Victoria Wood (1953-2016)

I can't remember when I first saw Victoria Wood on the telly. She was just sort of always there, popping up now and then for Christmas (and other) comedy specials, and inspiring my undying respect and adoration for a middle-aged dinner lady called Bren. Her humour always seemed be marked by a kind of humane appreciation for the banality of every day life, for a kind of comic reverence for the humdrum. Today, I woke up and Twitter told me that Victoria Wood has died, all too young at 62. I am poleaxed by her death. If you asked me yesterday for a list of my heroes or cultural influences, I probably wouldn't have mentioned her. But she contributed massively to my background understanding of what funny can be, what women can do, and how gloriously ridiculous much of human life is. So no, I don't have a Victoria Wood poster on my wall, but her work carved a niche somewhere in my inner gubbins. 

Osmotically and imperceptively, Victoria Wood gave me confidence in being a woman in the world. The videos below are a few of her routines which capture a bit of what I'm talking about.Seeing Victoria Wood use her body as a tool for her comedy felt (and feels) pretty revolutionary. Not to mention, deeply chest-achingly funny. She normalised women's bodies, and her cast of characters often made visible the kinds of women usually absent from TV. More than that, she spoke plainly about the realities of women's life, skewering the innate bullshit whilst letting us laugh at ourselves, and our worries, relieved that finally we could share this tragicomic farce with someone else. I will miss her. 

 

Wanda Sykes & "Detachable Pussy"

At some point in the far too recent past, somebody fairly prominent in the comedy scene cracked a rape joke. I can't remember the name of the comedian, but I do remember that the joke was unfunny and punched - bludgeoned - down. In case you're not familiar with the metaphor, let me summarise. "Punching up" means using comedy as a tool to satirise and thereby deflate those in power, those "above" the comedian. "Punching down" is making those with less power, those most often victimised by the issues at hand, the butt of the joke. So, in a rape joke scenario: rape culture is "up", whilst rape survivors are "down". Like many, I had long hypothesised the impossibility of ever telling a funny rape joke, or at least a rape joke funny to feminists. Then, in a forum discussing the comedian's ill-advised "humour", a commenter posted the Wanda Sykes routine below. Total mic drop moment. The clip, from Sykes' 2006 HBO special "Sick and Tired", skewers rape culture with verve and venom. It blends humour and startlingly on-target social critique with ease, creating a segment which is an educative joy to watch and re-watch. For me, it's arguably the epitome of a rape joke which is 1) funny and 2) "punching up" with vigour.