Aisha Tyler: Proto Funny/Girl
When I wrote about Funny/Girls a couple weeks ago, Duana asked me about Aisha Tyler. Why, as Tyler is talented, funny and beautiful, she never quite took in the mainstream. My answer was that Aisha Tyler is six feet tall. She smokes cigars and drinks Scotch (and brews her own beer). She tells jokes about scratching her vagina in public—she tells jokes “like a man”. And she did it before the Funny/Girl was recognized as distinct from Funny Girls. She didn’t fit into the small, limited box the industry kept trying to put her in.
But Aisha Tyler is a comic’s comic, which is a cop out way of saying “the general public won’t get it, but this is hilarious”. And Aisha Tyler is hilarious. She’s a hero to female comedians today and we wouldn’t have Funny/Girls like Lizzy Caplan, Aubrey Plaza and Jessi Williams without her. We wouldn’t have Funny/Girls at all, because it took someone like Tyler to break down that wall and make the Funny/Girl a viable entertainment commodity for the next generation. Yet she’s always existed outside the mainstream, even outside the social club that is stand-up comedy. Maybe that’s because she was never “just a stand-up”, but hop-scotched between live performances and her acting career and so never rooted deeply in either place, or maybe it’s just that, like Joan Jett in the 1980’s, being a woman in an industry so heavily dominated by men in a time when she was fighting to justify getting to be there at all is a naturally isolating state. (Aisha Tyler = Joan Jett, yes.).
In retrospect, what Tyler really needed was a stint on SNL, but at the same time, I can’t see her playing by those rules. And by the time the renaissance of women on SNL happened in the early 2000’s, she was hosting Talk Soup. She was already established without that platform. And that’s always kind of been Tyler’s groove—doing her own thing, slightly to the left of everyone else. But what she did do was lay the tracks comedians like Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson and Aubrey Plaza are on now. She took a giant step away from the Funny Girl box and made a space for Funny/Girls (along with Margaret Cho and Maria Bamford).
This is in no way meant to say that Tyler doesn’t have a pretty awesome career these days. She does. She co-hosts The Talk, she stars on one of television’s funniest shows, Archer, and if I had my way, she would be Nora Charles in the Thin Man remake. Her podcast, Girl on Guy is popular (deservedly so), and she still tours with her live act. Aisha Tyler is writing her own script. She always has.