Love and Laughter: What Women In Comedy Can Teach Us About Relationships
By Erin Phelps
Popular culture is a common vehicle for messages about love, sex and dating. We get our ideas about what is “healthy” or “normal” in relationships from television, movies, the internet, and (of course!) books. But one interesting sphere that provides commentary on love and dating norms is the world of comedy. For a long time, the titans of comedy were almost exclusively men. It makes sense, then, that most of our ideas of romance, gender and dating in the comedy world came from a more masculine perspective (“What’s the deal with women reaching for the check?!”).
Now, however, we are lucky to live in an era with an increasing number of compelling and hilarious voices of women in comedy, and they are often more than willing to share their side of the story when it comes to love and marriage. So let’s take a look at a few badass ladies who are transforming comedy and by extension transforming the way we look at—and laugh at—relationship stories.
If you’ve ever watched Netflix’s breakout baking show Nailed It, then you know Nicole Byer! But when she’s not judging and cackling about contestants’ disasterpieces, she works as a standup comedian!
Nicole Byer also hosts a wild, raunchy, and hilarious podcast called Why Won’t You Date Me? The premise of the show started with the idea that Nicole would have guests on each episode who she had once dated, and they would talk about love, relationships, and the enduring question on her mind, “Why won’t you date me?!” She also has friends and guests who she has not dated on to dish about these topics and more!
Listeners should be prepared for some sexually graphic content about Nicole’s dating and sex life, but the podcast provides so much more than just raunchy humor.
Nicole’s podcast and her work help shed a light on what it’s like to be a millennial who is working through dating norms. It’s super common for Nicole to ask her guests to rate her tinder bio and weigh in on the messages the pictures in her profile are sending. For a while, she is also on a serious quest to get on a famous-people-only dating site, which gives those of us who will never have a Netflix show something to think about outside of our own dating experiences.
Maria Bamford is perhaps best known for the way her comedy centers on experiences with mental health. I’ll be honest and say that her perspective and honesty about mental illness has helped get me through some really tough times. But in her latest special for Netflix, titled Old Baby, Bamford also touches on aspects of intimacy and relationships.
Maria Bamford just got married in the last year, and her husband actually shows up as an audience of one during an early part of the special. In addition to the mental health, friendship, and showbiz stories that pepper the hour of comedy, Maria shares stories of dating, learning to commit, and continuing to live with her current husband. At times, she re-visits past relationships that include a man doing a sad crucified clown performance and someone whose dad was in the mafia.
But for me, the top insight into relationships that Maria Bamford brings to the table is the normalization of couples’ therapy for general relationship health.
In an absolutely delightful bit that takes place in front of a small crowd in a bookstore, Maria talks about how she and her husband go to therapy to talk about their problems, and she’s even developed a song about her therapist, Cheryl Hirsham.
Now, whenever my husband and I are talking about how we’ve worked through personal issues, I also can’t help singing the Cheryl Hirsham song. It’s catchy as hell, and thanks to Maria Bamford, it normalizes putting work into healthy relationships!
This feels a bit like cheating for this article, because one of Natasha Leggero’s most recent specials is done in tandem with her husband, Moshe Kasher. But her standup and the structure of her comedy still makes waves in the intersecting worlds of relationships and comedy.
The Honeymoon Special features a standup set by Natasha Leggero, followed by a set by her husband and then a final session in which the two of them lovingly roast couples from the audience who have agreed to come onstage. The setup of the special makes me so happy, because it shows the real-life world of what it is like to be in a couple. Their comedy styles are distinct and almost opposing one another, but together they make a great team by the third part.
The fun thing about Natasha Leggero’s work is that even alongside her husband (perhaps especially alongside her husband) she is so unabashedly committed to her own comedy style and personality. She cultivates a persona full of privilege and obvious decadence. Her short spangled dress, black high heels and fluffy fur coat on an obviously pregnant body showcase that Leggero’s an unapologetic person who is ready for a fancy party at any time.
Even though her routine is part of a “honeymoon special,” most of her jokes don’t center on her relationship. In fact, her husband is the one who later discusses much more intimate parts of their partnership in his own set. Instead, she uses her platform to do a lot of political comedy and to highlight the prevalence of rape culture through crowd work with women in the audience.
So, in a nutshell, Natasha Leggero shows that even if you’re part of a super-public dynamic duo, you can still be true to your own voice!
Tig Notaro is a singular voice in the world of comedy due to her style that is somehow equal parts off-putting deadpan and inviting warmth. After her completely honest impromptu routine about the hardships of mourning family members and receiving a cancer diagnosis that went viral, Tig continues to wow in her newest Netflix special, Happy to Be Here.
In addition to bits about mundane jobs, weird party habits and a super long riff about the band The Indigo Girls, one of my favorite things about Tig Notaro’s latest Netflix special is the way she details the delightful slice-of-life conversations that she has with her wife, Stephanie.
Tig regales the audience with stories of domestic bliss, including a time when she and her cat were having a conversation of meows back and forth, and Stephanie cautions her to be careful, because Tig doesn’t know what she’s actually saying to the cat! Tig also includes a joke that her wife wanted in the show, even though it bombs every time. And yeah, it’s partly to prove a point, but if that’s not a perfect slice of married life, I don’t know what is!
And at one point, Tig shares about her wife that, “At least once a day, she says something where I am left utterly confused.”
Really, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of the day-to-day goofiness of many of the couples that I personally know.
While some comedians like Nicole Byer and Natasha Leggero talk about some of the racier points of love and relationships, Tig’s routine basks in the unexpected joy of moments that happen in between the crazy stuff.
There are so many unbelievably talented and fascinating women who are working as comedians these days. Each of them have their own stories, and I am beyond grateful to live in the world in which we get to hear them. And whether you’re in the mood for some cutesy stories of domestic bliss or some nitty gritty sex stories from the front lines of dating culture, I hope the four women above help resonate with some of your stories, too.
About the Author
Erin Phelps just recently celebrated her first year anniversary as a romance reader! By day she works in a cool customer service job. By night she is a writer, pub trivia player and cat mom. Erin also loves a great new show on Netflix and any podcast that makes her feel like she’s hanging out with smart friends.
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