'Bridesmaids' Star Ellie Kemper Talks 'Opening The Doors' For Women In Comedy
Funny, it seems, has always been the domain of men, until it wasn't. Somehow, each wave in comedy, from silent films to 50's TV shows and on through sketch, standup and rom-coms has defaulted to casting men in the lead, as if introducing America to a new way of creating laughter requires a certain dose of testosterone to succeed.
Eventually, and without fail, the masculine glass protecting the plum, lead parts shattered: Lucille Ball became the biggest sitcom star in the world; Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin were invaluable cogs in the original "Saturday Night Live" casts, Tina Fey has bossed both those forms and Jennifer Anniston has fumbled her way to the perfect man like clockwork over the past decade.
With the rise of Judd Apatow and his merry band of gross out dude films (and his many genre peers, such as Kevin Smith and Todd Phillips), Hollywood has a new ceiling to crack: the all-out women ensemble. And not in the "Sex and The City" or "Waiting To Exhale," mold, either; a group of women collectively searching for The One is its own special sub-genre that knows no such discrimination, or, often, basis in reality.
Having led the charge in the bromance comedy, with "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Superbad," amongst his many credits, Apatow is lending a lift to a cast of women that is set to bust through and change the roles of women in comedy forever.
The revolution's opening shot, "Bridesmaids," is a raunchy yet devastatingly real vehicle for writer/star Kristen Wiig and a set of co-stars who should -- and will be -- much more famous at the end of its opening weekend than they are now. Wiig, the wildly versatile standout lead on "Saturday Night Live," stars as the jealous, emotionally crumbling and hilariously vulnerable maid of honor for her best friend, played by former "SNL" cast mate Maya Rudolph. Amongst the ladies along for the ride -- and adding an invaluable archetype that attacks both common perceptions and straight, dour faces -- is Ellie Kemper, the sweet face that first welcomes people to the offices of Dunder Mifflin Scranton on NBC's "The Office."
Kemper, young but with years of experience creating laughter in both the New York improv scene and in a multitude of viral videos, plays Becca, a naive and Disney princess-loving newlywed who at the beginning of the film, as she told The Huffington Post on Tuesday, "really agonized over people who aren't married or dont have the prospect of being married."
Her arc is one of growing understanding of a woman's role in both her relationship and the world at large, a sort of metaphor for the entire film. For Kemper, just as her character matured, she thinks the film will open up all sorts of new opportunities for funny women in film.
"I've been thinking a lot recently, in talking about the movie, and it occurs to me that yeah, there have not been as many female ensemble comedies as there have been guys," she said. "But also, not many as there has been in television. It hasn't quite made the leap to the big screen. That's what so exciting to be part of, in addition to it being an extremely funny movie, you recognize its not as common to be in or to see a movie that is drive by female leads."
It may seem curious, that a movie about women involved in a wedding could break barriers -- the supply of those, all interchangeable, is seemingly infinite -- but the approach it takes is entirely new for its gender's stars.
"It's not completely about getting married, it's more about the relationships between the women and when huge changes take place," Kemper explained. "It's not the pursuit of a man, it's more the relationships between each other. And in that way, it's sort of a female buddy comedy."
The buddy comedy, of course, being an exclusively male domain, whether it's a pair of cops, slacker stoners, war heroes or those in pursuit of the type of women on whom "Bridesmaids" has no interest in focusing.
It's a chicken or the egg question, whether the romantic comedy star is necessitated by audience demand or the limitations still placed on funny women in film. "Bridesmaids" holds nothing back when it comes to gross out jokes, with set pieces that involve vomiting and worse in bridal boutiques and sex scenes that belong more in National Lampoon than "When Harry Met Sally."
Today, it takes a certain kind of actress to pull that off -- or be willing to, knowing what the public's reaction may be.
"I do think that for some reason, it is naive to think otherwise," Kemper said of whether there's a double standard in terms of how gross men and women can each get on film. "Guys are maybe encouraged more to be grosser, and the reason I know that is that people are somewhat surprised when a woman is gross, like, 'Oh, she allows herself to do that.'"
Of course, there's no reason to pour on the scatological humor to mindless excess; regardless of the gender starring, that weakens a film. But with women, it takes more care to get away with it.
"I think that just all depends on how its done. But if it makes you laugh, it makes you laugh. I think it takes a certain finesse," Kemper theorized.
No matter how strong the reviews, Hollywood operates on one guiding principle: make movies that make money. So the revolution, with its first shots just fired, still very much depends on audiences being willing to go out and see a new kind of women's comedy. Aside from helping bring the film to life, Kemper is helping push the film in another way, too.
"Every member of my family will be seeing it twice this weekend," she laughed.