Why We Need Comedians Like Wanda Sykes…and More Inclusive Specials

While I was thinking of different movies and shows to choose from, I realized that a lot of my favorite humor has come from stand-up specials and old SNL sketches this past year (and they are about the same length as movies at this point so I consider that long-form). As Netflix and Amazon have been making a more conscious effort to include original stand-ups from womxn and people of color, I’ve watched a lot of them. The comedy realm is yet another world, profession, and space in Hollywood that has become dominated by white cis males over the years. While most people can recognize comedic veterans like Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Colin Jost, a lot would struggle to put a face to names like Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Haddish, Aidy Bryant, Wanda Sykes, Ali Wong, Iliza Shlesinger, Lily Singh, Samantha Bee, Ilana Glazer…and while the list could go on forever. In this sense, I think comedy is one of the most powerful mediums in understanding the human condition. While there is still a long way to go in giving representation to everyone, it gives a voice and a stage to people who might not get one otherwise. We get to hear- and most importantly laugh at- experiences specific to genders/races that are different from us. And stand-up specials adhere to the definition of comedy because they are a form of reflection after a life-changing event where the comedian is a better person afterwards.

Given the current political climate, many comedians have used their shows as a chance to speak out against injustices. They use careful humor as a way to shed light on political issues and encourage people to vote (i.e Ilana Glazer in “The Planet is Burning, and Dave Chapelle in Sticks and Stones). But my favorite example from this past year is Wanda Sykes in her special “Not Normal”. Sykes- a regular on Curb Your Enthusiasm- has spent a lot of her career commenting on politics. She was even the first African American womxn to host the Correspondents Association dinner. Her pushback against Trump is smart, funny, and increasingly relevant. She educates her viewers, and shares a point of view we rarely see in comedy, let alone in Hollywood. As a female of color and a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Sykes has shown how important it is to use a platform of fame wisely and what we can learn from it. This is why we need comedy and it’s also why we need representation; we need to learn about experiences that are different from ours and have alternative outlets of educating ourselves. And we need someone with a platform to call out corrupt politicians like Trump, and humor is a great way to do that.

Be kind!


As defined by Aristotle, a comedy is the story of the rise in fortune of a sympathetic central character. 

Cady Heron, the “central character”, or protagonist, is a classic example of a comic hero. She isn’t necessarily the most liked person by other characters in the movie or by viewers, but she does display a “minimal level of personal charm” and sometimes sparks sympathy from the viewer. Cady moved to the Illinois suburbs after living and being educated in Africa for many years. She starts to attend high school and faces all the typical stereotypes of high schoolers, including facing some very mean girls. The characters that embody the basic high schooler stereotypes (jocks, nerds, popular kids, etc.) are “ordinary people ” at heart, or at least that’s what the director aimed for them to be. Although these characters might have some relatable qualities, I have never met anyone who is outrageous and obnoxious as most of the characters in this movie.  These ordinary people allow the viewer to compare and contrast the actions/words of the main characters and see them in a different light.

In my opinion, Mean Girls touches on multiple different types of comedy, including farce, romantic comedy, and satirical comedy. I think that, in some sense, this movie is making fun of the ridiculous stereotypes that high schoolers feed into and how popularity is shown to be so much better than it actually is. The movie also has a romantic aspect of it, as Cady has a big crush on Aaron Samuels, one of the most handsome, popular guys at the school. Even though I have watched this movie hundreds of times (probably) and can recite all of the lines, I never truly understood that Mark Waters (the director) was trying to prove a point about human nature. Waters is using exaggerated versions of normal teenagers to show that being mean and feeding into stereotypes and materialism gets you NOWHERE, and kindness can go such a long way.

When I took a deeper look into analyzing this film, everything became clear. This movie, although funny and entertaining, wasn’t only made for pure enjoyment or humor, it was made to show that our generation is getting quite ridiculous in terms of social expectations and actions. If everyone chose kindness instead of cruelty and backstabbing in the movie then all of the characters would have gone a lot farther and achieved a lot more (yes, I know it’s necessary for the plot).

“Dumb and Dumber”: Laughter Without Meaning

Image result for dumb and dumber

The 1994 comedy directed by Peter Farrelly, “Dumb and Dumber,” still manages to impress audiences worldwide with its complete and utter stupidity to this day. You might want to check out the trailer and this list of 100 dumb things that happen in this comedy for context and a laugh.

Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are the two main characters, and Lloyd, a taxi driver, falls in love with a rich woman which he drove to the airport, who leaves a suitcase full of money behind. Seeking to return the money to her and gain her love, the two begin their journey to Aspen, the woman’s destination, pissing off several people along the way. Little did they know, the money left behind was ransom for a kidnapping, leading to several complications. Of course, on their journey, Harry and Lloyd spend “a little bit” of the money, only enough to get them each a lamborghini and a full new wardrobe, and at the end, one of them gets the girl.

In an Aristotelian sense, “Dumb and Dumber” can be considered a classical comedy (ignoring the semi-cliffhanger ending of the film). But unless one considers learning how to be a nuisance as valuable, this film is as far from meaningful as a film can be. There are multiple hyperbolized references to societal prejudices against the poor and women, but the way they are portrayed in the movie, the audience is not given a chance to even notice while they are uncontrollably gagging. Stereotypes are also evident and exaggerated throughout the movie, but are not critiqued in any way, shape, or form.

These comments on “Dumb and Dumber” can be extended to almost all laugh-out-loud comedies in the contemporary film genre, where the goals of the film makers do not extend far beyond making people exhale through their nose for money. However, comedies that tend to be more literary and a bit less stupid and where seeds of meaning can be scattered throughout can enhance the audience’s understanding of the world around them There seems to be a tradeoff between the amount of enjoyment a comedy can bring about and the weight of the meaning it carries.

Life Is Beautiful

I never saw myself smile or laugh while watching a film about a tragic historic event that affected so many lives. With Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, a film about a Jewish Italian waiter (Guido) who falls in love with a women, eventually they marry and have a son (Giosue) . Then in turn of events the family is separated from each other and taken to concentration camps. The father focused to protect his son from the horrors of reality, he convinces his son that it is only a game and everyone is playing along. the film is set against the tragic backdrop of the Holocaust, but doesn’t focus on the tragedy. Benigni uses comedic elements, antics and humorous interactions, and physical gestures to bring comedy to the dark event.

Benigni use of noticeable physical gestures, humorous interactions, and antics. Benigni starts the first half of the film more lighthearted and romantic between two characters who eventually fall in love. But the audience is soon reminded that this movie is set in a tragedy under Mussolini and Nazi power.

The first comedic strategy Benigni uses is the interactions Guido has with his son Giosue, who doesn’t understand what’s happening around him. Benigni takes advantage of this and uses the knowledge of a child for comedic purposes. For example in the film, upon arriving at the prison camp, Giosue is confused why so many people are lined up, the father Guido explains that everyone is lined up because they can’t wait to get inside. Benigni is using the interactions between a son and father to express comedy in very tense situations in the film/

Another comedic strategy Benigni uses is Guido’s physical gestures throughout the film. Throughout the film Guido performs a goofy walk while being escorted by any Nazi solider. Guido performs this goofy walk because he knows his son is watching him. Guido needs to act funny to show his son that the situation isn’t serious. There are many physical gestures throughout the film that bring light to the situation.

Life is Beautiful is the perfect example of comedy because it focuses on bringing the Holocaust a very dark event in history into the light with comedic strategies.