I was looking through the acting nominations for the Comedy Awards, and it really struck me that in a lot of ways, 2011 was a richer year for women in comedy than it was for men.
In movies, Jason Bateman got a nod for Horrible Bosses, Steve Carell was nominated for Crazy, Stupid, Love, Jean Dujardin was tapped for The Artist, Zach Galifianakis for The Hangover Part II, and Owen Wilson for Midnight in Paris. None of these are particularly innovative roles, and all of them (except Dujardin, whose range I don’t really know) fall pretty squarely within these actors’ existing ranges: Bateman is a tense straight man, Carell is sympathetic and slightly clueless, Galifianakis is disconcerting and wild, and Wilson is winsome. There are a few things that I think were left off this list—I’ll defend The Trip until I run out of breath, Patton Oswalt was great and under-recognized for Young Adult, and I’m not really sure why 50/50, which was nominated elsewhere, didn’t score acting nods—but I can’t think of a performance by a man that’s not here that was a revelation. Ditto in TV, which was dominated by utterly predictable nods for Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock, Ty Burrell in Modern Family, Steve Carell in The Office, and Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’m glad to see Louis C.K. in there—his performance in Louie was arguably my favorite thing on television in 2011. But it’s not like he has a lot of peers.
For women, on the other hand, the nominations are actually a lot of fun. I didn’t love Horrible Bosses, but seeing Jennifer Aniston get totally raunchy and ridiculous was a fun stretch for her. Ditto for Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher—depending on how she takes her career next, she could leave horrid romantic comedies behind and steer more in the direction of Charlize Theron in Young Adult, who really ought to be here. Melissa McCarthy was a miracle in Bridesmaids, and Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne, who had an utterly breakout performance in that film also could have easily been nominated. Television has its predictable notes—Tina Fey, for a deeply uninspired season of 30 Rock and Sofia Vergara for Modern Family. But you’ve got Zooey Deschanel in there for a debut performance in New Girl, and Maya Rudolph could easily be there for Up All Night, along with Laura Dern in Enlightened, Kat Dennings or Beth Behrs in 2 Broke Girls (that show’s massive flaws are not their fault), any of the women in Community‘s cast or Eliza Coupe or Elisha Cuthbert in Happy Endings.
And if Whitney or Are You There, Chelsea? had been less terrible, and we’d fulfilled all the potential of the lady comedy boom, this could have been an even more crowded field. I may not be equally addicted to every female comedy performance on the market these days. But it seems like there’s a lot of space available for new actresses to enter the field, and for actresses with existing track records to step out of their comfort zones. If those conditions persist, that’s a recipe for an embarrassment of riches.