There it is, I’ve said it. Was that shocking, or just what you’ve come to expect from a female comedian?
Let’s be real. A four letter word isn’t as threatening as it used to be. Actually, fuck is one of the most underrated words in the English language. Try to name another word that’s a verb, a noun and an exclamation. Now of course, one must use this gem sparingly, lest it become devalued in times of actual need (insert basic supply and demand chart here). But there are times when one seeks to intentionally employ a powerful tool – if tastefully crafted with precise emphasis – to shock an audience and instigate change.
Easy enough, right? We all get the point I’m trying to make: sometimes you’ve got to throw in some gunpowder to light a fire. How else can you quickly and memorably shine a light on what’s wrong with the world – whether it’s political, religious, racial, or gender-related – on a larger scale than just case studies and letters to Congress?
And that’s exactly fucking why comedians are doing what they’re doing today.
Think of your favorite comedian – male, female or otherwise – and recall a powerful joke of theirs. I’ll bet you they said something shocking. Perhaps it wasn’t the f word, but something just as jarring. Now of course, some comedians are known for being “clean,” like Jim Gaffigan, Seinfeld, and Ellen DeGeneres, but just because they don’t curse or mention sex, doesn’t meant they’re not using unexpected comedic ideas to elicit a reaction. Sometimes that response is favorable and manifests as a cultural stepping stone, while other times, it backfires and ironically unites people in anger and outrage.
Case in point: Kathy Griffin.
Kathy Griffin Courtesy of StyleBistro
In case you missed it, comedian Kathy Griffin is in a lot of trouble. In May, she posted provocative photos taken by celebrity photographer Tyler Shields, holding a bloody sculpture resembling Trump’s mutilated head. For the first time in what seems like forever, there was bipartisan agreement: everyone was pissed.
Before we go any further, let’s just get something straight: I don’t think what Kathy did was a good idea. I’m all about freedom of speech, and the right to express your opinions through art, but this took it to an extreme. Alluding to killing someone is pretty serious, especially when things like this are actually happening elsewhere in the world. It’s one thing to post a risque shot with dreams of being an Instagram model, and another to…ok, you get the picture.
I have to say though, I am a bit perplexed about the backlash she’s receiving. Almost instantly after the photos were released, Kathy was punished aggressively: CNN fired her from her annual Co-Host position on the New Year's Eve Countdown, her remaining 7 tour appearances were cancelled by their respective venues, industry peers like Anderson Cooper and fans alike denounced her publicly, she was interviewed by the Secret Service, and was dropped as a marketing spokesperson for Squatty Potty. The last of these punishments was the shittiest, pun intended.
Here’s the thing though – this isn’t the first time she’s been canned or blacklisted for doing something shocking. Throughout her career, Kathy Griffin was also banned from appearances on shows at venues including: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, E!’s Red Carpet Award Show Coverage, Hannah Montana, and at the Apollo Theater. This was all due to things she said, people she made fun of, who just couldn’t handle that. For instance, many were outraged at her 2007 Emmy acceptance speech, when she joked, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award...no one had less to do with this award than Jesus...suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now!”
The balls this woman must have! Well actually, on the subject of balls...
A few male celebrities were in the news during the same time frame regarding their shocking remarks, but have interestingly been met with different public responses. For example, Bill Maher used a racial slur in his show “Real Time,” Johnny Depp made a Trump joke that alluded to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and comedian Stephen Colbert made a homoerotic joke about Trump as well.
So what happened when the media heard of their questionable behavior? People were pissed, the men apologized, and that was that. Was Johnny Depp’s career ruined? Not because of this (P.S. please stop making Pirates movies). Was Bill Maher’s show cancelled? No. Oh, and Colbert came right back and ripped Trump apart with a new set of jokes in his monologue the next day (though I can’t say I didn’t love it).
I know it’s not an apples to apples to comparison – words versus severed heads – but Kathy Griffin paid a heftier price for her expressions, which she attributes to it being a “gender thing.”
Bill Maher Courtesy of Wikimedia
She held a press conference apologizing for crossing the line, regretfully admitting that, “I don’t think I’ll have a career after this.”Only time will tell if that’s true, but isn’t it sad and alarming to think that one mistake could reverse all the work this comedy icon had accomplished in the industry, especially for women? After all, Griffin was the first female comedian to debut at the top of the Billboard Top Comedy Albums chart, and broke the Guinness World record for the number of aired TV specials on any network by any comedian in the history of comedy.
Being a female comic isn’t easy, which has been brought up with another story that’s been floating around recently. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger made a comment in June critiquing today’s female comedians in a Deadline article where she stated, “Everything’s about sex, or how weird I am...I think shock value works well for women, but beyond that, there’s no substance.”
For readers not tapped into the comedy world, you may not have heard about what happened with Iliza – but I couldn’t get away from the headline. I’ve been bombarded by it on podcasts, blogs, and Twitter; it almost broke the internet. I’ll spare you the exploration of what I think Iliza meant by her statement (also because I think she’s a talented comedian who’s come under a lot of fire for it) but after what just happened with Kathy Griffin, it makes me wonder if female comedians feel the need to employ shock value just to survive in a male-dominated industry? Sure. But is that the only trick we have up our sleeves?
Get ready for the joke callback: fuck no. Even triple-threat Amy Schumer has weighed in on whether or not comedians feel pressured to continue to push that envelope, to which she responded, “The most shocking thing is that I am not trying to shock anyone. I feel we should be able to talk about anything. I talk about what interests me. Sex is one of those things. I think it’s shocking that more people don’t talk about it.”
The bottom line is that I think Amy, Iliza, and Kathy are all right. I don’t condone their actions, but I think each woman is correct in having and defending their own artistic expressions and interpretations. As comedians, it’s our job to observe and report life, and deliver our analyses to call attention to issues that are important to us. I think it’s hard to prove that women are susceptible to harsher criticism, but I do think it’s a tougher road for females to pursue their dreams. In turn, this makes success that much sweeter in the end.
I’m just here to remind us why we should fight the good fucking fight.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.