This is an Atlantic piece from 2012, which, as you might know, was about four years ago. It’s interesting to see how this piece has a lot of relevance today and might have even garnered more attention today. In fact, it reminds me of another very similar Atlantic piece, Plight of the Funny Female, which came out this fall and I think even comments on some of the same research. I wrote an article about that one, which you can find here.
I think this one is subtly different, but it’s equally as interesting. Throughout the history of comedy, women have been putting themselves down in various ways. Physically making themselves appear less pretty is just one of them. One thing I will point out, that I don’t think the article addressed is that, pretty obviously, men comics put themselves down too. So many times I’ve heard a female comic get up on stage and say, “Wow there are a lot of good-looking guys here!” (referring to other comics) and then a guy will get up and say something like, “I look like a rapist! Haaaa! I’m gross!”
My point isn’t to de-emphasize how women comics have unfortunately had to put themselves down over the years in an attempt to seem funnier. It’s just to show that self-deprecation is a common tool in comedy that women have used to break their way into a formerly male-dominated profession. If people don’t identify with you, you can always make fun of yourself. It’s fascinating how easily people will get on board when you’re pointing your finger at yourself and going, “Look at me, I’m an idiot!” Sometimes it’s even a little unnerving.