Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review Series: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

It's been far too long since I've done a book review post. Right now I'm re-reading the Harry Potter series (because I miss him!), but I've read a few other books of varying quality and genre over the past few months and I thought it was time to talk about them.

This summer I've been drawn to biographies, and autobiographies of comedians in particular. It seems like it's a thing now for comics, comedic actors, and comedy writers to put out a memoir before they reach the age of 40, and there's been a mass production of personal recollections released in the past year or two. I've read 6 or 7 of these in the past year, and I thought I'd do a mini-series on comedians autobiographies - the good, the bad, and the unfunny. (I've already written a review of Ellen Degeneres' book Seriously...I'm Kidding. Spoiler alert: it's not good.)

I'll begin with one of the best:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

For those who are not frequent viewers of The Office, or just don't pay attention to the credits on TV shows, Mindy Kaling is a writer, actor, and occasional director for the American version of The Office. She plays the ditzy and, quite frankly, crazy Kelly Kapur on the show. And she is hilarious.

To be honest, when I was heavily into The Office, I sort of hated Kelly. She's annoying and shallow and didn't have great storylines. Naturally, by extension, I didn't like Mindy, as I assumed she must be an airhead also. Everyone, please take note: I WAS WRONG. I didn't realize at first that Mindy was a writer, and when I started reading a bit about her and following her on Twitter, I found myself thinking she was quite funny and smart.

I bought Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) on a sort of impulse purchase (as so many of my book/everything purchases are) and I do not regret it. In fact, I am so glad I picked it up. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is one of the funniest autobiographies books I have read ever. She talks about her childhood, her struggles with weight, going to college, lasting friendships, the process of becoming a writer, and the ups and downs in confidence that come with working in television.

I liked Mindy's book so much, I think, because she had a very normal life. It seems like so many comedians had rough childhoods with absentee parents and exposure to awful events at too young an age. Mindy wasn't abused or bullied (very much). She likes her parents and her family, she kept her head down and did well in school, she had some great friends who she lived with and wrote with and fought with. She went to collage, graduated, and then began pursuing her dream of writing and acting. She was a kid who obsessed over comedy on TV and in movies, would act out Monty Python and SNL sketches as a teen, and found comedy in every situation. She doesn't make comedy glamourous; it's a part of every day life.

What I liked the most about Mindy's book is that her love of comedy is pure. It isn't escapism or retaliation. She's just really, really funny. I laughed out loud so often in her book, underlined hilarious paragraphs and texted funny sentences to people. She's someone that's probably as funny sitting down over a cup of coffee as she is in the writing room.

I highly recommend Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I finished reading it and I thought: I could do that. I could write comedy like Mindy. That's what this book does. It makes humour accessible to everyone, and shows that you don't have to be some extraordinary or lucky person to "get discovered"; you need to work hard, laugh a lot, and be funny. And it makes you laugh a lot.

Number of books read in 2012: 13
Current TV series: Departures
Current nail colour: Essie's "Cute as a Button"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rape Isn't Funny: Why You And Everyone Else Should Be a Feminist

Recently I've become a raging feminist.

But wait! Let me explain!

The internet is an interesting world: a juxtaposition between a wealth of useful and helpful information, benign pictures of cats and 60s Spiderman reimaginings, and hateful abusive attacks on culture, gender, and sexuality. Usually I steer clear of these aggressive conversations, because I've realized that it is impossible to reason with the unreasonable, and usually it's just 14 year olds who want to cause trouble and swear online, so it's easy to not pay much heed.

But I've noticed more and more that women are still - STILL! in 2012! - not represented well /respected in the media and I've decided that my rights are something worth fighting for. I've wanted to post about this for a while, but I've been finding it difficult to both express how I feel about women in society in 2012, and understanding exactly what it is that has made me so outraged about women's rights in the past 3 months.

And then today I came across this post, "So a Girl Walks Into a Comedy Club". If you have a chance, you should give it a quick read, but in summary: a girl and her friend went to the Laugh Factory where comedian Daniel Tosh was performing. He made the statement that "Rape jokes are always funny," to which the girl shouted back "Actually, rape jokes are never funny!" In response, Tosh thought for a minute and said to the audience, "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by five guys right now? Like right now?"

(I should preface the preceding post by saying I am no prude. I absolutely love stand-up comedy and I appreciate transgressive humour if it is clever and unique. Rarely am I made uncomfortable by swearing or jokes about sexuality, race, or gender, regardless if I find it funny or not. I have seen a lot of Tosh's stand-up and by and large enjoyed most of it.)

I was completely outraged when I read the post about the woman's experience with Daniel Tosh. I think my anger is twofold: First, talking about the act of rape actually isn't funny. It's disappointing that a comedian who I thought was witty has resorted to making "jokes" about abusive, invasive, violent, and physically and psychologically damaging acts. It requires no effort to write a joke about rape, because if you're trying to be transgressive, you don't have to work hard to get a reaction. It is a cheap, degrading joke to bring into a comedy act.

Secondly: It is a direct attack on and about women. While I know that there are men who have been raped, when it is addressed as capital R rape, it is always portrayed as men who have forcibly attacked women. Joking about five men raping a woman for speaking out reinforces the power structure of male dominance over females, both physically and socially.

I am sick of it, to be honest. I am sick of the fact that even though women are supposed to have gained equality, we haven't. Why are only TWELVE of Fortune Global 500 CEOs women? Why is the highest paid female CEO's salary less than HALF of the highest paid male CEO's? Why are women vloggers like Laci Green being threatened for stating her (highly controversial) opinions, while male counterparts are considered to be clever and witty and have millions of followers? Why are there so many harassment suits being filed by women in the RCMP? Why do women bring each other down by making blanket (and epically false) statements like "Women aren't funny!"? Why do I not feel safe walking by myself in the evening, but do feel safe with a man? Why do we, men and women alike, let our society continue on like this? Why aren't we demanding more of each other? Why is nothing changing?

I'm by no means a bra-burning, stick-it-to-the-man, eliminate-all-the-boys feminist. I like men. I like being a woman and I like chivalryBut I wish more men - especially more young men - were educated on women's issues. I read a great interview with Louise Brealey, actor in Sherlock and a journalist and militant feminist, where she said:
"Seriously, though, I'd like every man who doesn't call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn't believe in equality for women."
She goes on to call out women, too, and challenges everyone to start seriously redefining gender roles, rules and restrictions. Women alone can't change society; men need to change their perceptions as well, and then MAYBE we can start to make some serious progress.

I know there is so much more to be said about equality: gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, economically. I think these are all battles that are worth it. I am taking up the mantle: will you join me?

Number of books read in 2012: 15
Current TV series: The Final Enemy
Current Nail Colour: Essie's "Cute As a Button"