In an infamous 2007 Vanity Fair article, Christopher Hitchens claimed that women, for the most part, aren’t funny. He argued that men need to make women laugh in order to impress them and women, being inherently attractive to men, don’t have the same impulse. Accordingly, he wrote, they haven’t developed their comedy skills to the same extent, with the exception of women he deemed to be less attractive than the unfunny ones. As evidence of his point, he cited the heavily male-skewed comedy world: there are more male comics, he said, so clearly men are the funnier gender.
While there are many flaws with his argument, his evidence very well may be the biggest one. Aside from the barriers preventing women from achieving in show business which have nothing to do with their abilities, the preponderance of men in comedy has led to many male comic tropes becoming passé. Want to riff on alcoholic men? Barney from The Simpsons is already way ahead of you. Looking to mock male boorishness? Louis CK has it on lockdown. Hoping to make fun of nerdy man-children? Rick Moranis’ character in Ghostbusters perfected the archetype long ago.
However there’s an easy way to breathe new life into these well-worn clichés: reverse the gender of the characters who embody them. The tiredness of yet another loutish dude feels refreshing when he is replaced by a she. In some ways, the joke becomes funnier, because women aren’t expected to behave like their male counterparts. You’ve heard the male version of Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick many times (from him and others), but hearing his self-deprecation come from a female voice makes it sound new and surprising. Many funny women (Kristen Wiig comes most readily to mind) have been exploiting this contrast in gender expectations for years, but recently, one show has been doing it particularly well: The Katering Show.
The series, whose six episode first season launched on YouTube in the second week of February, stars two female Australian comedians, Kate McClennan and Kate McCartney (hence the name of the show). It’s a faux cooking show in which, naturally, the personalities of the two characters take precedence over the food. McCartney is diagnosed with “food intolerance” at the beginning of the show, forcing the two friends to scramble to come up with recipes she can eat.
Their solutions range from a kangaroo ragu (dubbed a “roogu”) to a quesadilla with all of its principal ingredients swapped for wholly unrelated substitutes. As they work through the various recipes, they’re unafraid to be as vulgar and corporeal in their dialogue as they please. (One of the first jokes in the premiere concerns McCartney shitting her pants, and it only gets worse from there.) The show’s only recurring segment, dubbed “The Booze Revooze,” mostly consists of the two women drinking on camera and offering sarcastic commentary on the alcohol. (“This tastes like balls,” says McCartney after drinking from a cheap bottle of wine.)
As funny as the jokes with the food are, it’s the interactions between the two women that makes the show what it is. McClennan’s too-bubbly-to-be-true persona comically clashes with McCartney’s stone-cold, discomforting stare. It’s the sort of thing which might not sound remotely fresh if you’ve ever seen a buddy cop or Abbot and Costello movie, but McClennan and McCartney make it work, in part because of their gender. Jokes about men doing tons of cocaine feel irrelevant in a post-Wolf of Wall Street world, but the idea of two young women combating a sugar crash with the drug still has bite. Similarly, mocking the ignorance of young male racists is the sort of thing that would have seemed to be perfected by Dave Chappelle and Sasha Baron Cohen, but seeing McCartney comment on the Mexican “siesta” followed by a line of dialogue made inaudible by a blender and the word “lazy” has an undeniable shock value.
As funny as the re-appropriated male gags are, the women also aren’t afraid to joke about specifically female topics, which gives the humor an added dimension and makes the show even funnier. In the episode on ethical eating (which leads to them making the “roogu”), McCartney asks her co-star if she’s ever killed anything, to which she responds, “No, but I have taken the morning after pill a bunch of times.” The camera hangs on her comically artificial smile after she speaks, emphasizing the falsity of her content and invoking the veneer of serenity women are often pressured to put on regarding birth control. In discussing her adolescence towards the end of an episode, McCartney says, “The girls in my school were nice, we just gave each other eating disorders.” Such issues are hardly limited to women, but the combination of media and societal pressure contribute to far more young women being diagnosed with them. McClennan and McCartney self-consciously acknowledge themselves being defined by their gender when they begin an episode by introducing themselves and saying, “We’re women!” It’s a line which simultaneously recognizes viewers’ tendency to classify female performers by their femininity without denying the advantages such a classification allows.
It’s the performers’ ability to emphasize both of these angles in their comedy which makes The Katering Show as funny as it is. The series demonstrates how Hitchens, rather than bringing to light an uncomfortable but undeniable truth, actually had things backwards: thanks to the expectations imposed on women by gender norms, female comedians have more opportunities for humor than male performers. Performers such as the women of The Katering Show recognize this and, as a result, their work provides some of the funniest jokes contemporary comedy has to offer.