It used to be that menstrual humor amounted to men making crass remarks about PMS and the world of stand up comedy was dominated by male performers. Well, not any more.
In the last few years there seems to have been an explosion of young women comics doing stand-up and TV comedy. Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Nicki Glazer, and a host of others have followed pioneers such as Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli and an even earlier generation’s Joan Rivers and Rusty Warren, whose theme song, Knockers Up, became a forbidden ditty for the post-war generation of comedy transgressors. And at the age of 86, Rusty holds a special place in the arcane world of cabaret comedy acts. This brief list comes nowhere near capturing the richness and diversity of the comedy scene where women crack the jokes and make their audiences gasp at their audacity.
Today’s women comics revel in coming up with the most shocking ways of alluding to their own bodies and their sexual relations. For instance, a recent skit on Inside Amy Schumer had her telling several female friends about a new product that would eliminate all taste from a woman’s pussy, the word of choice when mentioning the female genitalia. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the product she puts her hand inside her pants then offers her fingers to a friend to taste. And what better topic to include when one is striving for ever more ways to shock the audience with dirty words and forbidden subjects than the menstrual cycle. There may be no subject that has more layers of taboo and “ickiness” than menstrual blood. Whoopi Goldberg worked this material some years ago in her Broadway special that was aired on HBO when she did a long piece describing her entire menstrual history from her first Kotex belt to her entry into menopause. Similarly, Margaret Cho developed a riff that was surely influenced by Gloria Steinem’s famous If Men Could Menstruate essay that described how she imagined men would behave if they had a menstrual cycle.
The new spate of sit-com styled TV shows that appear on the Comedy Central cable system and elsewhere have been giving the period a full airing. One of the most amusing in recent months was an episode of Broad City in which the two lead characters and creators of the show, Llana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, are aboard an El-Al flight to Israel when one of them gets her period and has no menstrual product with her, which leads to an escalating series of jokes and crises. The episode, titled Jews on a Plane, covers a full range of period predicaments. It’s well worth a look for many reasons.
David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.