Sarah Silverman

Vanity Fair offers a (sorta) celebration of women in comedy, including online-only interviews with a dozen funny women, an Annie Leibovitz photo spread, and a feature article that wrestles with the old canards that a) women aren’t funny and b) pretty women aren’t funny. You’d think both of these would have been laid to rest back in the 1930s when screwball goddesses like Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, and Katharine Hepburn ruled movie comedy. Instead, author Alessandra Stanley argues, the old prejudices persist, albeit in twisted form; now, in fact, comedy mavens grumble that funny women have to be reasonably attractive (like Sarah Silverman, pictured, or Tina Fey, or Amy Sedaris) to earn an audience.

Missing from the discussion is the notion that today’s female comedy stars have much more freedom to be raunchy, in ways Mae West never dreamed of when she was writing her own double entendres 70 and 80 years ago. Credit Silverman, Sedaris, or maybe the Sex and the City gals for proving that women can be as hilariously filthy as guys without losing their allure. In any case, I’d argue that today’s audiences have fewer hangups about women in comedy, and they’ll take funny in whatever package — it’s just a matter of mainstream Hollywood recognizing this and catching up to TV and the Web by writing and casting accordingly.