By Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News –
Warning: This story will almost certainly set a newspaper record for the most instances of the word “vagina.”
That’s because, as you may have heard, television lately has been as focused on the vagina (and surrounding territory) as a 1970s teen clutching her first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”
And I think it’s possible Philly helped get this party started, even if we’re not totally responsible for the recent surge in the use of an anatomically correct word on broadcast television. (On cable, believe me, there are much worse terms for it.) Why us?
Because we gave the world Tina Fey, one of the funniest women on the planet and the creator and star of NBC’s “30 Rock,” a show that’s proven you can so say that on television. Whatever that happens to be this week.
Oh, when “30 Rock” returned for its sixth season a couple of weeks ago with new episodes that included penis mentions, the allegation that the Phillie Phanatic has “a menstrual cycle” and a reference — by Jane Krakowski’s Jenna Maroney — to “vaginal mesh,” the show might have seemed a little late to the party, the 2011-12 season having started off months ago with a rash (sorry) of vagina shout-outs.
Fey, though, had been ahead of her peers all along, having written an episode way back in 2007 in which Jenna uttered the memorable line, “My vagina is a convenience store: clean and reliable. And closed on Christmas.”
Philadelphia also helped educate Whitney Cummings, the comedian behind two of the fall’s more in-your-face pilots, CBS’ “2 Broke Girls” (which she co-created with “Sex and the City’s” Michael Patrick King) and NBC’s “Whitney,” in which Cummings also stars.
Maybe you laughed, maybe you didn’t, when Max, the waitress played by Kat Dennings, snapped her fingers under the nose of a finger-snapping would-be hipster in the first episode of “2 Broke Girls,” telling him, “This is the sound that dries up my vagina.” But to Cummings, that wasn’t really a joke about a body part.
“Any joke that has the word ‘vagina’ in it, at least that I try to do, is not relying on the word vagina. There’s something bigger,” she said in an interview in Pasadena, Calif. “She’s putting a guy in his place, she’s standing up for herself, she’s being demeaned by a man who is treating her terribly and like basically sexually harassing her and she’s broke and she’s 23 … I think the more shocking thing about that is that she’s being ballsy and standing up to someone,” she said.
As producer Chuck Lorre noted at a recent press conference for CBS’ “Mike & Molly,” “one of the great things about broadcast television is nobody really knows what’s appropriate anymore. It’s a floating target.”
Lorre should know that, at least: As the creator of CBS’ still No. 1-rated sitcom, “Two and a Half Men,” he’s been getting away with male-oriented sexual humor for years, years in which, honestly, I’ve heard fewer complaints from viewers than I did this fall in my own newsroom about the jokes in some of the new sitcoms, in which women are telling (and in many cases, writing) the same kinds of gags from a female perspective.
Maybe “2 Broke Girls’” King was thinking of “Two and a Half Men,” the show that follows his on Monday nights, when he responded to a questioner who pointed out that his show aired at 8:30, not 9:30, on CBS.
“It’s 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 2012. It’s a very different world than 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 1994,” said King, describing the show’s humor as “really classy dirty” jokes.
“It is ballsy. It is right in your face and hopefully funny. I did ‘Sex in the City’ for many, many years. That was a completely different vibration of comedy, and the one thing that they have in common, to me as the writer-creator of the show, is people pull away from something if it’s not in good taste. People lean into something if it’s OK, and week after week, more and more people are leaning into ‘2 Broke Girls,’” he said of the show that, with an average 13 million viewers, is the season’s most-watched new sitcom.
And as Cummings pointed out, there are less amusing ways for TV to deal with sex.
“Look at cop shows, it’s all hookers and raped hookers, killing hookers. I mean, all these ‘CSIs’ and stuff like that, they don’t say ‘vagina’ and make vagina jokes, but it’s all dead hookers and strippers and people getting raped. It’s so much worse,” she said.
To Cummings, the fact that most of the current jokes about female parts that used to be cloaked in cutesy euphemisms — or, as in a famous 2001 episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Marie’s Sculpture,” never spoken aloud — are now being told by women makes it “more harmless and sort of charming.”
Plus, “that’s just how young people talk now,” said Cummings, 29, sounding for a moment like someone much older.
“You know, like girls who are 20 years old talk like 40-year-old guys now,” Cummings said, laughing. “They’re smarter, they’re more sexually active, it’s just a fact, it’s not an opinion.”