To the tired question ``Why don't women have a sense of humor?'' Barreca (editor of Last Laughs ) replies: they do. But only Bad Girls use their sense of humor, she argues, because they are not afraid of what its use implies--the decision to understand sexual innuendo, occupy center stage and break rules. The more Barreca repeats her thesis--that women's humor is subversive because it stems from women's power, which many men find threatening--the less interesting it becomes. But her analysis of the Good Girl/Bad Girl dichotomy in books, movies and TV sitcoms is illuminating. She distinguishes between the self-deprecating humor of earlier female comics like Phyllis Diller (who noted that the best method of birth control was to leave the lights on) and Diller's current counterparts (Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner), who sharpen their wit on the world at large. A funny bone may well be the most forceful weapon feminists possess, Barreca claims. And despite an annoying tendency to make sweeping generalizations about both sexes, she offers good advice about how to wield the weapon of humor wisely. First serial to Cosmopolitan. (Apr.)
Barreca, editor of Last Laughs: Perspectives on Women and Comedy (Gordon & Breach, 1988), explores the relationship of women and humor. She discusses the differences between men and women in how they use humor, what they think is funny and how they are perceived when telling jokes. Giving the book a strong feminist bent, Barreca theorizes that women are not encouraged to be funny and are even perceived as ``bad girls'' if they are funny. She quotes extensively from other researchers in the field, as well as from comediennes, authors, and cartoonists. Her coverage is extensive, ranging from Mae West to Sandra Bernhard, Emily Bronte to Erica Jong, ``I Love Lucy'' to ``Designing Women.'' The added bonus is the wealth of humor included as examples in the book. Recommended.-- Kathy Ingels Helmond, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ. at Indianapolis Lib.