Eisner emails a response to Spencer’s piece:
In the context of a public conversation with Goldie Hawn in which I was complimenting her on being both beautiful and funny, I said such a combination is hard to come by in Hollywood. I certainly did not say Goldie was the only one. My point was simply that Goldie, unlike many, has not been defined exclusively as one or the other.
But the outrage is already spreading far and wide. On Twitter, Hollywood producer Megan Ellison and comedic actresses Mindy Kaling and Elizabeth Banks slammed Eisner’s remarks. Cable news programs “Fox & Friends” and “The Ed Show” brought on panelists of female comedians to scrutinize the subject. Kathy Griffin commented at length:
Influencers and decision-makers who share the views that Eisner was stupid enough to say out loud actually decide whether or not I work, my career and sometimes my personal fate. People who share his views, and all the other men who think the things about women that he is expressing verbally, should simply be subjected to a panel of women — women of my choosing — who decide his career fate and legacy based on his physical appearance.
The panel might include Amy Schumer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette:
Schumer, by the way, recently made a whole episode, “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” parodying the way men sometimes judge the beauty of female comedians. (Watch one of the brilliant scenes here.) Eisner’s comments also got a lot of scrutiny this week from writers such as Ann Friedman, Amanda Marcotte, and Catherine Rampell. The latter had the strongest original point:
If Eisner really had been hell-bent on casting comic beauties, he was, in his heyday, almost uniquely positioned to locate this supposedly missing talent. Or rather, to create it. He did after all helm Disney during its animation renaissance, when the studio churned out classics such as “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” But even in these beloved animated films, wherein female characters’ appearances could be drawn to any comely specification imaginable, the comic roles were still dominated by dudes. Where, pray tell, was the lady version of Pumbaa? Better yet, where was the hot lady version of Pumbaa?
Indeed, in this list of “Disney’s 10 Funniest Comic Relief Characters,” the only female one is Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph. The writer openly wonders, “Why are so few comic sidekicks female?”
But I tend to agree with Mark Tapson about the tenor of the debate so far:
Slate’s go-to feminist Amanda Marcotte called Eisner a “daft sexist” whose comments were classic “mansplaining” about women. For the final nail in his coffin, she even linked to scientific evidence suggesting that women are just as funny as men.
But Eisner never said they weren’t. There are plenty of examples of real sexism in the entertainment industry that warrant attention without getting lathered up over an imaginary or harmless offense. Eisner wasn’t trying to hold women up to a separate standard. Most comedians—male and female—are not extraordinarily attractive. Certainly there are examples of funny, attractive actresses—maybe even many, depending on how lax your standards are. But extraordinarily attractive and funny? Rare, by definition.
Eisner didn’t mention men, because he was talking about women; it was in the context of complimenting Goldie Hawn by elevating her to the level of a Lucille Ball, who is the gold standard of beautiful comediennes. Would it have been more acceptable if Eisner had told Hawn, “There are many, many beautiful comediennes, and you were merely one of them”?
Context is everything when quoting someone, but internet vigilantes often don’t even bother to look past the headline, much less read deeply enough to consider the context.
Our readers are debating the issue with much more nuance. Here’s Paxmelanoleuca:
Eisner’s observation wasn’t totally unreasonable, although you don’t see many smoking hot male comedians either. A lot of comedy comes from awkwardness and discomfort that people experience as part of their feelings of not meeting society’s unwritten expectations, socially or physically. Maybe it’s an experience that beautiful people don’t have that often.
Davis MacCaulay also looks at the issue in gender neutral terms:
Attention is a fairly basic need while growing up, so it stands to reason that physically attractive people (male or female) aren’t generally going to feel the need to strive in areas other than “being attractive,” since that gets the job done.
But kryten8 complicates that point:
It seems clear that struggling with adversity is one way to become a great comic, and being a funny-looking guy is one way, but being a woman (beautiful or funny-looking) can provide you with a good deal of adversity.
Update from Beverly Haynes, who emails her take:
Men are mesmerized by extreme female beauty. The thought process necessary to perceive humor and deliver laughter is interfered with, broken by beauty. Also, the ability to make people laugh is powerful, and women tend to not want to give drop-dead gorgeous women more power than they already have.
Another email comes from Dawn Sesta in L.A.:
A problem exists with our definition of beauty. Michael Eisner is defining beauty in the traditional, passive sense. It is a quality someone possesses effortlessly that is of no utility, only aesthetic pleasure. Comedy is not passive. Comedy is active and reactionary, moving, conversational, living and breathing. When a woman is funny she makes herself a player of the game, not a prize to be acquired. And I don’t think the way beauty is being defined here is able to exist in a realm where everyone is on the same field.