National Lampoon's Attack of the 5'2'' Women
If shows like Saturday Night Live had more of a clue about what half the human race finds funny, She TV wouldn’t be promoted as if it’s the freshest thing in female-oriented comedy since the appearance of commercials for yeast infection cures. And if female-oriented TV comedy weren’t treated, at times, as if it were a kind of yeast infection itself, She TV would not be shuffled onto the schedule in August, that Bermuda triangle of a month when any TV exec unfortunate enough to be stuck in the office is probably too cranky to care who’s going to watch a weekly hour of sketches in which an ensemble of unknown actors send up Rush Limbaugh, NYPD Blue, and Barbie dolls in the name of comedic women’s liberation.
Frankly, I can’t understand why any network programmer or producer would want to break out women-oriented sketch comedy as a category separate from sketch comedy, period. I mean, wouldn’t a show that promised ”funny stuff ahead!” draw a larger audience than a show that touted ”funny stuff ahead about the way women think!” — the latter being a promotional hook that runs the risk of turning off viewers who don’t reckon they’d be interested in jokes about PMS? Wouldn’t the cool thing be for a producer to make a really funny show that just so happened to naturally, logically, include material written in a really funny female voice — and let whoever laughs laugh?
Obviously, some Women’s Humor requires a common reference point to fully appreciate the punchline. But often enough, comedy with a female perspective can be easily and effectively shared with a mass audience of male persons who have never experienced the challenge of walking in panty hose that are too < short in the crotch. One powerful example: Roseanne, the most important (and radical) feminist comedy on TV, the humor of which is nevertheless not lost on millions of men. Another, more recent, laugh leader: Grace Under Fire, which, in its first season last year, firmly planted itself in the ratings top 10 even though it speaks in a distinctive, twanging female register.
Roseanne and Grace bring us back to She TV because the three shows share the same production company, Carsey-Werner — not coincidentally one of the rare major TV houses headed by a woman, Marcy Carsey (her partner is Tom Werner). All the more reason why I hope (with partisan good wishes, as a person familiar with panty hose) that Carsey and Werner and their entire She staff can overcome the promotional obstacles they have set up for themselves — and, more important, can rise above the unexceptional SNL-like material I have seen so far of the premier show. Put delicately, a sketch about the conjugal passing of gas, even with the inclusion of guest star George Hamilton as a terribly refined, yet flatulent husband to wife Linda Kash, is not event enough to stake out a genre. Other more promising situations include Chelsea Clinton (Linda Wallem) chatting with a friend on the phone from her White House bedroom, and Jennifer Coolidge and Kash as Beavis’ and Butt-head’s mothers.
The strength of the sketch-comedy format, and the reason it’s particularly well-suited to feminist humor beamed at a general-interest audience, is that you can set up an outrageous premise — even one with a female voice — mine the laughs, and move on before anyone gets restive. Satirist Julie Brown, however, has something else in mind. In National Lampoon’s Attack of the 5’2” Women, the very funny, very brazen star of Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful, the wicked 1991 parody of Madonna’s Truth or Dare parody, sinks her fangs into two notorious women of recent headlines, figure skater Tonya Harding and spouse mutilator Lorena Bobbitt, and doesn’t let go.
As she did in Medusa, Brown (who was also, by the by, an ensemble member of Fox’s more female-friendly 1992 sketch show, The Edge) sticks closely to the original text; in this case, her text is the chronology of Harding’s bumbling plot to sideline her hated rival, Nancy Kerrigan, and Bobbitt’s bumbling plan to sideline her hated husband, John Wayne Bobbitt. As in Medusa, she lampoons effectively by nutty caricature. Her Tonya is demented with ambition; her , Lorena does an operatic mad scene with a kitchen knife. Brown’s appeal has always been her unhinged gleefulness — she’s fearless about looking goofy/ugly/ unfeminine in pursuit of character and that in itself (from a short, busty babe of a performer) gives her work a kind of feminist kick.
That Attack of the 5’2” Women flags is due to its length — 90 minutes is a hell of a long way to go for two jokes — as well as to the datedness of its situations. There are no two recent, overreported media stories richer for comedy by and about women than those of Harding and Bobbitt, and, consequently, we’ve already seen and heard a heap. This quarry is too easy. In the name of comedy sisterhood, Julie Brown should lace up her bustier and work at a tougher assignment — say, whipping sketch comedy into shape. National Lampoon’s Attack of the 5’2” Women: B-