Why Are We So Surprised When Female Comedians Date Hot Guys?

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Scott Kirkland/Variety/REX/Shutterstock; Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock; MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock.
Note: This story was originally published on May 25, 2016.
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Earlier this month, the rumor mill churned out a doozie: A source claims Jenny Slate is dating Chris Evans. Though neither party has confirmed this news, the internet treated it like the gospel and ran with it anyway. And by “ran with it,” I of course mean shared their universal shock that a female comedian had a hot boyfriend.

Sprinkled in with tongue-in-cheek tweets about how we’re expected to continue living now that Evans is off the market were disappointing expressions of confusion. Our culture has dictated that the funny girl, while entertaining at a dinner party, is essentially persona non nookie. She doesn’t get the guy, because she is so often expected to be seen as one of them. In the male-dominated comedy industry, there’s a tacit pressure on the female comic to show she can hang with the boys by hurling dick jokes and practicing her bathroom humor. Add on to that the nearly universal self-deprecatory approach to comedy itself, and she sets herself up as the antithesis of the woman who gets the most eligible bachelor, in the event she finds romance at all. So when Slate was rumored to have landed Evans, people were “shocked,” calling it a “win for funny girls everywhere,” as if Slate was the first female comic who may not grow old alone with a gang of cats by her side.

It’s not just a handful of people on Twitter, either. Media coverage read like a backhanded compliment to Slate. While she was credited in articles with her professional achievements — Obvious Child, Marcel the Shell, Parks and Rec — Evans is the “hunky star” who was “linked to a few gorgeous Hollywood ladies in the past.” The subtext here is that Evans is too good-looking for Slate. As one Twitter user put it, “I’m sure Jenny Slate appreciates all your tweets that basically she’s too ugly to be dating Chris Evans.”

Of course, this attitude isn’t anything new. Classically, you could point to Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. But take any recent mention of a female comic and a man in her pursuit and there’s a general feeling of incredulity. When Amy Schumer confirmed she was dating her attractive furniture-designer boyfriend, Ben Hanisch, people claimed genuine disbelief that he was so handsome, said that having an attractive partner made her “irrelevant” as a female comic, and ultimately declared she was dating someone “out of [her] league.”

This vitriol penetrates even the most fictional of relationships. Just a week ago, Drake posted a picture of Sarah Silverman to his Instagram. “I do,” he wrote with an engagement ring emoji, adding the qualifier that Silverman is his "WCE" — woman crush every day. It’s one thing to wonder why, as many did. It’s another to call it “fucking weird.” Even Silverman herself dismissed it at her recent performance at Vulture Fest, telling the audience it was probably “a Jewish mother thing.”

On the other hand, it seems entirely acceptable for a female comedian to date someone in the comedy scene. Just look at the universal internet shipping of Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak. Many wonder why they aren't married or having babies together, despite Kaling's insistence that they are simply good friends. No one's suggesting another potential suitor for Kaling, because it's not fathomable to them that a female comic could possibly attract any other kind of man. After the Slate/Evans news, Kaling herself joined the conversation. “So Thor and I have a chance?” she tweeted.

It’s not solely about the subconscious romantic failings we assign female comedians. It’s also about the credit we give them for being smart, opinionated women. They have brains and personality, and subsequently must surrender their membership card to the Sex Symbol Club. It’s also about the pessimism with which we greet any beautiful man. We assume they’re merely in the market for arm candy. And maybe many of them are. But when we express disbelief that a funny woman can land a guy, we’re saying both that the woman is not beautiful — by any definition of the word — and that the guy is a unicorn of his species. “Congratulations to Chris Evans, for containing more multitudes than we originally thought,” wrote The Cut, for example. We don’t imagine the female comedian to take the path we expect from literally every other famous woman — because she’s funny — and we praise the male celebrity for rising to the occasion and dating her.
It doesn’t matter if Slate or Evans ever address the whispers about their supposed romance. They are just the latest instance of a larger, unspoken convention that’s immortalized in Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl” anthem: “Though I may be all wrong for the guy, I’m good for a laugh.”

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