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TEDx Talk: The Future of Women's Comedy

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The future of women's comedy will be greater than 140 characters.

That was the first point I made at the TEDx Talk I gave last Saturday. Women's comedy takes a long time. Most women's humor is not designed for Twitter.

Why is that? Think about it for a minute: you don't think it was a woman who came up with the phrase "Keep it short and sweet," do you? When have you ever heard a woman say "Keep it short" unless she has something actually boiling over on the stove?

We don't like things short and sweet. We like things long and layered, complex and complicated, paradoxical and playful, especially when it comes to our humor. Well, perhaps I shouldn't say "especially"; perhaps I should say "additionally."

For TEDxUConn, I was billed as discussing "The Future of Women's Comedy." Initially I thought about going all-out academic on the audience and defining precisely what I meant by "the future" (anything later than four o'clock next Tuesday) as well as "women's comedy" (any time a woman opens her mouth, writes words, makes art, sings songs, creates gestures or prepares food items with humorous intent). But I decided that if they couldn't figure out those two concepts for themselves, they shouldn't have been allowed into the audience.

I also thought about using slides to enhance my presentation (or "PowerPoint," as "slides" are now called) or employing other forms of technology (because that's what the "T" in TED stands for) but decided against it. I went with a hand-held mic.

The decision not to use slides was made for me, in part, because the future of women's humor is not going to take place exclusively through technology or by relying on the Internet -- which, conveniently, was my second point.

A lot of guy-humor is now made for and disseminated (yes, I did choose that word carefully) via electronic devices. The future of women's humor will, I hope, be broadcast on the Internet -- for all successful performance, it's better to have as many viewers as possible -- but it's not going to be created especially for the Internet.

Honestly, I worry about young women believing that they have to imitate men in order to be considered funny. YouTube hasn't made this any easier either, since the whole YouTube phenomenon has made the Internet into a forum where humor is being treated as if it's been vetted when, in fact, all it's been is downloaded. The result is that if some guy decides to fill his mouth with ginger ale, baking soda, and kitty litter "just to see what happens" and places it on YouTube, he might well be considered a new comedy star. He could get his own series. He could become famous as "the Exploding Kitty Litter Guy." And there will be some girl who will think she'll be the female equivalent of the kitty litter guy and then get to produce a show like 30 Rock because of it. It won't end well.

My third point focused, of course, on women's comedy and hysteria. Women who perform, write or enjoy comedy -- who laugh outside or even laugh behind their hands in that weird soundless body-shaking giggle -- are in danger of being considered "hysterical" and not in a good way. You knew that, right? I spoke about how women are considered hysterical when we laugh too much or cry too much. Or when we don't laugh or cry at all. Also when we eat too much, or too little. Or smile too much or not at all. Oh -- and go shopping or stay home, or have children or don't have children, or like Motown or don't like Motown, or wear heels or flats, or have too many lovers or no lovers... anyway, I only had 13 minutes so I curtailed the list. But you get the point.

So what will the future of women's comedy be like? The future of women's comedy will explain, illustrate and perhaps even demonstrate the fact that women, individually and collectively, are riots. Since women's humor is already insurgent, wild, provocative, smart, wicked and revolutionary, it's only going to become exactly that and more. Maybe women's comedy will give up the hand-held mic, but in every other way it'll be even better: it'll be more unnerving and even more funny. And I'll be the one in the front row, applauding.

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Based on a Psychology Today.com post by Gina Barreca.