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Opinion: Do female comics need Lena Dunham?

By Tyler McCarthy
On February 21, 2013

This month, Rolling Stone Magazine gave its illustrious cover to none other than role model female comedy writer Lena Dunham. With the comedic newcomer on the cover of my favorite magazine, it was time to finally answer the question that's been plaguing me ever since I saw her take a leap into the world of comedy writing - Do I like Lena Dunham?
Her show is fantastic; anyone who hasn't seen HBO's "Girls" should drop whatever is in their Netflix queue and find a way to check out the breakout hit. Every episode makes me laugh and her writing and portrayal of these 20-something-year-old characters is so honest that you can't help but laugh as you see a little bit of someone you know in everybody on screen. However, as much as I'd like to give Ms. Dunham the female comic crown, I can't just yet. After all, is honesty comedy or is it merely a gimmick? Tina Fey is considered a previous generation of comedy's reigning queen. Her show is honest and full of a rich attitude, but she is also a comedian. Her jokes are well-crafted, with a setup and a punch line. Dunham, on the other hand, is all about exposing the gritty realism that is our generation. There are jokes, but a majority of the show's laughs come from viewers watching and recognizing. To her credit she does do this quite well. Dunham was lightly criticized for something her character said in the pilot episode of "Girls" when, high on opium, she declared that she was the voice of her generation. She might not have been wrong.
However, I toyed with the idea that perhaps everyone was in love with the idea of Lena Dunham. After all, in a world where the comedy writing community is plagued with the "Are Women Funny" debate, a debate that the likes of Amy Pohler, Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman weren't able to squash, here comes Dunham and "Girls." She writes honestly but also unapologetically. She's the naturally talented rock star that female comics have been waiting to rally behind for quite sometime. For that reason, I was willing to look past all of my problems with her meteoric rise to cultural relevance and stifle some of my gripes with her writing. However, I still wasn't able to decide if I liked her or not.
Then again, perhaps it's unfair to compare her to women like Fey. After all, anyone who has watched an episode of "30 Rock" and an episode of "Girls" can tell pretty quickly that they're taking the same road to reach completely different audiences. You wouldn't dare compare Rodney Dangerfield to Louis C.K. because it would simply be apples and oranges.
I did find myself defending her work against some of her more ridiculous critiques. For example, "Is Lena Dunham too ugly to be a leading lady?" We don't ask if Courtney Cox is too pretty to be a leading lady because that would be offensive. It's the same principle here. Dunham does several nude scenes in her show. These nude scenes are anything but vanity. In fact, she is almost never glamorizing herself or her sex life. If anything, it's the opposite. So if you find her too ugly to watch, you're rude. But worse, you're missing the point.
But look at me dancing around the issue like I'm afraid she's going to read this and shed a tear. The actress is notorious for ignoring most of her criticism and letting it roll of her back like drops of water. So here it is: do I like Lena Dunham? Yes. Of course I do. Whether her style of comedy is a little devoid of crafted jokes or not, I'm still laughing every episode, and if we can't call someone who makes us laugh funny, then what's the point? It all comes down to whether or not you consider honesty comedy. It isn't that it always doesn't work, it's that it doesn't always work. Lesser comedy writers would have gotten burned out after season one when all of the passion pieces accumulated in his or her diary ran out. But, here is Dunham working on a second season of her popular HBO series and carrying a Golden Globe. So while she may not be exactly what I envisioned the savior of women in comedy to be, it was my fault for thinking they needed a leader when all that they really needed was laughter. 


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