Back in 2007, the late writer and thinker Christopher Hitchens caught a forklift load of flak for writing a story in Vanity Fair titled simply "Why Women Aren't Funny." He reasoned that men were funnier and more clever in comedy than women thanks to a trait guys picked up in the evolutionary timeline from their unconscious requirement to impress the opposite sex in order to propagate the species. It offered an interesting albeit misguided read and not just because Hitchens' jokes proved he "wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce Bearnaise."
That's his joke, not mine.
The real problem with Hitchens' piece is that he tries to dig so hard to prove his argument with scientific studies and sociological arguments that he negates any chance he has to give women's comedy a fighting chance. Deconstructing humor is a pointless endeavor. Sure it can be criticized, but if you're taking apart the reasons why a joke is funny or why certain people have a knack to make people laugh, you aren't just dissecting a dead frog. You're smashing it with a Gallagher sized mallet. He also failed to mention Gallagher probably because it would further damage his argument.
I could just as easily negate his argument today by presenting him with the story of the Four Funny Females, a homegrown troupe of four female comedians consisting of Laura Bartlett, Linda Stogner, Sherry Belle and Jodi Hadsell who are funny enough to have a show that's run consistently for the last nine years in perhaps one of the unfunniest corners of the Metroplex. The group kicks off their ninth season this Saturday at the McKinney Performing Arts Center.
Bartlett created the show in and around McKinney's downtown square before the city turned its historic courthouse into an arts arena for the more northern part of North Texas. She started little shows in nearby coffee houses with comedian friends who had to drive into Dallas just to get stage time before pitching a four-act comedy showcase at MPAC shortly after its official christening.
The goal wasn't just to get a comedy show in Collin County, Bartlett said.
"We created a grassroots movement to get women laughing again," Bartlett said, "women who wouldn't ordinarily go to comedy clubs love us."
The four comedians' humor, however, is very accessible to men and women as each plays a different role in the troupe. Bartlett sees herself as the "big sister" of the group, or executive producer if you want to get technical. She weaves stories about her personal life into her comedy about her single motherhood or her bout with tongue cancer, and she's always adding material to the mix thanks to her teenage son who also become a minor celebrity for creating the Wine Condom.
Stogner, this year's Funniest Comic in Texas winner, calls herself the "oddball" where "my world is definitely unique to the other girls and to most people, actually."
Belle, a Louisiana native, describes herself as the "sassy, Southern mom" who's also not afraid to engage more with the crowd and turn the front row into her own little shooting gallery.
"I'm the 'you never know what she's going to say' Southern momma and I like it that way," Belle said.
Hadsell is the Kate Jackson of the group, a tech-head who's adept at geek jokes and isn't afraid to push the buttons of the audience's conservative sensibilities.
"I tried to make fun of Glenn Beck once and it did not go over well," Hadsell said.
Their styles and humor may be different but they agree on one thing: the reason for their show's successful longevity.
"I think it is because we all like and respect each other as comics and as people," Stogner said. "We are friends in our regular lives, and we love Four Funny Females and what it has become, and want the best for each other and [the show]."
Hadsell said the small but thriving comedy empire they've put together for themselves works because they know how to work with each other instead of trying to stack themselves on top of each other with each show.
"I think we all really like each other, we're personal friends and we're all really good people," she said. "As you know, the comedy scene can be kind of cutthroat and brutal and we're all four really nice people. We all want to help and support each other. There's not anything wouldn't do to support each other."
Stogner said that unlike the case with other shows, the glue that keeps them together also makes their shows better, since the audience isn't just watching a stream of comics try to pick each other off like snipers on opposing roofs.
"We offer something different that you don't see in Dallas, and the crowds appreciate what we do. There is definitely a special bond," she said. "And they keep coming. It's been sold out for the last few years now."
McKinney also might not sound like a destination for a night of comedy but the audience they've built comes from all over the Metroplex, Belle said.
"Comedy crowds will travel," she said. "I love talking to folks after the show because you find they come from everywhere Plano, Sherman, you name it. Going to McKinney offers something different. We also hear a lot of 'date nights.' Couples can enjoy dinner, a show and then after drinks all in the awesome McKinney historic square."
Hadsell said it also gives her a unique challenge that strengthens her material and her resolve. All four write all new material for each new show and season.
"The theater is amazing," she said. "It's a very perceptional venue and I have the most challenging role for sure because I always open. It's sort of a double challenge for me because I open to a cold crowd and I'm the most edgy comic of the night and they get that person first. So it's exciting for me. It gets blood boiling because there's always the challenge that if I can kill in McKinney, I can always kill in Dallas."
Bartlett also said she feels her foursome works in McKinney better than it would in a Deep Ellum coffeehouse or a smoke-filled bar. The downtown vibe actually shapes the show.
"Here's the deal: If Dallas could duplicate the same venue and surroundings, I'd go to Dallas," she said. "Heck, I'd go to Des Moines, but this is where it's working. Part of our magic is the venue and the warmth of Historic Downtown McKinney."