Funny at fifty something

Funny at fifty something

Daniela Soave celebrates the rise of female comedians and explores why what they’re talking about makes us laugh

Daniela Soave celebrates the rise of female comedians and explores why what they’re talking about makes us laugh

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes us laugh. Obviously our sense of humour evolves as we mature, but how much does it actually change?

Is it a case of once a fan of sitcom/stand-up/surreal/slapstick, always a fan of the same category?

How much do we need to identify with the subject matter? Do we only laugh at comedians the same age as us? Does comedy have to be age-specific?

What makes us laugh?

In some ways it does. I would never have been able to appreciate the black humour of being the middle layer of the sandwich generation if I hadn’t experienced it for myself.

Yet in other ways age doesn’t come into it. If I’m listening to a 30-something riffing about a tragic Tinder date, for instance, I still identify with a funny story that is born of disaster.

Who makes us laugh?

One thing I have noticed is that recently my preference has become more gender-specific. It dawned on me as I compiled a list of who makes me laugh, and the number of women far outweighed men.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that while the much-missed Victoria Wood was a genius, for most of her career she was a minority. Apart from Wood and the more traditional Carla Lane, comedy was dominated by men – as performers, actors and writers – and the women they created rarely ventured beyond a stereotype.

But now the playing field has evened out and, whether women are performing their own stand-up, writing scripts or books, appearing as panel guests or acting in comedic roles, the depth and breadth of their subject matter chimes and resonates.

Here are some female comedians and comedies I’m loving at the moment:

  • Sharon Horgan  Her writing nails modern womanhood, as both ‘Catastrophe’ (in which she also stars) and ‘Divorce’ (created for Sarah Jessica Parker) absolutely prove. Her characters are messy, flawed and real – and all the more funny for it.
  • Bridget Christie  Her repertoire includes stand-up, newspaper columns, books, radio and – soon – a sitcom. Extremely playful yet very bold, her thought-provoking rants ask big questions without ever becoming worthy. As she puts it, “I am to Simone de Beauvoir what Horrible Histories is to Simon Schama.”
  • Twentysomething comedies ‘Fleabag’, ‘Chewing Gum’ and ‘Girls’ (respectively written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel and Lena Dunham) have me honking with laughter, even though it’s several decades since I was that age. They’re frequently filthy, often surreal, yet heartfelt and honest.
  • Seventysomething comedies Netflix’s comedy drama ‘Grace and Frankie’ was co-created by Marta Kauffman (who was also behind ‘Friends’) and stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two seventysomething divorcees. It makes me giggle, even though I’ve got to clock up a lot of years to belong to that age group. ‘Golden Girls’ they are not.

Women with something to say

All these women, and the many others I admire, are using laughter to tackle important issues – things that matter to women of all ages.

They’re not angry in the way that Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and Rik Mayall were ranting young men in the ’80s, but they still pack a punch.

They have something to say. It’s about all the stages we’ve been through or have yet to embrace: juggling family and career, negotiating relationships, the pressures of being a good parent, breaking through the glass ceiling, being seen and listened to.

This is cross-generational comedy. We can recognise ourselves in the characters they create, the subjects they tackle, whether we experienced those situations years ago or now.

These women are writing about real life, and still making us laugh. I salute them.

What or who makes you laugh? Let us know in the comments section below.

You might also like:

Leave a comment * Mandatory Field
By clicking submit, I confirm I have written the entirety of the content and agree to the Terms and Conditions
  • Show comments

Laughter is the best

Invictus1 23/07/2017

Myself and My Husband still have a laugh together which keeps our relationship going

It’s never too late! 5 ways to change your life with just one holiday

Trade your next tried-and-tested package deal for the holiday of a lifetime, and you’ll come back a new woman.

Read more

5 perfect places to have a picnic this summer

Open-air eating is one of the joys of this season, so we’ve rounded up the best spots to lay your picnic blanket.

Read more