?Vagina. How does that word make you feel? Maybe 30 years ago it would have brought an uncomfortable hush to a room. Now it’s de rigueur in our lexicon, and something you probably hear two or three times a day without even thinking twice about it (although if you’re a gynecologist, I’m guessing you hear the word slightly more often).
t If you’re a comic you’ll probably hear the word in its various forms (C-word, P-word, et al), a lot, and you might even use those terms in your own act. At least that’s what comic Shari Vanderwerf has done: “I still get gasps when I say those [words].” Which is really the shock, since the job of the comedian is to force the audience to think about themselves and the greater society at large (and let’s remember, this is a society who uses those terms fairly often).
t Talking about vaginas has become less about shock value since politicians heard that vaginas were out there doing all sorts of unregulated, wild things. Your vagina, ladies, has morphed into an icon of education and political action, which is probably why, when you go to a comedy club today, you’ll hear the word more often than you used to.
t The politicization of your lady part is what progressives call “The War On Women” due to the proliferation of judicial and legislative attempts to limit women’s reproductive rights and health choices. So, we as a culture, are actually out there in the world talking about vaginas more than we ever have before. Just to be clear, politicians can vote on them and talk about them as long as they don’t say the actual word “vagina” itself. It’s a political Fight Club.
t But, on stage, anything in the zeitgeist is fair game. Headlining comedian Al Jackson explains, “Comics write jokes about gender issues, politics, gay marriage, body issues, self-hatred and other things that relate directly towards our society present day. Vaginas fall into all of those categories.”
t Luckily, vaginas are also hysterical. Vanderwerf, regularly cited by major media outlets as one of the funniest comics on Twitter, observed, “Vaginas are funny as hell. Have you seen a vagina? Hilarious. Scary too. But also hilarious.”
t Author and comic Jim Gaffigan weighed in during an interview on our radio show, “It doesn’t matter what words a comedian uses, as long as they’re funny”.
t Is the advancement of the word vagina on stage a reaction to comedy being run by men regardless of how funny or what gender you are? “It is a boys club, and it hasn’t changed yet.” Vanderwerf explains, “There is still a widespread belief that women aren’t as funny as men. It’s so ingrained that female comedy is a genre unto itself. You will never see a poster that says ‘all-male comedy review’ but you will see female comedy shows advertised all the time.” Jackson disagrees, “I never hear professional, working comics say things like ‘she’s funny for a girl.'”
t Yet female comics who use the word “vagina” are often criticized.
t In April 2013, comedian Amy Schumer told Salon, “I think it has something to do with the general aggression toward women… not everyone’s comfortable with a woman speaking openly and honestly”.
t Jackson welcomes women talking about their vaginas, or anyone’s vagina for that matter since, he says, “Sexuality is a part of who we are, and for at least 50 percent of the audience we need women to tell us what life with a vagina is like, because we truly have no idea.”
t Is the humor in the word vagina about women taking back that word?
t “It’s about owning it,” according to Sarah Riddles, a comic regularly recognized by Playboy; “There was nobody to take it back from because men have a million other words for it so they never say ‘vagina.’ It makes them uncomfortable and female comics can sense that, and prey on it.”
t Maybe the solution is semantic satiation. That is the psychological phenomenon that causes a listener to disconnect from the implication of a word when it’s repeated over and over making the word lose all meaning. Lets try it. Va…
tPhoto credit: Jeff Bottari/Stringer/Getty Images