Formerly a diagnosis assigned to women derived from Greek for “Wandering womb,” Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ new FX Documentary Film examines the word’s definition and the social constructs that surround womanhood. Told through the lens of female comedians, Hysterical underscores the boundary-pushing platform and how women have fought for their place on the comedy stage. Covering a wide range of serious topics that include gender inequality, wage gaps, sexism, objectification, body image, rape, motherhood and breast cancer, interviews with fifteen stand-up comedians and archival footage give viewers a lot of belly laughs while absorbing its messages of inclusivity and respect.
Margaret Cho , Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Kelly Bachman, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch and Bonnie McFarlane share their experiences starting out and finding success in comedy as women. The film breaks the narrative into chunks surrounding the definitions of other words to explore their “Childhood,” the term “Ladylike,” what “Confidence” means and how to get it, controlling the “Narrative,” and concluding fittingly with “Tagline.”
There’s a bit of a history lesson to be found in Hysterical about women in comedy, with the documentary’s subjects crediting Moms Mabley, Sofie Tucker, Jean Carrol, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Wanda Sykes with opening doors and making it easier for women to get into what’s still considered to be a male-dominated field. One of the most delightful surprises is the message of support for other women in the field, best exemplified by people like Nikki Glaser finding inspiration from a newer comedian, Kelly Bachman, who improvised a set about rape when she discovered that Harvey Weinstein was in the audience of one of her shows in 2019. There’s also a discussion about how the comedy business doesn’t keep the safety or security of female comedians in mind and how they’ve all in some ways been put in positions to be mistreated throughout their careers.
Hysterical peels back the curtain for the unglamorous backstage life of a comedian, and sometimes even the heckling that happens onstage. Mental health comes into the narrative with a discussion about how they have risen above cross-armed men in the audience determined to not find a woman funny or hecklers when performing at comedy clubs. And it also examines the double standards for men and women, from Kathy Griffin getting publicly shamed for her beheaded Trump photo shoot while men doing the same thing were never sensationalized and also calling out Netflix for its pay gap in comedy specials for men vs. women.
Viewers leave Hysterical with a lot of respect for the women who put themselves out there to become comedians and celebrates not only those who have persevered and made it, but those who also stand onstage with an arm reaching back to pull other women up with them. For as serious as some of the topics are, you leave the experience feeling uplifted and hopeful and it hilariously ends with a “Where are they now” and bonus bits of comedy through the credits.
Hysterical premieres April 2nd on FX and starts streaming the next day on Hulu.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).