Why Do So Many Men Imitate Women For Comedy But Not The Other Way Around?
As I scrolled through the latest 6-second Vine videos uploaded by amateur comedians on the cell phone app, a strange thought occurred to me. There are a lot of men out there who pretend to be women for the sake of comedy…but women don’t do the same in reverse.
Whether straight or gay, men of all ages, sizes and ethnicities are quick to put a towel, plastic bag or full-on wig atop their heads and do a hammy rendition of a mother, girlfriend, ratchet sister, teacher or suburban white teenager.
However, I rarely see women (or young girls) doing the same thing for their male counterparts.
Before the feminists out there get pull out their ridiculous 6-syllable words like “hetero-normative” to attack me for attacking gender identity or transgendered individuals, that is not what I’m referring to here.
I’m specifically talking about the world of comedy. For centuries (maybe even longer) men have dressed in drag for comedy. Admittedly, it can be very funny at times.
Recently, I posted a critique of the YouTube celebrity Tre Melvin’s New Years Eve coming out video. For those that don’t know, Tre Melvin is a comedian that routinely dresses up in Drag for the sake of comedy or performance.
This is what is colloquially known as a Drag Queen.
As the Oxford Dictionary defines it, a Drag Queen is: A man who dresses up in women’s clothes, typically for the purposes of entertainment.
Why some people thought this was an insult of Tre Melvin, I really don’t know. I was stating a fact.
He’s a Drag Queen.
But many of my favorite popular comedians like Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart and Martin Lawrence are current or former Drag Queens.
Take my current favorite sketch comedy show, Key and Peele for instance. Both Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele routinely dress up as women and give hilarious performances.
Need I even mention Tyler Perry? Let’s not then.
Don’t forget that Jamie Foxx got his start dressing up in Drag to play facially-challenged Wanda on In Living Color. This was a classic character, right up there with Jim Carrey’s muscular pig-tailed Vera Di Milo.
While we’re on the subject of In Living Color, let’s not forget that the Wayans Brothers went full makeup and drag for the comedy film White Chicks.
There was a recent dust-up at Saturday Night Live when Kenan Thompson made a statement about the lack of black women on the sketch comedy show. People stated that this was the only reason Thompson played so many female characters in sketches (they’ve since rectified the problem).
But to be honest, I actually liked him dressing up in drag, especially when playing Whoopi Goldberg in their parodies of The View.
Speaking of SNL, it’s not just Black Comedians that put on dresses (contrary to what some black conspiracy theorists say about the media wanting to emasculate the black man). Remember Dana Carvey’s The Church Lady?
Or how about Mike Myers popular Jewish “Coffee Talk” character?
I also love when Dean Pelton (played by Jim Rash) on NBC’s Community dresses up in outlandish female costumes for laughs.
I especially loved his “Lady Gaga” costume in the Halloween episode from a few years back.
And the Canadian comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall made an art form out of wearing women’s clothes and imitating them for laughs.
So that brings me back to my original question: Why do we have so many examples of “Men dressing up as Women for laughs” but very few examples of “Women dressing up as Men for laughs”?
This doesn’t even happen much on YouTube or Vine where females are their own writers, directors, producers and show runners.
After a little thought, I came up with a few possible explanations.
MEN VIEW WOMEN AS A JOKE
Please don’t accuse me of being a pretentious black gay Internet feminist for this one; we already have enough of them out there.
But seriously, this somewhat makes sense. Men have a dominant role in society, as well as entertainment. This translates to a Bully Dynamic.
Think about it, remember the bully in primary school that teased and pretended to be a perceived “lesser-than” in school for laughs amongst his peers? Do you ever remember that happening in reverse?
Typically when men dress in drag to play for laughs, they portray what they seem to view as the easy target characteristics of women and femininity.
“Hey watch this bros, I’m pretending to be that dumb blonde white girl who loves Starbucks and Shopping.”
“Like, Ohhhh my god!” *Flips Hair*
Insert Laughs here.
One would argue that this is the point of comedy, to highlight absurdities…but why don’t we see women doing the same? Are men not easy targets as well? You mean to tell me that men don’t have over the top qualities that can be exploited by female comedians?
WOMEN ARE NOT TALENTED ENOUGH TO PULL IT OFF
This one, even I don’t believe. But it’s a possible explanation.
The reason I think this is false is because we do have a couple examples of women dressing up in male drag with hilarious results.
Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon is VERY funny when she impersonates Justin Bieber. It’s a spot on performance that has made her a standout performer on the show.
I’m trying to think of other examples but I’m hard pressed. Even if there are a few that readers could mention in the comments section here, the fact that we have to strain to think of a few says a lot.
With so many professional and amateur female comedians in the world, are they really not talented enough to be men and get a laugh?
FEMININITY IS FUNNY, MASCULINITY ISN’T
Admittedly, when I see some flamboyant gay men in television and film, even I chuckle from time to time. There are certain over the top feminine traits that are just plain funny.
Exaggerated male traits on the other hand…while they may be clever observations, I’m not sure they are quite as laugh inducing.
As readers on this website and other have mentioned, “Masculinity is Boring.”
To be honest, what would even be considered a funny hyper-masculine characteristic? I hate to say it, but maybe manhood and masculinity in itself is not fertile ground for comedy.
Think about it like this: Imagine that we’re in a room and comedy is represented as a wall in that room. We need to paint that wall with entertainment. Masculinity would be the color black, it just sits there and you can’t really add too much flourish to it. Femininity, on the other hand, would not even be a color at all. It would be a primer, a base layer for which you can add any number of colors on top for variety.
For those who say this analogy doesn’t hold up, scroll back up to the handful of examples mentioned above. Not all are alike and not all of the men played over-the-top flamboyancy and hyper-femininity.
There are many men, like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, who played pretty much reserved women but still got very big laughs.
IT’S EASIER TO BE FEMININE THAN MASCULINE
Okay, this is probably the most controversial hypothesis out of all of them. However, in the two and a half years that we’ve been discussing the topic of “male masculinity in gay men” on this site, a part of me is starting to believe this.
Its hard being a man…and it may be even harder to understand what being a man really is…especially if you are a female comedian.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Many gay men can probably relate to going out on a first or blind date with another gay man, having a drink or two and watch the “performance” of his “masculinity” slowly drift away with every sip. Then you see the real him.
For some gay men, the only way they can “live in their truth” is after a couple glasses of Vodka and Cranberry.
Why don’t we see this happen in reverse? Have you ever seen an effeminate man become MORE masculine after a few drinks?
Or how about that masculine gay man that joins a group of fem friends and slowly adopts their slang and mannerisms? Have we ever seen the opposite happen?
Bringing it back to performance, it’s said that the Australian accent is one of the hardest to imitate. So in effect, we rarely see American actors playing Australians. At the most, we only see them doing poor parodies of Crocodile Dundee.
This may be a reason why women do not imitate masculinity, it ain’t easy.
Maybe none of these explanations answer the question…or maybe they all do…
The fact remains that women entertainers don’t imitate and ridicule men like we see time-and-time again with male performers. Will it ever change? What are your thoughts?
Let me touch on a few things in this article. 1) In regards women not being able to pull off a masculine character. I think it can be done, hell, I know it can. I see lesbians and tom boys do it all the time. Also when ever my fam is together, my aunts do a mean impersonation of my uncles. 2) As for masculinity being boring, I am on the fence with that. I think that normal masculinity is a bit boring, as far as entertainment goes. I do think that Exaggerated masculinity can be and is funny. Like a wanna be gangster thug, or some red neck hill billy. What’s the male equivalent of a dumb blonde? A dumb jock, which can also be funny. It just depends on how good the acting/writhing is. I know a few people from the islands. I imitate them, they also imitate me as well. They do a horrible job at imitating me though, but you get the point. 3) I have to admit that exaggerated femininity is funny. Let’s be honest, feminine gay men say some really funny shit Lol. A few weeks ago I was at the barber shop, and my barber was talking about how hilarious his wife’s gay friend is. One other barber, who used to work in a salon, said that the gay hairdressers where he used to work were funny to him as well.
The sight of a man in a woman’s clothes is just immediately absurd and funny ,whereas a woman in pants,or even a tie or fake facial hair doesn’t elicit the same response.I do think hyper-masculine behavior can lend itself to parody the same way flamboyant femininity can be caricatured too,the traits themselves are just less over the top ,but still funny.
but i gotta agree all the way with that last one.Either u got it or you dont.Faux masculinity is transparent
Lily Tomlin did a pretty good male character in her one-woman shows a few years ago- played a guy convincingly, yet the routine was the kind where she could bring out and satirize male traits–which was more truthful than hilarious…
Brian–you jogged my memory. I saw Lily Tomlin in Vegas years ago and she did a great “lounge lizard” parody by the name of Tommy Velour. Check him/her out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spR9VVkgjfk
quest for knowledge
Yea this is a good point, I’m on the fence about this. A part of me feels that there isn’t anything particularly funny about masculine traits. Even if you look at the comedy sketches where they are making fun of the hypermasculine thugs or the dumb jocks I don’t feel that they are as funny like the guys in drag who make fun of feminine traits. However, I just finished watching the skit where Kate Mckinnon mocked Justin Beiber and I will admit that it was pretty funny. So maybe there are a lot of female comedians that can pull this off. I was just thinking about Tina Fey. I love her, she is so hilarious! I could see her doing a good male impersonation. But then there are some female comedians who have attempted this and their performance fell flat. In the movie She’s The Man starring Amanda Bynes she was dressed in male drag and I didn’t find it funny one bit. But you could argue that Amanda Bynes isn’t the funniest female comedian.
I would say femininity is funnier and it is more entertaining. If you would replace any of the characters described and replace them with a masculine substitute, they would not be as funny or memorable. Your color analogy was great. Femininity just holds people attention.
I think women can be more intresting and complex. Could it be the more complicated something/one is the more humor can be derived from it?
My one question is why haven’t we seen a black female comic attempt this. If this did happen, when and where?
I think everybody pretty much hit the nail on the head (in some way or another). I don’t think the comedic quality weighs the same with “Female to Male” comedy. Whether we’ve been socially conditioned to find Drag acts funny, I don’t know, but I personally have never found a “Female to Male” comedic act funny. For me just doesn’t “translate” well enough.
Remember when Roseanne did redneck drag in one of halloween episodes? THAT was funny! http://youtu.be/uUlkVaX7Vg0
I do think more men dress as females because that was how it was back even going back to the times of Julius Caesar. When plays were done for the royal people, women were not allowed to be in them. Men have always played female roles. For example, whenever a feminine character (i.e. female) part was needed in a play, they either got a young boy who’s voice had not developed yet or they got a grown man that could play feminine very well by how he could manipulate his voice and his appearance in female garments.
Interesting how T you are that exception to the rule you get more masculine when your either drunk or in the clouds
Would you be asking the same question and denigrating blacks with snark as you do feminists (“Before the feminists out there get pull out their ridiculous 6-syllable words…”), if we were talking about black face? Would you defend black face? Would you poop on black folks who were legitimately opposing with, even with 6-syllable words?
Why is it racism is a legitimate complaint, but destroying women through misogyny is not?
I mean seriously, your woman-hate is embarrassing.
Would you be asking the same question and denigrating blacks with snark as you do feminists (“Before the feminists out there get pull out their ridiculous 6-syllable words…”), if we were talking about black face? Would you defend black face? Would you poop on black folks who were legitimately opposing it, even with 6-syllable words?
Why is it racism is a legitimate complaint, but destroying women through misogyny is not?
I mean seriously, your woman-hate is embarrassing.
Just commenting here for anybody that stumbles onto this years later like I have. A Black Lady Sketch Show and particularly Robin Thede does have some male characters they pull off. In addition, I feel like Whoopi used to do at least one or two male characters in her stand up and SNL continues their tradition with some fine female to male drag performance.
I should check that out…honestly, I don’t think female comedians feel the need to dress in drag as men because they aren’t as fascinated and obsessed about getting into their skin and per say, the way men are about women, whether gay or straight.
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The only other female I could think of is the great Lucille Ball. Lucy Ricardo did the “male drag” thing pretty frequently, as part of her hairbrained schemes.