Why ‘I Love Lucy’
by Victoria Stark
Lucille Ball has been an inspiration to me for many reasons, beyond our shared signature red hair that even black and white television can’t dim. The idea of a female comedic protagonist has become very popular recently, but sixty years ago Lucy was doing it, and doing it so well that modern audiences born decades after the show’s run can quote her with ease.
Despite the work of Ball and the generations of comedic women that have followed, modern comedy for women can often get relegated to a realm of over-sexualized or self-deprecating jokes. There seems to be a permeating belief that women just shouldn’t do certain types of comedy. It had certainly popped into even my own mind as a woman writing comedy!
Thankfully, I recently had my own magic moment with Lucy. I happened upon the episode “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined.” The plot centers around Lucy performing the jitterbug at Ricky’s club, and at least half of the episode is just shots of her flailing around in hilarious dancing attempts. The episode has its usual quick wit, but an extra dose of the physical comedy Ball is famous for. The entire time I was watching her skirt flying around and hilarious facial expressions reacting to the slippery dance floor, I found myself thinking, “This was pretty crazy for a woman to be doing back then.”
What I learned from Lucy’s dancing, and the several episodes I binge-watched after that, is that through creative and well-done writing, progressive ideas can be packaged in familiar ways for an audience.
Lucy’s character was a married housewife, and later in the series, a mother. But the situations she wrote herself into were novel, hilarious, and brave of her to be performing.
With her sharp mind and willingness to go the extra mile for a laugh, Lucy took a character archetype audiences were familiar and comfortable with, and added dimension and comedic depth. This type of writing is especially pertinent for female creators and performers. Today, following Lucy’s example, we can take the familiar situations of school, dating, careers, and friendships, and infuse them with empowering messages about women’s intelligence, creativity, and value. In turn, female audiences get the invaluable experience of seeing characters that remind them of themselves and their friends represented in mainstream media.
Whether it’s Lucy’s dancing, Carol Burnett’s crazy characters, Aubrey Plaza’s bluntness, or Maya Rudolph soiling her wedding dress on a crowded street in Bridesmaids, I’m thankful for brave women in comedy pushing limits and opening doors for young writers like me to step through and begin adding to the funny.Tags: Aubrey Plaza, Carol Burnett, Female comedy writers, I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball, Maya Rudolph, Victoria Stark, Women in Film, Women in television