Laughter is the Best Medicine

Women in comedy: Regina Barreca at TEDxUConn 2013

Translator: Maria Huiza
Reviewer: Dewi Barnas Thank you so much
for having me here today. I’m absolutely delighted
to have such a fabulous audience, and to be able to talk
about women’s humor, and the future of women’s humor. I’m going to tell you a couple things
about the future of women’s humor. The future of women’s humor is going
to be longer than 140 characters. That’s the first thing
that I’m going to tell you. Because it was not a woman
who came up with the line “keep it short and sweet,” okay? That was not a lady, that was not a broad. Women do not do “short and sweet.” We do long, and layered, and complex,
and, you know, multidimensional. When a woman comes up to you and says,
“I’ve got something funny to tell you,” if you’re smart, you’ll sit down. (Laughter) You’re going to be there a long,
long time, right? A guy comes up to you and says,
“I’ve got something funny to tell you.” You can go, “Go!”. (Laughter) Because he is going to either start with,
“There was a woman from Nantucket…” Or he’s going to say, “Three guys walk
into a bar with a dalmatian…” Okay? When a woman says,
“I’ve got something funny to tell you,” she is going to say,
“I was driving on 84, and I thought, let me get a coffee. You know, I’m trying
to cut down on caffeine, but it’s a little much because,
actually, I’m taking estrogen now, because I just went through menopause. It was sort of a perimenopause, but I’ve got a patch on my ass
and a song in my heart, so it’s fine.” (Laughter) And other women are coming over, going, “Really? You take estrogen
through a patch? I’m allergic to latex; I can’t do that.” And other women are coming over. “That’s very bad for you,
you shouldn’t do that. You have to detox immediately. You have to have green tea,
only have green tea.” Other women are coming over,
going “Really? Coffee? Coffee is not that bad for you. They decided that it can help you
with your memory.” And men are sitting there, going “You said
there was something funny.” (Laughter) “One of you said
there would be something funny? I’m sorry, I’m not hearing
anything funny.” Because they want something
they can repeat, and women are going, “No, this is funny!” They’re saying, “What’s the funny part?” And we’re going, “We don’t know!” (Laughter) Because it’s ongoing, it’s not a joke. Women do not tell jokes. Women tell stories. Right? Women don’t tell jokes,
women tell stories. That’s why we go on and on about things. I wrote a book with a guy
who won two Pulitzer prizes. He was a writer for the Washington Post,
named Gene Weingarten. We did a book called,
“I’m with Stupid: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding
Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up.” And Weingarten won two Pulitzer prizes. I didn’t. (Laughter) The next book that I wrote was called, “It’s Not that I’m Bitter.” (Laughter) You can understand why. And one of the things we talked about were differences between
men’s and women’s humor and I can’t imagine that that’s going
to become anything that’s not going to be
exaggerated in the future. Right? I have the luck of lecturing to a lot of colleges and universities,
actually, around the world. And the women that I see coming up, and the young men that I see coming up, are very different from how I grew up. I’m 56. And I weight 151 pounds. For the women in the audience,
that’s important. (Laughter) To know the 56 and 151. And actually, because women
will come up to me, especially if they heard me talk
a couple of times, women around my age, which is now too old for work, study, and too young for cremation. (Laughter) They’ll come up to me and say,
“Dr. Barreca, what size are you? You look like you were a different size
from the last time I saw you you were wearing a moo-moo.
Have you lost weight?” And I say, “This has been
the same size since 1973. You know, it moves glacial-like,
from one end to the other. (Laughter) But it’s all the same.” But they want to know the size, and I answer honestly, and I say,
“In an Armani, I’m a 12, at Dutch Dress Barn, I’m a 22W.” And men don’t even know what that means. Because men don’t try
to fit into clothing. Men buy clothes that fit them. Right? Women try to fit our bodies into outfits, even my beautiful young students
will try to say, “I’m dieting down to a 6, I’m going to be
a 4 by my best friend’s wedding, I’m going to be a sub-zero
by my wedding day…” Subzero is a refrigerator,
it’s not a size. (Laughter) But they’re really doing this. No guy has ever said, “I’m going to be a 42 short
by the holidays.” (Laughter) Men are so confident
about their ownership of the world, they wear their jeans’ size
on their behind. (Laughter) Women would not do this, right? So we have differences, but you know what? Women need to start changing that world. We need to make sure
that we are not changing our bodies, and ourselves,
to fit what’s out there on the rack. Life, anymore than outfits,
does not come pre-sized and organized so that you have to fit yourself into it. You make sure that that stuff fits you. The same thing works for comedy. What I’m hoping for the future of comedy, for women’s comedy, is that we are
no longer imitating men. Right? Women are still imitating men. I’m sure that somewhere
out there on YouTube, is like “exploding
kitty-litter” guy, right? That there’s some guy, I have no idea if this is true,
I hope not, but that there’s some guy
who eats kitty litter and baking soda, and drinks ginger ale, and explodes. Right? And I’m sure that, some girl
saw that this got 2 million hits, and is going, “I could be
‘exploding-kitty-litter’ girl!” And, she thinks this
will get her a show like “30 Rock.” It doesn’t work that way. Women have to find our own humor. Our humor is different. Women still laugh in a way that’s different from how we laugh
when we’re together than when we laugh around men. The men in the audience get continuing
education credit points for this. Because when we’re around guys, we go… (Fake laugh) (Laughter) (Fake laugh) We do the silver-belt tinkling laughter, “Oh, that’s so funny!” (Laughter) And we’re thinking, “I have three books to read
before I go home. (Laughter) “I shouldn’t have had those pretzels,
I just shouldn’t.” (Fake laugh) When women go (Fake laugh), she is not having a good time. When women are really laughing,
you know this is true, we’re not going (Fake laugh), we’re going, (Loud laughter). (Screeching) “Oh, my god!” After a certain age, we’re going, (Uncontrolled laughter) Because we’re looking
for that extra support. (Laughter) How do you know
when women are really laughing? We’re going,
“Don’t make me pee in my pants!” (Laughter) And that’s why men are threatened
by women’s humor. They think we leak. (Laughter) Women’s humor
is all about breaking boundaries. It’s about not being contained, that’s why the word hysterical is used. Right? Women are hysterical. We’re always in danger
of becoming hysterical. If we’re too sad, we’re hysterical.
If we’re too happy, we’re hysterical. If we’re too heavy, we’re hysterical. If we’re too skinny, we’re hysterical. If we’re doing anything
except making a “coochie-goochie” noise, we’re hysterical. Right? Women’s comedy in the future
is going to make trouble. It’s going to make even more trouble
than it’s making now, and it’s already making trouble. Right? No woman can be passive and hold the mic. Women’s humor is about taking control. Women’s humor is about people
who are not afraid to be up in front of the room,
not only in control of themselves, which is already something
that women are not taught to be. (Valleyspeak intonation)
That’s why my students, when they first come into class, the girls, they still talk
like they don’t know, anything, (Laughter) Including the ones who are going to be
on the Supreme Court. (Normal voice) So they come in and go, (Valleyspeak intonation) “Dr. Barreca,
you don’t look like a feminist.” And I say, “Honey, this is what
a feminist looks like. Tell me your name.” And they go, “Suzie Smith?” And I go, “I don’t know, you tell me.” (Laughter) I mean, have authority,
at least over your name. Unless is an identity theft thing, Would you just speak
in a sentence, you know? And they come in,
after a couple months, and go, “We understand that there’s a lot
of reasons that women, historically, have pushed the margins, and not only women,
because there is sex and gender, two different things,
but that’s a separate lecture. Gender is performative,
sex is biologically given, but it’s not only
because of sex and gender but race, religion,
and any kind of otherness and we understand that to make
structured changes in our culture, we need to make them
not only for ourselves but for the young men, because the straightjacket of masculinity
is as confining as the one of femininity, and we know that the boys
have to fight their own battles but if we go out there
and fight the battles for our daughters and granddaughters,
and sons and grandsons, we want to know one thing. Will we ever date?” (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you! I think it’s an excellent question. I always tell them, “Honey, you”ll just skip
that bad first marriage.” (Laughter) “You’ll skip those evenings
where somebody takes you to an all-night
‘Three Stooges’ film festival.” Because we don’t do the Three Stooges. We understand that there are differences, is not that those differences
should be erased, but they need to be understood. The next generation who’s going to go
out there and make women’s humor, right? They will go out there
and make any kind of humor. It’s going to be even more insurgent,
even more creative, even more intelligent,
even more trouble-making. And I’m going to sit in the front row,
and I’m going to laugh. Thank you. (Applause)

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