Oxygen’s ‘Funny Women’ Relies Too Much on Reality Show Tropes

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On the whole, Oxygen’s Funny Girls is easy (and understandable) to dismiss. There have been many — too many — reality shows focused on the, well, “realities” of showbiz, detailing the steps it takes for young dreamers to gain fame, that Funny Girls barely even registers (and not many people pay attention to Oxygen to begin with). Funny Girls is another entrant in that genre, this time following around a group of women stand-up comedians. It’s not new or important but the real reason why it gives me pause is because it’s indicative of the problem with so many women-centric shows, reality or otherwise: the reliance on pitting women against women as foes, rather than allies.

Funny Girls has noble intentions at its center. It wants to showcase a group of up-and-coming funny women comedians, and it knows that viewers are probably more likely to watch them in a reality show context rather than in a show that focuses on their various stand-up routines (or, even better, airing a Comedy Central Presents-like series focusing only on women comics). And honestly, it’s not a terrible idea. There is something inherently interesting about seeing behind-the-scenes footage of a comedian’s life: their interactions with each other, the frustration of barely-attended open mic nights, and the approach they take to crafting jokes and building their sets. But Funny Girls largely eschews this and goes for more predictable reality show fare, such as the girls’ love lives. The pilot episode repeatedly dwells on their relationship statuses — or lack thereof — because, as television insists on telling us, the most important aspect of a woman’s life is the man in it.

As with all reality shows, Funny Girls is clearly (and poorly) scripted. Comic Yamaneika Saunders is trying to get her driver’s license but her driving instructor is a cute 27-year-old so she relentlessly hits on him, aggressively and uncomfortably, in a scene that reads more as off-putting than funny. Another cast member, Calise Hawkins, has more screentime dedicated to her Skyping with the man she likes (and is kind of, sort of dating) than on her stand-up performances. Stephanie Simbari (who gets a blind-date-gone-horribly-awry plot) is portrayed as so desperate that she makes a penis vision board using the dick pics collected on fellow cast member Nicole Schreiber’s phone. To be fair to Stephanie and Nicole, the vision board is, at least, pretty funny (as is the scene where the two girls make it) but because it’s included in an episode that is so packed with this obsession with relationships that it doesn’t land.

But by far the worst part of Funny Girls is the manufactured drama between women. The world of stand-up comedy is still not totally welcoming to women — for every successful female comedian, there are still hundreds of male commenters all-capsing on the Internet about how women aren’t funny — and there’s so much to be said about why women need to stick together and be supportive of each other in all careers, but particularly a creative and cutthroat one like this. That’s why it’s disheartening to see that the main crux of the pilot episode involves a fight between two of the comedians, Stephanie and Ester.

When Ester books Yamaneika on her comedy show, Stephanie gets upset because she’s been trying to get on the show forever. “I feel like she’s sour on me because her ex tried to have sex with me,” Stephanie says, before continuing to explain that Ester may also be mad because Stephanie slut-shamed her, or because she thinks Stephanie slut-shamed her, and blah blah. It’s a low moment in what could be a fairly enjoyable and inconsequential program. What follows is another awkward and uncomfortable moment of Stephanie essentially bombing on stage, calling out an uncaring Ester, and then debating quitting comedy.

It’s all so terribly dramatic which, yes, is the very nature of reality shows but it takes away from the characters’ real compelling narratives: their struggles in the comedy world, the interesting way in which they workshop jokes with each other when working together, and the general anxiety that surrounds an open mic night. Funny Women could have been a small win for Oxygen — and I’m sure I’ll casually keep up with episodes to see how the format evolves, especially as they add in a sixth woman in upcoming episodes — but it unfortunately focuses less on the funny aspect of these funny women and instead on the forced drama.