Role Models & Heroes: Bonnie McFarlane (2018)

The following essay on Bonnie MacFarlane was written by SZ, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.
 
What’s a role model? Someone impressive. Someone you look up to because you share their values and admire their accomplishments. For example, when I was little I used to look up to my best friend Rachel and wanted to copy whatever she did, because she seemed cool. Now however, I’d instead choose someone who’s accomplished many of the things that I’d like to accomplish, like becoming well educated. A role model is different from a hero in that it’s someone you look up to, whereas a hero is more like someone who’s put their life on the line or who is trying to save the world.
Choosing a role model for me has actually been very challenging because I don’t really emulate anyone. It was hard to pick someone because no one in particular has every quality that I value. My mom and I considered and even researched dozens of options, ranging from environmentalist Jane Goodall to the fictional character, Leslie Knope, a councilwoman on the show Parks and Rec.
Ultimately, my mom and I came across the comedian Bonnie McFarlane accidentally one day while surfing the web for admirable women. We were drawn in by the catchy title of her documentary, “Women Aren’t Funny.” We presumed based on the name and interesting font, that the documentary had the potential to be intriguing, funny, and even meaningful. Also, my mom and I enjoy watching funny shows together.
  Bonnie McFarlane is a Canadian born writer, director, comedian, and a devoted mother. She grew up socially awkward and dirt poor on a farm deep in rural Canada, at first in a trailer and then a shack. She slept in the unfinished basement (that her dad had dug up as “a bedroom”), with her three sisters and ‘filled with mice’. Her bestie was a cow named Bessie, she farmed and slaughtered chickens, and was bullied often by her classmates. Before creating “Women Aren’t Funny,” she was a successful stand-up comic, and early in her stand-up career she won The Search for Canada’s Funniest New Comic,” which helped launch her to the next level.
            After my mom and I watched the documentary, I realized McFarlane was a potential role model for me because I strongly share her belief that women are indeed at least as funny as men. This is an important message which makes a lot of sense to me. I admired that she was a feminist, and also was clearly a devoted mother, and a very funny woman. All three of these traits impressed me.
            As I began to research Bonnie McFarlane, the list of her admirable traits grew. It turns out she also is an accomplished writer, innovative, is ‘self-made,’ and overcame many obstacles.  Additionally, she often describes herself as particularly obnoxious (perhaps a defense-mechanism), which is something my parents accuse me of almost every day!
            As I have mentioned previously, I value hard work. McFarlane had to be hardworking, to overcome the extreme poverty of her childhood. In an article on the website “The Interro Bang,” Sarah Jacobs writes, “Bonnie didn’t grow up ordinarily poor, she grew up poor on a level that only Dickens could relate to. She didn’t just share a room with all of her sisters, she shared a room overrun with mice, in a basement her dad dug by himself, and by the way, that was an upgrade from earlier in life when she was living in a trailer. The sisters would argue over who got the top bunk because otherwise, you’d sleep with mice crawling all over you.” Bonnie McFarlane’s family lived without running water in a “frozen wasteland,” and shared the same bathwater from a bucket each week. Her clothes were all hand-me-downs, and they had no TV until she was ten years old. She worked on their farm each summer, from which most of the family’s food was grown. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
When McFarlane was ten years old, her parents gave her the traditional family gift a cow.  They were too poor to give her anything else. She decided to use the cow to make money, and so milked the cow to make ice cream, which she then sold at the local farmers market each week. She saved all the money she made with the hopes that ‘it would be her ticket out’ of Cold Lake, Alberta.
McFarlane wasn’t expected to achieve greatness. Her father’s aspiration for her was to become a hairdresser. And yet she overcame a childhood of poverty and went on to become the first of her family to achieve great success. This resonates with me because I was quite impressed by her ability to accomplish so much, her determination, and her incredible commitment to hard work.
Today, Bonnie McFarlane is a relatively well-known and successful stand-up comic. She has performed on Last Comic Standing,” The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” The Late Show with David Letterman,” The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.” She also had her own HBO “One Night Stand” special and her own Comedy Central Presents” half-hour special.  She’s performed at a long list of well-known comedy venues, and in fact after writing this essay my Mom took me to see her perform live at The Stand. Let me tell you, I laughed VERY hard!
            Humor to me is the cure for boredom. Laughter makes people happy. I value humor because without it there’d be more sadness and anger. To me, comedy is more entertaining than other genres because it makes me happy and happiness makes me feel good. More comedy is good for the world because it leads to greater happiness.
My family and I also like to make others laugh. According to my mom, I’m also QUITE funny, as I seem to make her laugh often (and sometimes even when she doesn’t want to!). Bonnie McFarlane is a role model to me because we both value humor and I also want to make people laugh just as she does.
In 2007, she gave birth to her daughter, Rayna Lynn Vos. In her documentary, she includes a scene from her stand-up routine in which she brings her daughter to the stage.  She clearly cares a lot about exposing her to many varied and rich experiences. Throughout the entirety of the documentary, she takes her daughter around with her wherever she goes, even though it’s clearly lots of work to care for a toddler (and even more so when travelling). In an interview with Katla McGlynn on splitsider.com, McFarlane states, “It’s usually her and I going on the road together. If I go without her, it’s just too awful. It’s soul-destroying. I need her there. And I always think it’s boring for her, but she loves it.”
This is another value that’s important to me because being a dedicated mother is important to the next generation, and is part of what leads to a strong family.  It enables the next generation to grow up and become better people, because involved parents (or caregivers) are essential to the overall well-being of all children. Personally, I think it’d be really cool if I had a mommy who’d take me around all the time on comedy tours!
   In her documentary, McFarlane sets out to prove that Christopher Hitchens is wrong when he said to a reporter for the Huffington Post “…women aren’t funny,” and that women indeed are funny. She proves Hitchens wrong by showing clips of different excellent female comedians being funny, by being funny herself, and by creating a very funny film.
More evidence of her feminist beliefs comes out in her interviews. In the same interview with Katla McGlynn, she says, “There are still these club owners who think if they put women up, they’re not going to get as many people through the door. Which is absolutely crazy”. Furthermore, she speaks during the same interview about the ‘hangback effect,’ when she says, “Yeah, [the audience] doesn’t always know if [women] are funny right away. You have to say like three funny things in a row until they’re like, ‘Oh I think she’s being funny!’ I also have a theory, which I think still holds true, that a lot of times a man will think you’re funnier if you laugh at him. You can say eighty-seven hilarious things in a row, but if you laugh at him, he’ll say, ‘Ahh, she gets it.’” In a different interview with Sarah Jacobs she tells about an experience trying to get a job writing with her friend Stefanie for the MTV Movie Awards. They were told by a male executive, “You’re too pretty…I can’t hire you as writers. None of the guys would ever get anything done.” These stories show obstacles that McFarlane experienced as a woman trying to succeed in comedy.
One of the main reasons I chose Bonnie McFarlane as my role model is because I, too, believe that women are also at least as funny as men. Sexism is still a serious issue in our society because there are still some people who believe men are better than women. These unjust ideas are continuing to obstruct women’s opportunities today, which I think needs to be fixed. I’m grateful to McFarlane for exposing the issue and continuing the fight for women’s rights.
Another quality of hers that I admire is that she is an innovator. She uses comedy to fight for social justice. Typically, documentaries are merely a compilation of facts, but McFarlane’s used humor as a means of grabbing the audience. By doing so, she better conveys her message that when it comes to comedy, women and men can be equally hilarious. I have admiration for innovators, because without new ideas there would be no progress.
Not only is Bonnie McFarlane a funny stand-up comic, she is also a funny writer.  Full disclosure: I HATE WRITING.  My loving mother nearly strangled me no less than 6,457,892 times throughout this assignment. And perhaps I deserved it, because I’ve been on my not-best behavior, and have really dragged out this essay for quite a painful ride. As such, McFarlane’s talent for writing impressed me, especially that she completed an entire book, (something I can’t ever imagine achieving). I certainly would like to become a better writer, because it would be very helpful in life. Maybe my admiration for her will spur me on to continue to work on my writing!
I’d like to mention that the values I’ve discussed here are not exactly the same as those discussed previously in my Family Values paper. Clearly, after watching McFarlane’s documentary and learning more about her, I came to realize that I value other attributes, which I hadn’t originally thought of. The film, “Women Aren’t Funny” and learning about McFarlane’s choices and path helped me to better understand myself and broaden the list of traits that are important to me.  I’m grateful to Bonnie McFarlane not only for making me laugh, but also for helping me to realize and articulate additional attributes that I value beyond those I noted from within my family.