When it comes to female characters there appears to be an odd belief that there are few examples of them in comedy, specifically examples who could be held up as comedic role models. I seem to have some extra time on my hands right now and rather than rearrange my wardrobe I have decided to dedicate an essay each to the fictional girls and women who deserve more recognition for their comedy.
It may surprise you to learn that I was not always the composed, stylish, witty woman you see
lurking working the room at Funny Women events. No, rather shockingly, I was an awkward teenager with very few friends (hence, probably, the fondness of Daria) and somehow I often used to miss memos regarding what pop culture.
Meanwhile, my mum was a mature student at Brighton University so, uh, had her finger on the pulse rather more than me and it was she who presented me with But I’m a Cheerleader. “I thought you might like this” she said, in the same hushed tone she’d used when she’d presented me with my first bra.
Released in 1999 But I’m a Cheerleader was probably the first comedy film I saw that was… hm… a bit weird. Not because of the LGBTQ theme but the humour and style was offbeat in a manner I hadn’t seen before. It’s kitsch, it’s camp, it’s ridiculous, it’s satirical, it’s teen, it’s romcom, it’s hard to pin down. Maybe baby John Waters? It does have Mink Stole in the cast.
There’s just something about it. Yes, one of those things is RuPaul, but mostly it’s the fantastic little ensemble of teenage girls led by Natasha Lyonne (yes of Russian Doll ‘cackaroach’ fame) as 17-year-old Megan. Megan is a cheerleader, she’s dating a footballer, so far so teen flick. Yet one day she comes home from school and walks straight into an intervention by her parents, her boyfriend and cheerleader squad friends.
They believe Megan is a lesbian, their evidence? Her vegetarianism, her Melissa Etheridge posters and the fact she doesn’t even like kissing her boyfriend Jared. Megan is sent to True Directions, run by an ‘ex-gay’ Mike (RuPaul), Mary Brown (Cathy Moriaty). I wish we could laugh at the idea of gay conversion therapy as an absurd idea that never happens, it is an absurd idea, but these places are real and abusive. Of course, this is a comedy so the focus is on the ridiculousness of gender roles and the idea you can change your sexuality with some ironing in Barbie’s dream house.
Megan was probably the first gay character I saw on screen who wasn’t a stereotype of a lesbian. Megan is sweet, feminine, occasionally scandalised and very innocent. Her girlish denial and confusion goes as far as being cute, particularly when she realises she is gay – “I’m a homosexual! I’m a homosexual! I’m a homosexual! Oh my god, they were right. I’m a homo”, it’s funny yet never sickly or preachy.
In fact, Megan could have come across as rather shallow and one dimensional. But Natasha Lyonne’s occasionally hilarious facial expressions help show there’s a lot more complex thoughts going on inside this bubbly cheerleader.
The endearing thing about Megan is not just her sexuality journey, but her refusal that it should change anything about who she is, other than who she might love. She’s still a cheerleader, she’s still funny without knowing it and she’s a comedy icon.
If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened
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