garrulous because she is actually female is reinforcing our gender expectation, not subverting it—and in truth nearly everything onstage, in that show and most others, reinforces our gender expectation. And that isn’t funny at all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Re Swat digression: Well, I didn't see Darko Tresnjak play Orsino. By the time I got to Swat, he was mainly directing, at least during the academic year. I have the impression that he was doing Shakespeare & classical theater in the summers and doing 20th-century plays during the academic year. I was two years behind him, though, so he might have done it before I arrived. Being two years behind, I don't know what his classmates thought, but at the time I arrived, pretty much everyone doing theater at Swat considered him to be brilliant, and auditions for his plays were highly competitive. I never managed to get cast in a play he directed. I can't recall if I tried out for The Visit but I tried out and was not cast in What the Butler Saw, which was the play he directed in the spring of 1988, not The House of Blue Leaves, which came later--I think in 1990-91, and which you were in V., unless my memory has failed me on this point. I don't think it is a surprise to anyone who saw his work then that he has become a highly successful director. I've seen a couple of productions he has directed in the last ten years at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, one of which I thought was brilliant (The Two Noble Kinsmen) and the other OK (can't remember off the top of my head which Shakespeare play it was).

Re jokes that reinforce gender stereotypes: I agree that the women never shut up amiritejoke in As You Like It is not particularly funny, though it's interesting that with the pause it would get a laugh. I view it as a distinctly cuttable joke. I wonder if there is a way to deliver it sardonically?

I see quite a bit of play with gender expectations in student performances in my Shakespeare class (all-female scenes enable that), and I'd say that in that context about 50% of the play is subverting and 50% is reinforcing. One of the most consistent schticks is having women perform men in a way that sends up the posing that college-age men use to present themselves as masculine. That's a pretty safe schtick for women performers: the play with gender expectations about women is less adventurous.

I was not in Blue Leaves, and now that I think about it, that may have been some sort of faculty/staff production? Certainly he came back as an alumnus to direct it, and I don't remember the circumstances. Is it possible it was a People's Light production on campus? Google is not being very helpful; perhaps a look at the yearbooks. Aha, it was in 1988-1989, and I do not recognize anybody in the photographs at all. Some were clearly not college-age. There is no further information--no names, nothing. Hmf.


I had forgotten about that one--I may not have seen it. What was the play you were in, in TIC, your senior year--there was a guitar?

You are thinking of a Craig Lucas play directed by Jon Wald (also now a professional theater/film director, I believe) called of Blue Window.


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