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.
Apparently Alison Janney doesn’t even remember filming 10 Things I Hate About You in which she plays the hilarious, straight-talking guidance counsellor and part time erotic fiction writer Ms Perky. This is wildly disappointing, but understandable considering Janney’s enviable career consists of plenty of quirky characters, all of whom you’d think would be memorable but OKAY JANNEY. This is fine because I, along with plenty of other avid, ardent, voracious fans, do.
If you don’t know who Ms Perky is then that means you have never seen 10 Things I Hate About You and that means our relationship will never really take off. It is a modern, less sexist retelling of the oft misinterpreted Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew. I am going to break many, many writerly rules and proceed as though you have watched this film CLASSIC around the same number of times I did.
It’s not often that the comic characters in a teen flick are the adults. If they are, it’s because they are nothing short of ridiculous. However in 10 Things I Hate About You Ms Perky, and for that matter, English teacher Mr Morgan, these characters are comic because they choose to be. The teen characters are angsty, dramatic and misunderstood because they are teenagers.
I realise that fictional characters don’t technically have agency, but that is neither here nor there. Both Ms Perky and Mr Morgan make it clear to their charges that they know exactly what they think of them and… yep, they don’t care. Mr Morgan won’t coddle them and Ms Perky won’t waste her time on them, time better spent on the erotic novel she is using chunky ’90s office equipment to write. And why not on whatever paltry salary she is probably getting. Scoot!
Ms Perky is confined to her guidance counsellor office at Padua High which confirms most teenage theories that teachers exist purely within the confines of school and have no life outside of it, in fact they probably come to life only as their pupils walk in the room. Ms Perky has their number, describing the students to new guy Cameron James (Joseph Gordon Levitt in a role designed for tweens ready for their sexual awakening) as “little asswipe shit for brains” because… well, who is he going to report her to?
Perky goes on to be equally outrageous with Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger in a role designed for teens ready for their sexual awakening), stating his use of a bratwurst was optimistic. Is this a questionable moment in this 1999 film? I don’t think so, she is counselling him against flashing and if I were to pick a questionable moment in this near perfect film I would go with the assumption all teen mothers are ‘crack whores’.
It’s worth noting that Ms Perky is the only figure who can actually match Kat Stratford (these surnames are absolute genius and I won’t hear otherwise) in confrontations. Her father winds up wound up, her sister sulks, love interest Patrick is reduced to silence and Mr Morgan sends her to Perky’s office. Is this because she simply doesn’t care? Maybe, but few people would get away with telling Kat the reviews are in and everyone thinks she’s a heinous bitch.
So all hail Ms Perky, a leading light to guidance counsellors everywhere, most memorable character, erotic novelist and comedy icon.
If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened
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