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Happy 100th Birthday, Lucy! A Salute to the Groundbreaking Female Comedian

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

If she was alive today, Lucille Ball would have been 100 years old. And on her birthday, we’re paying tribute to a woman who showed everyone that comedy was gender-neutral territory. Lucy paved the way for women in comedy and not just as another woman who stood by and assisted their male costars in getting laughs — she got her own.

Besides being the one of the first women to be pregnant on television, something that acknowledged that a married couple was having regular sexual intercourse (as they are wont to do) despite being shown sleeping in separate beds, Lucy and her then-husband Desi Arnaz also depicted a loving, functional (albeit feisty) interracial couple. Both of these things were not unheard of at the time, but certainly, on television, were not entirely acceptable to some people. (And actually, they turned their “family way” into high ratings for CBS when Ball scheduled her C-section with her second child on the same night Lucy Ricardo gave birth on the show.) True, Lucy Ricardo was not the brightest bulb in the drawer at times, but she was ambitious and creative, and lovable. And as a physical comedian, Ball gladly relinquished glamour and being ladylike in favor of making her audience laugh. For once, the woman wasn’t the straight — the man was. Ricky would set up Lucy for the jokes, not the other way around.

Watching Lucy do bits like Vitameatavegamin and the grape smashing brings scenes like Kristen Wiig‘s drunken plane ride in Bridesmaids, though decades later, Wiig was able to get away with a lot more profanity. But both scenes feature women trying with all their might to gain some kind of control over a situation (Lucy wanted a professional paid gig, Wiig’s character Annie wanted to survive a plane ride), then losing it to humorous effect (in both of these cases, losing it due to somewhat accidental intoxication). True, the situations aren’t entirely similar, but the same theme is there: taking charge. Then completely letting themselves go.

It’s the letting go that is such a crucial element in comedy — handing yourself over completely for the sake of entertainment. And once Lucy did it (on broadcast television, on the most watched show at the time), it was clear that men were not the only ones willing to make themselves look like idiots for a laugh. Women didn’t have to be the prim, proper, and poised voice of reason (because that was the feminine thing to do) while the men got to goof off. Lucy was a goofball. A trailblazing, riotous goofball.

If you visit Google today, they’re celebrating by offering up clips on their homepage. We highly recommend you do this today, especially if you’re in need of a laugh. But even if you’re in a great mood, go ahead and treat yourself to an even better one.

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