The women of “Community” deserve your attention

Let’s talk about Community.

I used to think that Community was too offbeat for most people. I considered it sort of an oddball pleasure — a show that was just too good for “average” viewers to understand. I’m an asshole that way.

But the truth is that Community has the kind of weirdness that you need to experience. It’s filled with pop-culture spoofs and full-blown craziness, complete with costumes and dancing. Take this scene from the Christmas show.

 

The writers took the very best and the very worst from Glee, subtracted its tendency to take itself far too seriously, and found comedy gold. And the more I watch the scene the better it gets.

A big part of what makes Community great is the women. And this week, Televisionary Jace Lacob brought us a roundtable discussion from Community‘s female stars — Alison Brie (Annie), Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley), and Gillian Jacobs (Britta) — and one of its female writers, Megan Ganz, to talk about what’s going on with the show, including the ever-popular topic: “women in comedy.” The Daily Beast was kind enough to publish the transcript. Here are some highlights and some photos of the women in action.

On having multi-dimensional female characters

Jacobs — [I have] a lot of pride that women really identify with Britta. The thing that is unique about her is that she is never the subject of slut shaming. Like, she’s one of the only female characters that doesn’t ever get punished for having an active sex life. She’s a flawed, well-rounded, principled person who makes mistakes but is not pigeonholed as the slut, even though she and Jeff are the most sexually active people in the group. Because if implied inferences in the script are correct, I’ve slept with most of the men at Greendale.

Brown — As a black actor, it’s refreshing that I’m not playing the “sassy black woman.” Every woman on the planet has sass and smart-ass qualities in them, but it seems sometimes only black women are defined by it. Shirley is a fully formed woman that had a sassy moment. Her natural set point, if anything, is rage. That’s her natural set point, suppressed rage, which comes out as kindness and trying to keep everything tight.

Brie — We get to do different things in every episode, and it’s not just about gender or race. It’s about having well-rounded characters and a wide range of adventures so that we’re just never playing the same thing.

Brown — That’s what’s great about the show in general. Around [the study-room] table, you have a racist, a feminist, a black chick. There are all different types of people here, but we all keep coming back to the table.

Jacobs — remember when I first graduated from college and was still auditioning for high-school parts. I was horrified at the way high-school girls were portrayed as these sexual manipulators who were like constantly seducing everyone.

Ganz — The male perspective.

Jacobs — It was really disturbing to me, because I was innocent and not engaging in any of that kind of behavior in high school. But even the girl that was the most confident, prettiest girl in my high school was not like some Lolita like a bat out of hell.

On Annie’s Christmas song scene

Ganz — That song too was supposed to be a satire of the way that those Santa Baby songs infantilize women’s sexuality. Of course, it’s Alison Brie doing it, so it’s going to be sexy … We’re so used to that sexualization of women being an infantilized sexualization. In that song she gets dumber as the song goes on. Having you like crawl around on the ground and stuff, there’s a definite message there.

Brie — By the end she’s not even saying the words.

On whether having women in the writing room matters to the characters:

Jacobs — We definitely notice. It’s hard for us to tell when we get a script at a table read who wrote what line or who pitched what joke. But you always just have this feeling that there are women—smart, articulate, funny women—in the room advocating for these female characters.

Ganz — It’s not like women work on the women types of storylines. Everybody works on every storyline. It’s the same reason that it’s good to have women in the room, and the same reason it’s good to have men and ethnicities represented and older people and younger people. If you find a story that everybody likes and everybody relates to in some way, then you know you have a good story. But if you’re telling a story and all the women are going, “I’m checked out of this, I just don’t really care,” then you’re going to have some problems.

On whether the “Bridesmaids effect” makes audiences more open to funny women

Brown — I grew up watching Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence, who were just genius, so it’s kind of hard for me to believe that people are just realizing that women are funny now … I think what’s changing now is that more women are in positions of power. With your Tina Feys and Kristen Wiigs, you have more women in the driver’s seat. They know what we really are.

Ganz — There have always been funny women. But in some ways, it takes a while for there to be women who were watching women on television for years and then grow up and think, “I could do funny stuff.” I grew up watching I Love Lucy. She was doing funny stuff.

Brown — It’s the same for minorities, too. Until we get black writers in writing rooms and as studio executives, it’s going to be a while before people of color get to have the breakout that the Bridesmaids have had. It’s not that someone of another gender or race couldn’t write these words, but if you don’t have the experience, what you think I would say and what I would say are two different things.

Ganz — Even socially, too. When women are seen on TV being crass or funny or making jokes or undercutting someone, then you feel it’s socially acceptable for a woman to do that. More women are growing up feeling, “I can speak my mind and say what I want.” For me, I was maybe 15 before I started being like, “I’m just going to start saying things out loud. Why can’t I say what I think?”

Be sure to check out the rest of the discussion at The Daily Beast.

Community returns next Thursday, March 15, and it’s well worth a slot on your DVR. I’ll say this: You have to pay attention or you’ll miss something. This isn’t a rambling comedy that you can watch while you’re answering email. But give it a chance. I think Community will take its place beside Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, and other cult shows that we’ll be watching for years to come — and still enjoying.

Are you a Community fan? Tell us why you watch – and why we should.

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