Nikki Finke thinks beautiful people can’t be funny. The editor of Deadline Hollywood, upset by Julie Bowen’s Emmy win, blustered in her live blog:
Beautiful actresses are not funny. They don’t know how to do comedy…Only women who grew up ugly and stayed ugly, or through plastic surgery became beautiful, can pull off sitcoms or standups. Bowen isn’t a comedienne just like Brooke Shields wasn’t and a zillion more. Because it’s all about emotional pain and humiliation and rising above both by making people laugh with you instead of at you. So stop casting beautiful actresses when you should be giving ugly women a chance. (Tina Fey always points out she looked like a troglodyte when she was younger.) This also applies to handsome men, by the way. Now argue amongst yourselves.
ARGUE I SHALL, Ms. Finke.
Yes, Tina Fey’s Bossypants is littered with awkward childhood photos, and yes, they are hilarious, but not because they speak to “emotional pain and humiliation” in her past. Ms. Fey’s awkward photos are funny because they are real. She shares them proudly. Her goal is not self-deprecation. Her goal is encouragement. She takes us inside the world of glamorous photo shoots and insists that every gorgeous celebrity is secretly falling out of her dress in the back. This is not suffering. This is honesty. Are we to presume that Julie Bowen never took a bad school picture?
Tina Fey owns her flaws, all of them, to make us feel better about our own—and she spends far more time on the ones that have nothing to do with her appearance. As Elizabeth Banks points out on her blog, “I agree ‘humiliation’ can be funny, but it is not a state of being reserved solely for the ugly, whatever that means to Nikki Finke.” Or has Finke never heard of Lucille Ball, whose Lucy Ricardo embarrassed herself weekly without losing her striking beauty? I Love Lucy paved the way for modern comedians like Sofia Vergara and Kristen Wiig, whose looks don’t diminish their pratfalls.
Furthermore, self-ridicule is not the only brand of comedy. Banks herself is both hilarious and gorgeous on 30 Rock, where she draws laughs from her character’s confidence. Avery Jessup derides others instead of herself, and she finds a place in Tiny Fey’s comedic world. There’s a lot of humor in women who know they’re beautiful and aren’t afraid to say so—perhaps because our society doesn’t always know what to do with them. Confident, attractive women are all over comedy: look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Chelsea Handler, Rashida Jones, and Emma Stone.
Worst of all, by responding to Finke’s criticism, we’re all forced to perpetuate the idea that we can even quantify beauty. A funny lady’s looks do not have to be a plot point. On Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler brings us Leslie Knope, whose friends compliment her on her thoughtfulness, passion, people skills, and intelligence. Like Bridesmaids and The Office darling Ellie Kemper, Leslie is funny because she is bursting with enthusiasm. She is idealistic without being cloying, imperfect without being sloppily dressed, and pretty in a real-world way that never gets mentioned. Her appearance is not a factor in her greatness or used against her in her flaws. Amy Poehler looks like Amy Poehler. Isn’t this enough?
Finke tries to cover her tracks by extending her theory to handsome men, but she also asserts that Max Greenfield should have won an Emmy. Is he ugly now? I missed that memo. I didn’t realize that good-looking guys can’t be funny. Ryan Gosling, Rob Lowe, Chris Pine, John Krasinski, Bradley Cooper, Joel McHale, Donald Glover, Adam Scott, Paul Rudd, Ryan Reynolds, Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Hamm, James Marsden, and Matt Damon must all be flukes.