One step forward, several pounds back
Let me make one thing clear. I am a huge fan of actress Melissa McCarthy (Mike and Molly, Bridesmaids, etc.). Yes, huge. No pun intended.
I have been a fan of Ms. McCarthy’s since seeing a short film, God, she appeared in over a decade ago. So it was with great respect and admiration that I watched her recent Emmy win. She was the epitome of class and grace as she accepted the acting award from her peers in September of this year.
Cut to her appearance this past weekend on Saturday Night Live, on which she pissed all of that grace away. I had been initially very excited to see her host, wondering what characters she might portray and how the show would showcase her talents. Sadly, Ms McCarthy (and the show) missed the mark.
From her first appearance as a fat bumpkin to her opening monologue, during which the audience was encouraged to laugh at the overweight actress announcing that her true passion has always been dance, the so-called jokes were all size related. The dance sequence continued to make a joke of Ms. McCarthy, given that she never actually started to dance, as if her girth prevented her from doing so (or so the “joke” would lead us to believe). Thus, throughout the number, she was simply in constant ‘warm up’ mode.
I thought the very backward fat jokes might stop there. But they continued throughout most of the 90-minute program – from the overweight office belle who wanted to have sex with her thin coworker to an overzealous product tester that loved salad dressing and downed what seemed like gallons of ranch dressing to prove it.
These tiresome skits weren’t just mean spirited, they were also repetitive. And as an actress who has recently earned her more-than-deserved share of clout in the entertainment industry, I would have expected Ms. McCarthy to take a stand against performing what was essentially the same fat joke over and over again.
Would it have been so wrong for an equal amount of the show’s skits to not have anything to do with girth or an over-hungry attitude?
After all, Ms. McCarthy is a highly accomplished performer (she’s even a former member of the acclaimed improv group The Groundlings). Thus, there was a real missed opportunity here. Not only did she allow the SNL writers to waste her talents, but she allowed them to mock them – as if the only reason she’s famous is because she’s big and funny. In that order.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for laughing at ourselves (and myself, for that matter). As readers of my blog know, I’ll be the first to be lighthearted about my past adventures as a fat man. Good humor can be just that (good!) – even when occasionally aimed at a certain demographic. But when one group of people (be they fat or otherwise) is portrayed to be one big stereotype and not much else, it’s time for someone to step in and suggest a different path toward humor.
I am a big fan of Mike and Molly, the sitcom (along with the movie Bridesmaids) responsible for Ms. McCarthy’s sudden mass appeal. Sure – there are fat jokes from time to time on Mike and Molly. But all of the characters (fat or not so fat) are multi dimensional with unique qualities all their own. Heck, the characters Mike and Molly even attend Overeaters Anonymous meetings, during which they learn to just stop eating so much. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
So why couldn’t Ms. McCarthy insist on some of this kind of scope while appearing on SNL?
When a certain group is made the target of endless jokes, that not only says “It’s okay” for society to be prejudiced against the group, but it also encourages the kind of low self-esteem (amidst people who affiliate with the group) that can shut people down (mentally), encourage depression and even convince them to give up on their goals (including the goal of getting healthier). Under a constant barrage of fat jokes from an early age, I suffered from this kind of low self-esteem for years and, as a result, found myself weighing over 450-pounds when I graduated from college. Low self-esteem is one of the very things that keeps us fat – not to mention fat headed.
It’s time we stepped away from the stereotypes (including the kind seen on this most recent episode of SNL) and start rounding out obese characters so that we’re building people up instead of tearing them down. But if someone as talented and seemingly compassionate as Ms. McCarthy isn’t going to lead the charge against this kind of barrage of hurtful humor, then who will?
Agree..it’s just tired. I don’t watch Mike & Molly –but she will always be Sookie to me from Gilmore Girls. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes and clearly it’s needed on TV/Film or she wouldn’t have a job.
I couldn’t agree more. I love Melissa McCarthy but the fat jokes are tired. She is capable and worthy of so much more. Maybe she didn’t feel that she had “veto” power on the sketches. We really do punish and shame obese people in our culture. We put temptation around them constantly and then blame for being overweight. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my current weight loss journey is this: you have to take responsibility for what you eat. That involves a lot of difficult self examination and a choice to love yourself at your current weight but work toward something healthier. I’m not sure which came first – the pain/anger or the weight but I do know that you have to work through the pain/anger in order to get rid of the weight. There is no magic bullet. There is no cure. It is one day at a time – sometimes one meal or snack at a time. My goal is not just a certain weight – my goal is to feel my feelings and eat healthy food and exercise so that I can live a long and productive life. Currently, I’m battling a bit of post show angst and really want to eat something sweet and salty BUT since I dropped two pounds last week and am back into a favorite pair of pants, I am putting those cravings away and focusing on the goal.
Wow, Teresa — I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you so much for such an insightful post — both about actress Melissa McCarthy as well as taking responsibility for what we eat. You’re so right in that it’s all about BALANCE. And that includes self esteem as much as anything else. We tend to beat ourselves up (mentally) when we’re heavier than we want to be. But that actually works against us. If we are down on ourselves, why would we care enough to make positive changes? Ah, the tug-o-war of the psyche. And negative messages from the media do not help (especially when disguised as “humor”). It’s so great that people like you make comments like this. It helps all the readers of this blog — including myself. We’re all in this together! (Oh, and congrats on getting into that favorite pair of jeans! You GO, girl!)
So many thoughts… I’ll try to be brief.
I watched the clip you posted and I don’t think it’s that bad. My take on it was not that she didn’t dance because she was fat. I think the gag would have worked with a skinny girl, too. In fact, the skinny girl onstage with her is doing the same bit. There’s no difference in what one is able to deliver over the other because of size. It’s the build-up that’s funny and the non-delivery. Kind of like Molly Shannon’s Catholic schoolgirl character, the one who always ended with “Superstar!” was. In addition, when the guys come out to dance, they’re essentially the male counterparts to Melissa and Kristen (sp?), and they dance, even the husky one.
At least she didn’t make a clown of herself by throwing her girth around and sweating like a pig, the way Chris Farley used to. That, I did have a problem with. That seemed to be his one talent, breaking things when he fell on them and sweating like he was about to have a heart attack on stage. With him it always felt like it was ‘laugh at my fat’ over laugh with me because I am funny. I always thought that did far more harm to fat people and was desperate and sad.
Thanks for your comments and for checking out the clips, Eve. Much appreciated! I agree with you that one skit does not an issue make — but almost every skit in SNL’s show with Melissa McCarthy mocked girth. And there were definitely Farley-like antics in the salad dressing focus group skit. Fat as funny gets repetitive after awhile — and sends the wrong message that it’s an okay thing to openly make fun of in our society. In my humble opinion, 90 minutes of it is just too much and should have been countered with less girth-oriented material.
Yikes! That’s really too bad that the other skits were more mocking of her size. I never think fat jokes are funny and comedians who rely on their size to be the main joke lack any sort of depth for me. I adore Melissa McCarthy in Mike & Molly, where size is a trait of the two main characters, but not the joke. For her character in Gilmore Girls it wasn’t ever a moment’s consideration. (I didn’t see Bridesmaids.) I’d be interested to know why she would participate in humor that diminishes her or, if she was fully on board, what she saw in the comedy that’s different from what you’re seeing.
Ms. McCarthy’s participation is a bit baffling. I suppose in the wake of Chris Farley and other male comedians who used their slovenly girth as a tool, she might think, “If a guy can do it, I can, too.” Who knows. But it is odd, given how dimensional (!) her and other characters are on “Mike and Molly.” I think skits like the ones on SNL are dangerous. I’ve talked to many thinner people who didn’t think any fat jokes were made at all. This is deceptive humor that makes it “Okay” by society’s standards to laugh openly at fat people. Really, really dangerous — especially in this age of bullying, etc. (Your insights and comments are always so appreciated, Eve! Thank you!)