Silent Comediennes and “The Tragedy of Being Funny”

Anderson Wagner, Kristen (2013) Silent Comediennes and “The Tragedy of Being Funny”. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsacta/3811. In: Researching Women in Silent Cinema: New Findings and Perspectives. A cura di: Dall'Asta, Monica ; Duckett, Victoria ; Tralli, Lucia. Bologna: Dipartimento delle Arti - DAR, Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, pp. 231-245. ISBN 9788898010103. In: Women and Screen Cultures, (1). A cura di: Dall'Asta, Monica ; Duckett, Victoria. ISSN 2283-6462.
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Articles in fan magazines of the 1910s and 1920s with titles such as “Is it Tragic to Be Comic?” and “The Tragedy of Being Funny” often situated comediennes as victims—of their circumstances, their talents, or their looks—and films such as Show People and Ella Cinders to some degree supported the idea that being a funny woman was cause for pity as well as praise. Longstanding cultural stereotypes held that women could be either feminine or funny, and as a result female comics were frequently labeled as unsuccessful women as well as comedians. Despite the fact that many women had lucrative careers in film comedy, comediennes were frequently depicted in the popular press as uncomfortable with building their careers in comedy, uneasy about performing physical comedy, or afraid of looking ridiculous. Paradoxically, fan magazines and trade journals generally acknowledged, and even promoted, women’s humor, although traces of pervasive stereotypes about the incompatibility of comedy and femininity are evident in these discourses, and reflect broader concerns in American society about appropriate behavior for women. This paper traces some of these complex discourses and debates surrounding funny women that played out in the press and onscreen in the early twentieth century.

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Anderson Wagner, Kristen
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28 Sep 2013 15:07
Last modified
13 Mar 2015 14:46

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