Discussing ‘Women Aren’t Funny’ with funny woman Bonnie McFarlane
The titles of comedy documentaries are usually straightforward.
Jordan Brady’s “I Am Comic” and “I Am Road Comic,” Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian,” Jamie Kennedy’s “Heckler” and “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” all paint a pretty clear picture of what a viewer is going to see before they see it.
Bonnie McFarlane, a veteran writer and stand-up, took a different route when deciding on what to call her comedy doc. She named it “Women Aren’t Funny.”
While the title alone raises eyebrows, the images and sounds in “Women Aren’t Funny” are what keep a comedy fan’s attention as McFarlane and her husband, comic Rich Vos, shoot the movie while also touring and raising their daughter. The list of comedians interviewed in the film makes me a little jealous, although I am proud to say that I too have chatted with Todd Glass, Andy Kindler, Marina Franklin and now, McFarlane.
But, seriously, check out this partial list: Maria Bamford, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Artie Lange, Colin Quinn, Michael Ian Black, Jim Norton, Chelsea Peretti, Rivers and the late, great Patrice O’Neal. Lange and O’Neal are featured in the official trailer giving very clear opinions on whether or not they think women are funny. The trailer also shows a pants-less McFarlane “reporting” from a roadside field as Vos, child in hand, implores McFarlane to ditch the bit and get out of there.
During our Tuesday afternoon talk, I asked McFarlane about the making of “Women Aren’t Funny,” why being on stage is not her favorite thing and much more. Download McFarlane’s film, follow her on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes at the end.
TC: Why did you and Rich want to make “Women Aren’t Funny”?
BM: I had a baby and I was touring with her and at some point I knew that was going to end because I’d have to start paying for another flight. I tried to think of projects I could do to keep my creative juices up and running. One night Rich and I were in a hotel and I came up with this idea. In the morning I told him and he was immediately on board with it. Really, because of Rich, we just started doing it. He got a camera crew like, within a week and we started interviewing people.
We did our first set of interviews, which we sort of thought of as our practice interviews. We had a certain level of comedian we used on those just to get the tone. We looked at that footage and sort of figured out from there how we were going to do it.
We interviewed Artie Lange. Dane Cook was one of our early interviews. Once we started getting people like that, other people really wanted to get involved. It’s a topic people like to talk about.
TC: So many great comics are in the documentary. Everybody that I love, including Maria Bamford.
BM: She’s a genius. Total genius.
TC: I have a rule. If Bamford or Doug Stanhope are playing within a three-hour radius of where I am, I’m going to the show.
BM: It’s so amazing to me and it’s something I think executives don’t get: People like a spectrum of comedy. I don’t think that executives would ever think that the same person would like Doug Stanhope and Maria Bamford.
BM: I see it all the time. People who love comedy, they don’t care if it’s clean or dirty. They just love good, original thought.
TC: Did you find that, once the ball got rolling on the interviews, people were eager to get in front of the camera and talk about the things you wanted them to talk about?
BM: Absolutely. Rich knows a lot of those people personally. Joy Behar, at one point he was on her show and she said, “I heard you’re doing a documentary about women. Why aren’t I in it?” And he was like, “We would love it! Are you kidding?”
Things like that would happen. Rosie O’Donnell was taping “The Jimmy Fallon Show” and she agreed to do it right then and there because she said Rich is one of the good ones. He was always nice to her.
Joan Rivers would have talked for as long as I had questions. I didn’t know what else to ask her. Comedians love talking about comedy. It was great. It was really fun to do all the interviews.
TC: Do you have a favorite scene or interview?
BM: I loved interviewing Wanda (Sykes). She’s really talking to you, for one thing. She’s looking for you to be funny too. She was really playful and fun and I loved doing that interview. I was a little nervous about interviewing her because she was huge at that time. It was amazing that we got her, but she’s just so generous and fun and funny.
TC: In your “Modern Comedian” interview, you talk about not really craving being on stage and how content you are with writing jokes for others. Why do you think that is?
BM: I think my true heart is with the writing and the creating. Going on stage, even now, it presents some problems for me. I feel like I’m still sort of an amateur when I’m on stage in the sense that I get upset if they don’t like me. I see other comedians and they just love being under those lights. When I get the light (signaling she has a few minutes left), I almost always come off (stage) very quickly. I don’t hang around and wait for it to go in the toilet.
TC: So many comics talk about needing to be on stage. It’s kind of refreshing to hear somebody say they’re happy when others do well.
BM: I only like to see people do well if it’s my joke. (McFarlane, interviewer laugh) One of the worst sounds in the world is applause for someone else.
TC: That’s the true comic coming out of you, right there.
BM: I do have an ego to keep in check. Come on.
I actually do genuinely love watching other comics. I watch all the specials, all the Comedy Central stuff. I just love it. I love breaking it down. Trying to figure out why something works, why something doesn’t work.
TC: Is it tough being married to a comic or is that the only way you would have gone?
BM: Female comics have this thing. The majority of them are like, “I would never date another stand-up.” I was like, “I would never not date another stand-up.” (interviewer laughs) I don’t know why you’d want to go out there into the world. I don’t want to talk about anything other than comedy. I can’t imagine being married to an accountant and listening to them drone on about their day. Horrible!
Rich and I have this funny relationship. People think we have such an interesting dynamic or whatever, but the solid thing that keeps us together is we have a very deep love for the same thing and that’s comedy. Not each other, but comedy. (interviewer laughs)
TC: Has he ever been without his goatee since you’ve known him?
BM: No, but I would love it if he shaved it completely.
BM: I mean, completely. I just want to see what he looks like without it. It would be a little weird. I also wish he would not gel his hair.
TC: But those two things are such a part of his look, Bonnie.
BM: (laughs) I know. I just wish he’d try it. (Vos talks in the background). He just said, “And I wish she’d move out.” (laughter all around)
TC: Thanks for the time and I’ll include links to your Twitter and “Women Aren’t Funny” and anything else I can.
BM: You have to put Rich’s name in bold. It’s just a contract that we have. It’s in our wedding vows so that has to happen.
TC: You got it.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
Hollywood had a dismal summer at the box office. Their solution will probably be to have a dismal summer at the box office part 2.
— Joe Machi (@joemachi) September 3, 2014