There was an awesome moment at last year’s Emmy ceremony when the nominees of the best lead actress in a comedy were announced: Parks and Recreation‘s Amy Poehler was named first, and instead of simply sitting in her seat and clapping politely, while the other names were called, she jumped up and ran onto the stage, smiling. A nonplussed Rob Lowe continued calling out Laura Linney, Tina Fey, Martha Plimpton, Edie Falco and Melissa McCarthy, and each actress got up and joined Poehler onstage. Standing like beauty queens waiting to be crowned, the audience gave this group of funny gals a standing ovation – instead of being merely a very funny idea (that reportedly was cooked up by Poehler), it became a moment when female comedians were honored.
Women have always had a strange place in comedy – there have been funny women since, well, forever. However, comedy has always been a difficult space for women – NBC’s Saturday Night Live is a comedic institution, but its most iconic company players – John Belushi, Phil Harman, Eddi Murphy, Will Ferrell – have been men; there are some women included in this legendary canon – most notably Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin, but overall for every Kristen Wiig, there is a Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, Dana Carvey or Mike Myers.
That’s what makes The Women of SNL so special. The set highlights the contribution of the female members of the cast. Though a single disc does far too meager a job in representing the best of SNL‘s women comics. Hoping to appeal to younger viewers, the skits included are mostly from the last decade or so – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of the strongest performers from the 1990s to the 2010s were the women: Fey, Poehler, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, Ana Gastayer, Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch are responsible for some of the most memorable and smartest moments. Dratch’s Debbie Downer is still funny, and the collection includes the infamous skit set in Disney World, where Dratch and her costars couldn’t keep from corpsing through the absurd skit. Shannon and Gastayer also have their “Delicious Dish” skit along with a salacious Betty White. Rudolph and Poehler also are represented with some of their funniest work, “Bronx Beat” the faux talk show, hosted by two Bronx housewives.
Speaking of housewives, the disc opens with a great parody of the Real Housewives franchise from Bravo. Called “The Real Housewives of SNL” the skit features a large cast of lady SNL vets from the 90s and 2000s, and Lorraine Newman, Nora Dunn and Julia Louis-Dreyfus show up too. Each is given a chance to shine, playing the clichéd archetypes you see on these stupid reality TV shows – Fey, for example, pops up as a pampered housewife who releases a crappy dance single, she lipsyncs to; Rudolph, a master at playing dimwitted cluelessness, plays the dopey ditz; Oteri meanwhile plays the instigator. It’s a great skit.
While it’s great to see Dunn and Newman (along with a game Jan Hooks), the disc is remarkably skimpy on skits from the 70s and 80s. I get that the artistic drought of the 80s may make the folks at NBC reticent to include too many sketches, it’s a shame that Radner and Curtin aren’t well-represented at all, save for some rushed montages that present criminally truncated skits. Thankfully Radner has a DVD dedicated all to herself and is worth a look. Hooks and Dunn were pretty strong performers, and it’s great that their Sweeney Sisters characters get highlights, but Hooks was spookily versatile (she was like a female Phil Hartman), so more Hooks skits would’ve been great to include.
The women of SNL deserve a boxed set. Until that comes along, this is a great starter.
For further female-centered SNL humor, you should check out:
P.S. to NBC – Wiig, Fey and (especially) Rudolph deserve their own best of DVDs…