Lately, male mediocrity has been on the brain. The “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.” tagline from one of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie posters struck a nerve in April, with people all over the world laugh-crying about the very real pattern of impressive, accomplished and beautiful women too frequently partnering up with dudes who are duds. Now, a new novel from author Curtis Sittenfeld explores how this phenomenon rules the comedy world with an especially iron fist, as male comedians — regardless of their looks — always seem to be in much higher sexual and romantic demand than their female colleagues.
Romantic Comedy follows Sally, a successful writer at a late-night sketch show called The Night Owls, not-so-loosely based on Saturday Night Live. Sally’s in her late 30s, has been married and divorced for more than a decade and is not, as Sittenfeld describes, very “ambitious” romantically. Sally writes a sketch about how so many of the show’s male members — not-so-loosely based on Pete Davidson — have gone on to date their pick of the gorgeous, statuesque guests, while the other women remain borderline invisible.
Sittenfeld chatted with Independent TV recently about the book, this question of “dating up” and why so many “average-looking” male comedians wind up with the most beautiful women in the world, while so few female comedians — who are just as magnetic and have just as much charisma, average-looking or not — appear to do the same. Throughout the interview, Sittenfeld kept coming back to Pete Davidson, who has famously dated his way through the world’s top 10 (maybe 100?) bachelorettes, all while carrying the air of a syphilitic monster truck enthusiast. Still, Sittenfeld said, she gets it. “If I were a gorgeous, very talented female celebrity, like a musician or an actress or something, why wouldn’t I want to date someone charming and funny [like Pete Davidson]?” What surprises her is that the same desire doesn’t seem to translate when the genders are reversed.
“Hacks” Is About Much More Than “Women in Comedy”The breakout HBO series is a darkly funny look at what it’s like to be a woman in, well, anything
“Why are male celebrities not all clamoring to date female comedians?” she asked the host. Aside from Pete, there are plenty of other homely-to-decent-looking SNL alums who have been linked to smokeshows. There’s Colin Jost, married to Scarlett Johansson; John Mulaney and Olivia Munn; Bill Hader and Rachel Bilson; Dan Akroyd and Carrie Fisher; writer and segment director Dave McCary and Emma Stone. The list goes on.
Of course, this dynamic isn’t always at play. But, as Sittenfeld pointed out, the examples we have of famous, attractive men “dating down” are rarely legitimate. Keanu Reeves is exhibit A. His girlfriend, Alexandra Grant, is an accomplished artist, eight years younger than he is and, though she’s likely not winning any pageants with her pared-down natural look, is still totally attractive, Sittenfeld explained. And yet, “people think it’s heroic” that he dates a woman who doesn’t seem to dye her hair. “This is supposed to be the example of someone dating, like, a ‘normie,’” Sittenfeld laughed.
That funny women are somehow emasculating or intimidating to men is not a new concept. To be funny takes smarts. To be a professional comedian takes confidence, guts and a degree of not giving a shit. None of these are considered traditionally “feminine” traits. And while (almost) everyone, regardless of gender, claims they want a partner with a good sense of humor, psychological analyses have shown sex differences in what respondents actually mean when they say that. As The Atlantic reported in 2015, studies have shown that “women want men who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.”
So yes, maybe the unconscious bias against funny women lives on in the egos of men. Meanwhile, the Kens are still trying to get in on the joke.