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TV/Film “The Planet is Burning” and why we need more female comedians

Jan. 17, 2020
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Ilana Glazer started off the decade with a bang, releasing her stand-up comedy debut on Amazon Prime. The first two minutes of The Planet is Burning feature Glazer opening the show in Houston by twerking to “Sex With Me” by Rihanna, which definitely met my expectations for how this stand-up special should start. 

Besides twerking to Rihanna, Glazer starts the show by reintroducing herself. “I love Ilana Wexler, but I am really excited to introduce you to Ilana Glazer the stand-up,” Glazer says, making a reference to Ilana Wexler, the character she played based off herself on Broad City. 

Broad City, created by and starring Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, is the critically-acclaimed sitcom based off Glazer and Jacobson’s IRL friendship and their experience trying to make it in New York City—one mistake and marijuana-influenced decision at a time. After five seasons, Broad City came to an end last year.

I have a vague recollection of binging the entirety of Broad City every night after work last summer over the course of four days. Each night, I remember eating a burrito while mildly high, which I’m sure was the intended setting and demographic of viewers Glazer and Jacobson aimed for when creating Broad City. 

The Planet is Burning explores Glazer’s thoughts about a range of topics from the depressing reality that is the women razor industry, to her proper etiquette when her weed-delivery person arrives at her New York City apartment, to her Hebrew school experiences, to the patriarchy. 

She shares her views on the politics behind female-hygiene products—and why she’s staunchly #TeamDivaCup over #TeamTampon. Glazer denounces tampons because of the discomfort of having to “shove something all-cotton” up there, and asserts that pads are insulting because of their diaper-like feel. 

Glazer gets more personal at certain parts, especially when discussing marriage and partnership, and her experiences since getting married in 2017. She talks about how she loves her husband, which ends in her twerking while saying, “Look, I’m a dog. Butt up on him. Love him. Delish.” 

Glazer’s tone quickly switches upon a confession: “But there’s something I can’t get used to about being married to this person, and that is the word ‘husband.’” She surmises that maybe it’s the “WASP-like connotation” of the word “husband coming” out of her “Jewy mouth” that makes the term feel so unfamiliar—that the word “husband” makes her feel like she’s about to become a stuffy estate owner of a Westchester manor. She resolves these fears by stating that she prefers using the term “partner” over “husband” or “wife.”

The Planet is Burning is very purely Ilana Glazer at her most unfiltered prime. This is Glazer’s debut stand-up special, and one of her first creative ventures since the end of Broad City. Most of the world knows who Ilana Wexler is after watching her antics as the extroverted stoner slacker who is fiercely loyal and loving toward her best friend Abbi—but until now, the world has had yet to meet Ilana Glazer. 

It should’ve been Glazer’s ability to fit twerking into personal stories or her unadulterated storytelling skills that fascinated me while watching The Planet is Burning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely impressed by both—but what really made an impression on me was the realization that there are countless amazing women performers and comedians releasing new material right now.

In the last year alone, there’s been a good number of female comedians releasing comedy specials. Jenny Slate released Stage Fright, her silly and intimate stand-up special about her childhood, on Netflix last fall. Tiffany Hadish is no stranger to performing, and released her second stand-up special, Black Mitzvah—a celebration of her 40th birthday and Jewish roots—on Netflix last fall. Wanda Sykes, who’s made us crack up on Black-ish and is an experienced comedian, starred in her comedy special Not Normal, in which she discussed the current political state in America as just that: not normal. 

The world of comedy performance has existed since the days of ancient Greek theater in roughly 400 BCE, but has long since been an old white boys’ club. Every performance hosted an all-male cast, and it was even contested whether or not it was okay to have women in the audience. The unfair treatment of women in comedy hasn’t seen much progress throughout history. 

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century when women began to make their debut in comedy. Moms Mabley, one of the first female comedians, captured the hearts and laughs of Americans by discussing important social and political topics in her performances. Mabley was an African-American and queer comedian in the 1920s and 1930s. 

In the mid-20th century, comedy became a political tool for women to call out the patriarchy. Feminist humor was born in the heyday of 1960s counterculture with women like Lily Tomlin and Phyllis Diller leading the way. The Guerrilla Girls utilized humor and irony to bring awareness and attention to the reality of being a female artist in a male-dominated art field. 

The gender gap in comedy has been long-standing and disappointing; the historical race gap in comedy is even more disappointing. Margaret Cho was one of the first leading Asian-American women in comedy in the 1990s, with the creation of her show All-American Girl; Wanda Sykes debuted Wanda at Large in 2003; both shows were cancelled early on.

In 2015, Bitch Magazine published a report summarizing the number of women headliners, emcees, and comics who had performed at Caroline’s, a comedy club in New York City. In 2013, Caroline’s had a total of 16% women emcees, while in 2014, only 7.8% of Caroline’s headliners were women. Bitch Media also found in 2015 that there were very few shows whose writers were over 40-50% female—one of these being Broad City.

The gender and race gap in comedy has been glaring for centuries now, but the need for women comedians of all backgrounds is pressing, now more than ever. Representation is crucial in comedy, an area of entertainment that has been long dominated by white males. It’s time to prove once and for all that women—of all backgrounds—indeed, are funny.