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Women in Comedy: ‘Let’s Be Awful,’ Says Screenwriter Dana Fox

Femme scribes talk double standards, combating the haters at USC comedy fest

Wake up, Hollywood. Women can be unlikable, too.

Scribes Dana Fox (“Couples Retreat,” “What Happens in Vegas”), Katie Dippold (“The Heat”), Tracy Oliver (“The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”) and Jen Statsky (“Parks and Recreation”) want showbizzers to know that the female role in comedy is changing — both on and off the screen.

That group gathered on Saturday as part of USC’s two-day Comedy@SCA Fest, presented by Visions & Voices, in association with the Women of Cinematic Arts, at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to discuss the new prowess of women in comedy.

Gone are the days when unlikable, flawed female protags were executed in screen tests, Fox said, noting the old-time strain that pressured writers to create likable women in movies and skeins.

“Let’s be awful, and let’s be unlikable,” Fox quipped, with a smile.

Fox noted that scribes and creative voices such as director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) and Dippold have blown the doors off the old paradigm, acknowledging that now auds have become more mature and appreciative of characters deviating from what’s morally expected of them.

Dippold said it was frustrating, for a while, noticing the double standard when it came to auds embracing, for example, “24’”s Jack Bauer, while, at the same time, turning up their noses at Melissa McCarthy’s portraits of flawed-yet-funny characters.

Fox, Dippold and Statsky agreed that in their experience, criticism of complicated female character is often more violent and hateful than that levied against male protags. A prime example of this was Anna Gunn’s character on “Breaking Bad.” Gunn was on the receiving end of so much vitriol for her portrayal of the conflicted Skyler White that she penned a New York Times op-ed (“I Have a Character Issue”), which called for viewers to reassess their views on women and wives not just in TV, but also in society.

“Don’t read the Internet,” Fox suggested as a tool for fending off haters. “Part of what you have to do is get over the idea that people are going to criticize you.”

Oliver emphasized that scribes need to follow their instincts when it comes to drumming up work — not chase heat or buzz.

“Don’t chase the money,” she said. “It’ll come if you write what you know and what you’re really good at.”

In Oliver’s case, she highlighted the absence of black comedians and narratives on screens.

“There is no black Tina Fey or Zooey Deschanel. We didn’t have that kind of richness, so we needed to create that,” she said, of skein “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” now running on digital channel Blip.tv.

“Finding your voice is a whole other thing,” Fox joked. “It’s impossible.”

Fox and others noted the ever-increasing participation of women (of all backgrounds) behind the scenes of comedies; however, the dearth of jobs in the industry is providing a debilitating problem — not just for women, but for everybody. During the confab, Fox instigated a call to arms of sorts, saying that industryites needed to start acting more as colleagues, and less as competitors.

“Nobody’s getting jobs anymore, you have to support each other,” she said.

As for job hunting, Dippold recommended rigging Google so your name pops up with information and credits, if applicable.

Dippold recalled myriad moments in writers’ rooms, in which producers Googled recommended writers and then tossed them to the side if nothing informative or eye-catching popped up.

Vying for creative jobs within the industry is akin to a rampant rat race. It is cut throat, but the panelists tried to disrupt that notion, sharing some of their own stories as fodder for inspiration.

Statsky recalled being offered a writing job on Twitter, after her postings impressed a staffer from NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

“Your success is my failure,” Statsky said, sarcastically. “No, your success is my future success.”

The two-day fest, now in its second year, is part of USC’s Comedy@SCA initiative, an interdisciplinary pathway through the school’s cinematic arts curriculum.

(Pictured above from left: Dana Fox, Tracy Oliver, Jen Statsky and Katie Dippold)

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