One of the best things to come out of South by Southwest (SXSW) this year was seeing not just one but two raunchy comedies with female perspectives, told by female writers and directors. It shouldn't be a novelty considering that women are half the population and also like to laugh, but this is a point of view so rarely explored that it feels fresh and new. New Zealand comedy duo Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek were at SXSW this year for the premiere of their new movie The Breaker Upperers.
The movie follows two women (played by Sami and van Beek) who have a business breaking up couples who are too cowardly to do it themselves. The duo, who also wrote the film and therefore wore three hats, sat down with Bleeding Cool at the festival. We talked about this silly place we're in where women rarely have a seat at the comedy table — Sami thinks it's fantastic to see women in comedy and that we need more of it.
Sami: I think it's great. I'm for it, I think we definitely need more of it. I don't know why, especially in America, I feel like people find women talking about sex or being sexual quite taboo. Whereas there's a culture [wherein] men are constantly talking about their penises in comedy. You know what I mean? There's this kind of thing like women are sacred, and they shouldn't [be].
She went on to detail how she did a pilot for ABC a few years back and how she learned about the American censorship system in all its glory.
Sami: A few years back I came and did a broadcast pilot for ABC for a show that I made New Zealand. I made an American version of it. It was with ABC, so there were certain things that we weren't allowed to say. It was a pretty raunchy show. [In] the first episode of the show I play a gym instructor whose towel falls off and then you see that she's dyed her pubes — she put frosted tips on her pubes to match her hair. And so my producer was like, "we should definitely put that in," and I was like, "are you sure? This is ABC." They obviously didn't go for it, but then we were learning about all these kinds of things we were allowed to do and weren't allowed to do. In New Zealand there's no kind of censorship. I mean, there is censorship; you're limited, but not in the same way here.
There are even some parts of censorship that come across as very sexist considering what you can and cannot say when it come to anatomy.
Sami: What I learned is you can't actually say vagina on television, but you can say penis. So there were actual sexist kind of things in the censorship here with regard to women, and that shocked me. So the person that we were dealing with at ABC was like, that's why Shonda Rhimes created the word vajayjay, so that they could get away with saying vagina without actually saying it. And I was like, are you kidding me? Vagina? You can't say an anatomically correct word because it's offensive somehow? So yeah, I definitely feel like there's some breaking through that needs to happen. And I think the more raunchy comedies that come out, the better. Even the bad ones, I feel like you just need–
Van Beek: To start normalizing it.
Sami: Yeah, and to get rid of this kind of sacredness around women talking about sex.
Van Beek: Because both genders have sex, talk about sex, joke about sex. We just need it represented up on screen, because it's not like we don't talk about it and joke about [it].
The two writers/directors/actors went on to talk about the impact of movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo in the comedy scene and sex comedies in particular.
Sami: It's going to be interesting actually with the impact of #TimesUp and #MeToo… How that's going to impact people talking about it, because there is now this protective kind of time at the moment where people are being very careful about what they say and how they say it. So it'll be interesting to see how that impacts what comes out in the future.
Van Beek: But we're in an empowering time for women as well. I kind of feel like we as women get more and more empowered and confident to express themselves.
Sami: I think it's more problematic for men. Now they're going to have to check themselves a bit more and think about what historically has been okay to do and isn't anymore. In a very short time it's changed.
Both Sami and van Beek talked about the insanity of wearing three hats at once, but there was something special about the set of The Breaker Upperers that was different from other sets they've both worked on in the past.
Sami: We had a very female-dominant crew as well. So we had a wonderful cinematographer, and her focus puller, her second camera, all female — so it was crazy. It was unusual and amazing to be on the set where you're staring back at everyone on the other side and it's mainly female. And yeah, it was it was cool. There was a really nice kind of different vibe to any other set I've been on before, and it was exciting [for the] the future — what's possible for female filmmakers.
As if it wasn't enough that they had a majority female crew, it was also a crew that had children and were able to maintain that work-life balance. It turned out that it was a lot of job sharing and subbing out to make it work for everyone.
Van Beek: A lot of us have children as well. So there was some job sharing that happened. Obviously not with Madeleine or I — we were already doing three jobs and couldn't. So some of our heads of department, because they had kids, they would job share; one person will come on Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Saturday. Our two producers, Ainsley [Gardiner] and Georgina [Conder], they would sub in for each other. Literally you'd go "GEORGE! Oh, Ainsley…" It works so well, and it means that it means that women can have families and work can in film.
Sami: It's exciting that I've been part of something where I know that can work. I can take that experience forward now and be like, when I have a baby I can just be like, "no no no, you don't tell me that this is not possible. We make this work, because I know that it can."