Female comedians have been given more opportunities in the modern age in which the media is becoming more inclusive and society is being more open-minded. Finally, people have realized that women can be just as funny as men, and so women are being hired to host late night shows and given their own specials on Netflix and cast in starring roles in comedy movies and TV shows, which is all well and good. But some of them have gone too far. Calling the President’s daughter the C-word or calling a black person an ape will still get you into a lot of trouble. Here are 10 female comics who crossed the line.
10. Lena Dunham’s hipster racism
Girls star and creator Lena Dunham was met with controversy when one of the writers from her show, Murray Miller, was accused by actress Aurora Perrineau of sexually assaulting her when she was seventeen years old. Dunham said at the time, “While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year.” Of course, she was met with instant criticism for these comments, and of course, she instantly apologized for them – but that only made things worse. In her apology, Dunham admitted that it had been “absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement” when she did, and acknowledged that “every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard, fully and completely, and our relationship to the accused should not be part of the calculation anyone makes when examining her case.” Nice save, right? Well, no. A lot of people didn’t take her apology seriously. Plus, for defending Miller in the face of allegations made by Perrineau, a woman of mixed race, Dunham was criticized for being a “hipster racist.” This is a generally liberal minded person who says something racist and then plays it off as irony.
9. Janeane Garofalo and Saddam Hussein
Janeane Garofalo has always been outspoken about her political views and it may have been what’s kept her from mainstream success this whole time. But she always speaks the truth and she always uses facts to back up her comments, which is certainly admirable. When Saddam Hussein was still alive and all of America was worried about the potential threat that he posed – did he have weapons of mass destruction and was he going to use them to destroy the United States? – Garofalo went on Fox News to give an interview and ended up making some very risqué and controversial comments about Hussein. It was controversial, but at the end of the day, she was just going off the facts and not the fear and the paranoia that the U.S. government was peddling – and it wasn’t necessarily pro-Hussein. She said, “Yes, I think lots of people are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. But there’s no evidence that he [Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction. There’s been no evidence of him testing nuclear weapons. We have people that are in our face with nuclear weapons. We’ve got Iran and North Korea. We’ve got a problem with Pakistan. You know, I don’t know what to say about that. There’s a whole lot of people that are going nuclear. And I think that Saddam Hussein is actually, with the evidence, the least able to use nuclear weapons and the least obvious offender in that area at this moment.”
8. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s “Meet Your Second Wife” sketch
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler still stand as two of the greatest cast members in the history of Saturday Night Live. They have since each gone on to star in their own sitcoms – 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, respectively – and enjoy lucrative movie careers. Whenever they’re promoting one of those movies, Lorne Michaels is always happy for them to drop by and host an episode of SNL. So, when they were promoting the movie Sisters that they both starred in together and they were going up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they both dropped in one Saturday night to host. And one of the sketches that they did, in which they host a fake game show called “Meet Your Second Wife,” was the subject of a Huffington Post think piece that said they had gone “too far” with it. Basically, in the sketch, the idea is that married men come onto a game show and meet the woman they will marry next. It’s a riff on the idea that men keep marrying younger and younger women, but it does get a little disturbing. One guy meets the woman who will eventually be his second wife and she is twelve years old. Another guy meets the woman who will eventually be his second wife and she’s five years old. And then the kicker is the third guy. A twentysomething woman comes on the show and he thinks it’s her – but it’s actually the unborn fetus inside her. It’s a hilarious sketch, but the Huffington Post said that it was “creepy” and “pushed the envelope too far.”
7. Amy Schumer’s “shockingly large blind spot around race”
One of the main controversies surrounding Amy Schumer’s standup career has been the allegations that she has stolen jokes from other comedians, including Tammy Pescatelli, Kathleen Madigan, Wendy Liebman, and Patrice O’Neal, and performed them in her act, passing them off as her own. Marc Maron and Dave Rubin have defended Schumer in these allegations and it has been excused as “parallel thinking” in some cases. So, that one is neither here nor there. But one controversy that has stuck is the accusation that, despite how well she handles other social issues in her comedy, some of her jokes are racist. The prestigious British newspaper The Guardian accused the comedian of showing “a shockingly large blind spot around race” in her standup material. However, Schumer herself has noted the difference between sincerely believing something and making a joke about it. She said, “I go in and out of playing an irreverent idiot. That includes making dumb jokes involving race…You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy,’ but you are wrong. It is a joke…I am not racist.” Still, as far as the media is concerned, it is a point of controversy and something to be wary of.
6. Joan Rivers and almost every joke she ever told
Joan Rivers is one of the most legendary comedians of all time. In the ‘60s, the New York Times called her “quite possibly the most intuitively funny woman alive.” Rolling Stone magazine named her the sixth greatest standup comic of all time. After she died, Jon Stewart said, “There are very few people in my business that you can say are, or were, actually groundbreaking talents. Joan Rivers was one of them.” However, thanks to her acerbic wit, she was not without a few controversies throughout her decades long career. She didn’t have just one. A lot of her jokes were met with controversy. When she talked about what it was like to live with her daughter, she said, “Those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space.” Rivers’ way of describing Heidi Klum’s dress at the Oscars was: “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” Responding to Jennifer Lawrence’s comments about body image, Rivers said, “I love that she’s telling everyone how wrong it is to worry about retouching and body image, and meanwhile, she has been touched up more than a choir boy at the Vatican.” She was always a controversial comic – but she was a brilliant one.
5. Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
The fame of Michelle Wolf has really exploded in the past twelve months. She had her first special on HBO last December and she’s just premiered her own talk show on Netflix and she also hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year. Donald Trump did not attend the event for the second year in a row. Her monologue from the dinner has been referred to as “the most consequential monologue so far of the Donald Trump era,” and what were seen as “harsh and stinging” jokes were met with both praise and criticism. However, one very controversial line came when she referred to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance. Sanders had been sent to take Trump’s place at the event and Wolf made her the target of a lot of her jokes, including this divisive one: “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer called it “a disgrace,” while Trump said that Wolf “totally bombed,” which isn’t entirely true – liberals like her critical jokes. Some people don’t like hearing the truth. Apparently, you can’t joke about anyone’s appearance, even when it’s just their use of makeup. And it’s complimentary. And it’s being used as part of a metaphor about a wider critique of their deceitful ways.
4. Sarah Silverman using the word “chink” on Conan
Sarah Silverman is one of the darkest and most shocking comics out there. She never shies away from risqué topics like the Holocaust or rape or 9/11. So, she’s never too far away from a controversy or two. But one of the most significant of such controversies came when a watchdog group called the Media Action Network for Asian Americans reacted to her appearance on Conan O’Brien’s talk show and condemned her use of the racial slur “chink.” A statement by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans called the joke “offensive” and “inappropriate.” The organization’s president, Guy Aoki, said at the time, “I’m a fan of Conan’s and Sarah Silverman’s, but I was disappointed when she started using that word. They don’t have to use slurs like that. They’re distancing themselves from fans.” However, the organization’s main criticism was at the network, who allowed the slur to air, reasoning that they wouldn’t do that with the N-word. If you’re familiar with Sarah Silverman’s joke style, then surely you take anything she says with a grain of salt. That joke is no more offensive than half of the other stuff she’s said – but a broadcast network allowed the slur “chink” to air with no issue, and that’s the main problem here.
3. Kathy Griffin and the decapitated Trump head
In her standup, Kathy Griffin isn’t really a political comedian. But she has always been very outspoken about her political views. She supported the legalization of same sex marriage and the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She has performed at USO shows. She has also told a lot of controversial jokes that have impacted her career. A joke about an eleven-year-old Dakota Fanning entering drug rehabilitation got her fired from E!, a joke about Octomom got her banned from the Apollo Theater, a joke about Christianity got her fired from Hannah Montana – the list is endless! But perhaps her most controversial move has been a video she posted online in which she holds up what looks like the severed, bloody head of President Donald Trump. Trump supporters were furious, sending death threats to Griffin. First Lady Melania said, “As a mother, a wife, and a human being, that photo is very disturbing. When you consider some of the atrocities happening in the world today, a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it.” But it seems that she has taken the controversy in her stride, however, since she has named her latest world tour the “Laugh Your Head Off World Tour.”
2. Samantha Bee calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c*nt”
Ever since her days as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Samantha Bee has always been a very racy comic with very defined political views. And ever since branching off to host her own show, her fame has exploded. She’s become a lot more recognized and acclaimed and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. But there is a limit. She recently called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c*nt” on her show and it provoked quite the outrage. The full quote is this: “You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless c*nt! He listens to you! Put on something tight and low-cut and tell your father to f*ckin’ stop it.” She was defended by fellow comics Kathy Griffin and Michelle Wolf and Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewart, but condemned by President Trump himself, who tweeted, “Why aren’t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard,” because conservative Roseanne Barr was fired for making an offensive joke about a liberal. Out of context, it sounds like she went too far, but really, Bee was just criticizing Ivanka for turning a blind eye to her dad’s policy of detaining migrant children. And a lot of her detractors ignored the policy and focused on one word. It just goes to show, there’s still one word you can’t say in America.
1. Roseanne Barr calling a black person an ape
Roseanne Barr has never not been a controversial comic. She never holds back when sharing her political views and she has a conservative standpoint. Most recently, this controversy came from her support of Donald Trump. But that was all fine. People are entitled to their opinions and they’re entitled to free speech and, since America is a democracy, they’re free to vote for whoever they want and support whichever candidates they believe are the best. If Roseanne Barr was merely a Trump supporter, then she’d still have a show. But a couple of weeks ago, while the revival season of her namesake sitcom was drawing in millions of viewers and a ton of critical praise, she posted a tweet in which she likened former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett to a character from Planet of the Apes. You can make jokes about race, but it’s all about how you word it and what your viewpoint is and who the target is. Calling a black person an ape is not the right way to do it, to say the least. The president of ABC described Barr’s tweet as “abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values,” and decided to cancel the highly rated show and cut ties with the comedienne.