Web of Laughs: Female Buddy Comedy

Buddy comedies have been around since the 1930s when Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello breezed through more than dozens of films with their respective pairs. At their core, buddy comedies are genuinely fun to watch, because you’re watching two (or sometimes more) people support each other unconditionally through what is sure to be a wacky journey. That’s a wonderful sentiment in itself, and much like a good improv scene, support is bound to take you to hilarious places. We see buddy comedies all over the place. There are usually a handful of them released each year, because it’s a strategy that has proved over time that it works. What is rarer to see, though, is a female buddy comedy. Wikipedia even defines the “Buddy Film” as “a film genre in which two (or more, on occasion three) people of the same sex (historically male) are put together.” Thank goodness there were some pioneers who decided to challenge that idea and give us a taste of a different kind of buddy comedy. nineto5

In 1942, Hollywood began dabbling in the female buddy comedy realm with Gentleman Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Even though the film was a success, its subject matter is still heavily focused on the two women finding love, teetering closely on the border of romantic comedy. Either way, after Gentleman Prefer Blondes, there really wasn’t much traction for another female buddy comedy for a long time. Then, in 1980, 9 to 5 came along and stole the show. 9 to 5 brilliantly combines Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin as three employees working for a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” as a boss. He finds separate ways to make each of their lives with the company a living hell, and then the story unravels into a fun, silly crime-ridden revenge strategy gone awry.

9 to 5 paved the way for other women-centric casts to hold their own as characters that are not bound by typical romantic comedy stereotypes. Before this, it was rare to see a woman lead a comedy that wasn’t there serving some sort of romantic purpose. You had your leading ladies who were there for their hero to discover, or the leading lady’s funny best friend that gave her good advice for those two 45-second scenes in the movie. 9 to 5 broke that barrier and showed audiences that women didn’t have to be confined to pre-defined roles in comedy, but rather that they could take down “the man” and go anywhere they could dream of. This very idea, that women can exist outside of the romantic realm, has influenced modern female-driven comedies ever since. You can take a modern comedy such as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and see its roots in 9 to 5.

One of my favorite parts of 9 to 5 is the women’s relationships with each other. Parton, Fonda, and Tomlin’s characters work so well together, because they also stand alone as characters in the film. Each one has a defining personality and conflict within the film, which each other lends support to. Their relationships with each other grow from strangers into a closely bonded friendship, which is a wonderful thing to see on screen. I think the best, modern take on women’s friendships is Bridesmaids, now probably hailed as the most notable and successful female buddy film of recent years. It does such a great job of establishing each individual character on its own but also within the constructs of the group’s dynamic. No woman is left behind, and all of the jokes are only funnier because every one of her friends is supporting her. Hilarious things come out of emphasizing support in comedies.

The momentum seems to be rolling a little more for female buddy comedies. In 2013, we saw the first female buddy cop comedy, The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. In December 2015, we can expect to see a comedy starring my all-around life queens, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, called Sisters. I think the buddy comedy lends itself so easily to the way that women’s relationships with each other are handled; it would make sense that there are more of them. The ones that have been put out have generally been successes, but I guess for now, I’ll just keep quoting Bridesmaids, listening to Dolly Parton’s kickass original song for 9 to 5, and marking off the days on my calendar until Sisters comes out.

Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.