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By       Message Roberta Hart     Permalink
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On occasion, I have a mellow moment. Ironically enough, the most recent one came while watching Wanda Sykes new stand-up act, "Ima Be Me". Wanda has always caught my attention as an incredibly talented female comedienne. I was listening to her performance, and then I became very aware of what I was witnessing. I was sitting in my middle-class, suburban home watching an African American lesbian perform to a sold out crowd. Her material consisted of her personal life, relationships, politics and aging. She was brilliant.

Her performance prompted me to stop, and think about female comediennes throughout history. I remembered watching The Carol Burnett show, as a kid. I loved her TV spin off, "Mama's Family". Carol Burnett mastered the art of "intelligent slapstick comedy". Joan Rivers shocked the world with her crass and "in your face" style of comedy. People love to hate Joan, and THAT is what has rocketed her to being one of the most reconizable female comediennes of all time. Gilda Radner, and her character "Rosanne Rosanne a dana" sticks in my mind as one of the first memorable performances on Saturday Night Live. Ethyl Merman's performance in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" launched some of my favorite "one liners". She was not known for being a comedic performer, but her natural timing was undeniable. Lily Tomlin graced our screens with timeless comedy performances like "Nine to Five", and "All of Me". Rosanne Barr was the trailer park queen of the 1990s. Her ability to mock herself and "tell it how it is", made her one of the most loved and hated women to ever step foot in the comedy arena.

There has been a transition for women comediennes throughout time. Women were typically "just not funny". I find that still, to be quite true, in many cases. The female performers of the past have been forced to stay within certain confines of what was, and was not acceptable for a woman to say. We were allowed to make jokes about marriage, children and female reproductive issues. That was about it. How many different ways can you make a joke about a tampon, not wanting to have sex, and the perils of motherhood, before it just ceases to be funny? I can tell you that it wore pretty thin in the 1980s. This was the decade when women tried to "come out of their shell" a little bit at a time. We began using harsh profanity and shocking speech to get a laugh. The idea that a woman can tell someone to "go f*ck themselves" on stage was a foreign concept to many. Comedians like Eddie Murphy, Richard Prior, Sam Kinison and Dennis Leary had a lock on that market. I think back on the comedy of Lucille Ball, and I have to tell you, I don not find her one bit funny or entertaining. I find her style of comedy to be very dated to the time, and an incredibly poor portrayal of the American woman. Her character was based on the expected and stupid antics of a housewife, and based on the perception of what men wanted women to be, and how we were perceived as just stupid, babbling, air-headed women.

So here we are, Wanda Sykes and Lucille Ball. Wow, what a stark contrast in style. Thanks to comediennes like Joan Rivers, Rosanne Barr, Mo Nique, and Ellen Degeneres, here comes the REAL American woman. Wanda is, both as a comedienne and a person, what the embodies the true American woman. She stands in the face of racial and sexual orientation hatred, and says "f*ck YOU, I am going to be me!" These women are CRUSHING the barriers that have been in place for decades. Women aren't just "the silly, stupid" wives of the past. We are forces to be reckoned with. We are smart, witty, quick on our feet, and will show men that we can pack a sold out show by saying the very things that scare the hell out of them. Nice job ladies. Like them or hate them, either way, you will tune in either to laugh or shake your head in disgust. No matter what, you will tune in, and that's where those walls come tumbling down.

This is an incredible time that we are lucky enough to be a part of. There will always be barriers to be torn down in our society. As long as people rule the world, it will be riddled with hate, intolerance, and predjudice. However, in my short thirty five years of life, I have seen walls come down at a rate that, from what I can see, is unprecedented. Wanda Sykes symbolizes the rise of racial minorities, women, and homosexuals. Her success is ALL of our success. Attitudes are changing, and people are tired of hearing "it is ok for you to be whatever, as long as i don't have to see it." Well, folks, not only are you seeing it, but you are paying your hard earned money to see it. Now, THAT is change, real change.


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Roberta is the mother of three young sons rapidly approaching adolescence. She is a 35 year old small business owner and Freelance Writer residing in Western PA. Roberta's most recent articles and essays have been published in Lilipoh Magazine, (more...)

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