In the past few years, I’ve watched women sing about period sex, brag about losing three pounds from diarrhea, rap about her best friend’s “broken pussy,” have a homeless man spit in her mouth, be told to lose weight at an audition for “2 Girls 1 Cup,” and yell “This is the happiest day of my life!” at their grandmother’s shiva after their non-romantic soul mate fulfills their shared dream of pegging a dude. A golden age of female body humor is upon us — a comedy epoch that I hope never ends. For millennia, the female figure has been observed, evaluated, and mythologized by men. But today, a great many shows explore what it feels like to inhabit a girl or woman’s body, with all its appetites and expulsions, pleasures and discomforts, excesses and practicalities. As much as we’re sometimes loath to admit it, our bodies are ourselves.
In celebration of the daughters of Portnoy who’ve gone spelunking for humor in every crack and crevice, we’re devoting this month to the search for TV’s queen of body comedy. Each of these female characters is unique and important in her own way, but in the spirit of healthy competition, we’d like to crown one as the girl or woman who best encapsulates existence in a (biologically) female body. To that end, we ask for your help in finding the pop-culture icon who most understands that our bodies are a playground and a freak show, a wonderland and a wayward factory. Please guide our quest by voting in each of the matchups below. Voting in this round ends at 5 p.m. PST Wednesday, March 15, after which we'll announce the winners and set up voting in the second-round brackets.
1. The Seemingly Sane Professionals Bracket: 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) vs. The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling)
Liz: Of all the contenders on this list, Liz Lemon is the one most likely to call her body a “meat sack.” In the halls of 30 Rock, she mostly uses it to propel her way toward stamping out the fire du jour until she's too tired to budge. And yet we’ve got to congratulate Liz for the way she makes her body her own, as a gleeful near-asexual who doesn’t mind guzzling down a bag of bull semen-flavored cheese puffs if it means she’s that much closer to eating her feelings. It’s hard not to laud a woman so comfortable in her desires (if uncomfortable in everything else) that she proudly admits to a stranger that her version of “having it all” means eating every sandwich in sight.
Liz’s bonus quote: “This better be important, Jack. I was in the middle of buying a bag of bras on eBay.”
Mindy: No female character ping-pongs between narcissistic bravado and self-conscious shame faster than Dr. Mindy Lahiri, the most sociopathic gynecologist since Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. Mindy’s moods capture us at our most confident and our most self-aware. “I'm, like, very smart and successful, and I'm hot, but I don't even know it, which makes me even hotter,” she blurts with the exuberance of a 13-year-old who just found out that her crush likes her back. But she also knows herself well enough to admit (compulsively; TMI might as well be her middle name) that she steals bathroom supplies from work because “I can't be seen buying toilet paper in the quantities I need.” Happy or hapless, Mindy’s always one thing: a heedless hedonist. "Why do I smell cookies? Wait, am I having a stroke?” she asks herself. “You know what? If it smells this good, bring it on."
Mindy’s bonus quote: [throwing shade at a pair of hippie-dippie male midwives] “What are you doing here, trying to get us to use mushrooms as tampons?”
2. The Girls With No Boundaries Bracket: Bob’s Burgers’s Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) vs. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom)
Tina: Speaking of 13-year-old girls, we should all strive to be as indulgent of our lust as Tina Belcher, whose open heart (and, uh, open-minded tastes) has led her to ask, “Is it possible to be in love with 25 people at once?” Sigmund Freud coined the term “polymorphous perversity” to describe the idea that, before people are indoctrinated by society on what’s attractive, they can be aroused by pretty much anything. That describes Tina to a T, a girl who’ll ogle zombie butts if a human pair isn’t available. Youth makes her naive, and naivety makes her bold — which explains how the dorkiest girl at her school got the confidence to suggest a three-way on a middle-school dance floor.
Tina’s bonus quote: “My heart just pooped its pants.”
Rebecca: Attorney Rebecca Bunch is more than twice Tina’s age, but she’s still an adolescent in her broken, broken heart. As such, she’s an all-too-relatable combination of crazed teenager (hence the show’s premise) and should-know-better gender crusader. Too bad the title “Bad Feminist” is already taken, because it’d be the perfect title for Rebecca’s autobiography, about constantly failing to live up to her principles, as in “The Sexy Getting-Ready Song,” in which she waxes her asshole bloody for her date with Josh. Elsewhere, Rebecca is unfailingly honest about the not-so-pleasant realities of bodies and sex, from heavy boobs to UTIs. But Rebecca’s never more candid (or as transgressive) as in the highly underrated song “Feeling Kinda Naughty,” in which she describes the Buffalo Bill–ish impulses certain female friendships can strike in us.
Rebecca’s bonus quote: "Do you want some boba? It actually horrifies me, personally. It's like drinking little tumors."
3. The World-Weary Truth-Tellers: Inside Amy Schumer’s Various Amys (Amy Schumer) vs. Catastrophe’s Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan)
Amy: Here’s a shocker: Sometimes having a female body feels fucking terrible. Often, it’s because we’re told our bodies are either too much or not enough in some way — an eternal paradox Amy Schumer has mined for endless laughs of recognition in her breakthrough sketch show. The justly famous “Focus Group” sketch perfectly exemplifies how every aspect of a woman’s body can be weaponized against her. It’s not just men who are guilty of promoting female self-hatred, but women too — never better illustrated than in the “new body” sketch, where Amy goes shopping for the body that she plans on having if she continues with the diet-and-exercise routine she just started that morning.
Amy’s bonus quote: “Is your pussy too loose to hang on to the perfect guy?”
Sharon: Probably no other event changes a woman’s relationship to her body like pregnancy — a fact Sharon Horgan unflinchingly confronts, then jokes about, in Catastrophe. Poop is conspicuously missing from the rest of these comedies, but not in Horgan’s trans-Atlantic rom-com, where it’s a staple in everything from childbirth to breastfeeding. “Am I shitting myself now?” the fictional Sharon asks her husband (Rob Delaney), to which he reassuringly replies, “Barely!” Kudos to Horgan and Delaney for dealing with issues like cancer, infertility, and postpartum depression in a comedy that finds humor in all the ways our lives and our bodies can transform in the blink of an eye.
Sharon’s bonus quote: "That’s my areola on a cake."
4. The Brooklyn Brats Bracket: Girls’s Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) vs. Broad City’s Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer)
Hannah: “Sexual chaos” defines Hannah Horvath’s existence as a lost explorer of her anatomy. Here are some things you may have forgotten that the talented writer in constant need of something worth writing about has done: flashed her junk to her boss, had sex with a teenager for “like eight seconds,” role-played as an 11-year-old junkie, dirty-talked "I'm tight like a baby, right?,” confessed that she pretends she doesn’t exist during sex, and went down on a woman only to stop in the middle, citing overheating (not the good kind). Hannah’s a victim of her libidinal caprices — and who doesn’t feel like that sometimes, that they have no idea what their sexuality is telling them, but they’re just going to go with it? If that’s not understandable (if not strictly relatable) enough, there’s the fact that Hannah probably speaks for us when she pouts, “I am 13 pounds overweight, and it has been awful for me my whole life.”
Hannah’s bonus quote: “I never know when I'm going to get my period, and it's always a surprise, and that's why all my underwear are covered in weird stains.”
Ilana: Either Ilana or Abbi would’ve been a formidable candidate in the search for the queen (kween?) of body humor, but there’s something about the curly-topped urban elf’s utter shamelessness and zeal for innovation that especially appeals to those of us in need of utopian inspiration. Abbi may have gotten to peg, but pansexual Ilana reinvented the one-night stand when she smartly realized that NBA star Blake Griffin was, er, not gonna happen. Last year that winsome shamelessness and innovation led to Broad City’s most daring (and boundary-pushing) gag: her period pants, which turned out to be a decoy to smuggle weed in her vagina across international borders. Snaps for turning a woman’s worst nightmare into the most memorable joke of the year.
Ilana’s bonus quote: (In response to “What's an Arc de Triomphe?”) “It's when two dudes go down on us … and they're butt-to-butt, and then you and I do Oprah hands.”