“America is at its most puritanical,” Lena Dunham proclaimed to a group of (mostly female) patrons at a Sundance panel discussion on Saturday afternoon. “People are forgetting that humor is a tool for debate and a tool for expression.”
The panel was titled “Power of Story: Serious Ladies” and featured Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “The Office”), Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids,” “Saturday Night Live”), Jenji Kohan (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Weeds”) and was moderated by New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum.
All four are women who have broken serious ground in entertainment over the last few years and are arguably some of the most powerful forces in comedy. And yet, the initial conversation at the start of the panel was surprisingly tight-lipped.
Dunham teased that they were now all too seasoned to fall for “gotcha” questions, like when Nussbaum asked what jokes they’ve cut from their shows for being over the line. Kaling added that a few years ago they would have just been blabbing, but now they know better. Dunham mused that perhaps they are all just too media-trained now.
But then Dunham had a un-media-trained moment, when she brought Woody Allen into the picture.
The panel had just discussed how fans often assume they are just like the characters they write or play –- this is especially true for Kaling and Dunham. (Wiig joked that if she were anything like the characters she plays, she would be “really fucked up.”) They agreed that male artists deal with this less, and Dunham decided pushed the conversation further.
Saying she doubts that people like Woody Allen and Larry David walk around being mistaken for the characters they play, Dunham stated: “Woody Allen is proof that people don’t think that everything he does in his films is stuff that he does because all he was doing was making out with 17-year-olds for years. And then he did. A bunch.”
After that, the room was more alive, but the general questions about being a female powerhouse came and went, as did queries about if film or television is the better landscape for women at the moment. But each woman on the panel had a chance to discuss what political issue was most important to her.
After muttering under her breath that it was going to sound stupid, Wiig was first to answer the question. “I think it’s important to know where your food comes from. The food in schools right now is the worst. The grade of meat they allow is below what supermarkets allow. I think it’s terrible and it affects how we learn and it affects our health. Our health is our lives.”
Kohan, whose show “Orange Is The New Black” is known for challenging our perceptions of gender and sexuality, stated, “Something I find myself railing against is fundamentalism in all its forms.”
Dunham spoke out about reproductive rights and justice. “The idea that this is still something that women, in what I supposed to be the freest nation, are still fighting for…