Why is the straight 'man' in animation usually a woman?

Kennedy, Sarah Ann orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9770-1799 (2014) Why is the straight 'man' in animation usually a woman? In: Society of Animation Studies, 16th - 19th June 2014, Toronto. (Unpublished)

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Traditionally, the straight ‘man’ in stand up comedy or sitcom gives the eccentric character a presence to play against. It has long been accepted as an essential part of the process. As Mel Brooks has noted, “Well the straight guy is never given enough credit….(Bud) Abbot gets no credit for framing a gag, for the architecture, for the support, for the drive. He does everything except the punch line; he’s amazing.” If all or both characters were larger than life, they compete rather than compliment. Would scripted comedy work without this element or is it an essential part of the process? As a comedy writer myself, I have always been aware of this but it wasn’t until I created my latest piece of work Homesick starring Alison Steadman that I realized how important it is. Homesick is a half animation and half live action pilot for a comedy drama series about a dysfunctional family. The main character, Jane, left home to avoid being part of this family. There is a death in the family and after four years of being away Jane feels obliged to come home for the funeral. Jane has reinvented herself and left the past behind or so she thinks. After only ten minutes of being back in the bosom of her family her buttons are pressed and Jane reverts back to the Jane she once knew and hated. Homesick is a comedy about a single parent family with strong female characters but in retrospect there are no “straight” characters. The difference in pace and timing between the live action and animation isn’t noticeable so the film is just too loud. There is no space to frame the gags so the audience isn’t given the time for the joke to work. Having the confidence to leave space or have ‘down time’ in scripted comedy is essential and without it, it just doesn’t work.
For many comedy writers, space, or down time is an essential part, and most scripted comedy will include this component in some way. ‘The Office’ is filmed in a very straight way and the only over the top character is David Brent. His behavior is believable because it is framed against a very realistic setting. I then started to look at animated series, and how the straight character was used in this format and I noticed they nearly all had one thing in common – it is usually played by a women and in adult animation it seems to be reserved for the mother character. Think Marge Simpson in The Simpsons, Lois in Family Guy, Wilma in The Flintstones or even Mummy Pig in Peppa Pig.
This led me to question, why is it funny to watch a woman being the voice of reason against an illogical and over emotional man? Is it funny because it is true? Or is it because it is a given that men are organized and in control and women are hysterical so to see the reverse is ridiculous and funny.[1] Is this a reflection of society today or

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