Screengrab via iChase/Facebook (CC-BY)
You've seen them in your social media feeds: breasts, butts, thighs, suggestive stares, tight clothes, and…jokes?
These hyper-sexual clips are some of the most popular comedy videos on Facebook and YouTube. One of the top comedy director/actors on social media, Curtis Lepore, has over 6.5 million likes on his Facebook page (by comparison, Louis C.K.'s page has just under 130,000 likes). And at the heart of nearly every one Lepore's most-watched videos is a woman's sexuality.
While female body parts may be the punchline, the actual human women in his videos are reduced to very few (if any) spoken lines.
Lepore’s video “When you miss babe…” begins with a dejected boyfriend who is interrupted from his sadness by his girlfriend, who, based on the title, he was evidently missing.
“Hey, babe!” the girlfriend excitedly screams, then proceeds to run toward him for what the audience anticipates will be a loving embrace. Instead, viewers are treated to a close-up shot of the pretend girlfriend’s butt—prominently displayed in a pair of tights—as Curtis Lepore face-cuddles and caresses her backside (which he must have missed more than the woman herself).
Lepore, who rose to popularity on Vine, has hundreds of videos like this on Facebook and YouTube, and he is not an anomaly.
“It is a trend,” Chase Brown (iChase), a 20-year-old online comedian who also makes successful videos featuring sexed-up women, told the Daily Dot. “It is a lot easier for a video to go viral when women are showing their bodies.”In Brown’s video “Females always win,” a young woman in a skin-tight, pink dress battles with her boyfriend (played by Brown) to get him to stop playing video games and start washing the dishes.
“You think just because you put on a little sexy dress, I’m gunna stop playing 2K and wash the dishes?” he questions his girlfriend, who then proceeds to kiss, rub, and caress him, while her erect nipples can be seen through her dress. The punchline: A woman can get her boyfriend to stop playing video games and wash the dishes if she gives him sexual attention.
The video has been viewed 6.5 million times, receiving over 50k comments. However, it should be noted that in his most prominent Facebook video, Brown is the one seen in nothing more than a pair of boxer shorts.
That kind of equal opportunity can rarely be found in other online comedians’ videos, though. Usually, men are fully dressed while their female counterparts are in lingerie or skin-tight leggings and crop tops.
“It’s a marketing strategy,” comedy-video maker Justin Garcia (JRock), 21, told the Daily Dot. “Everyone knows it’s easy to get someone to click on a video, or to make it go viral, that features a beautiful girl.”
However, Garcia stresses that he tries his best to add more dimensions to his comedy.
“If your video is solely based on exposing a woman’s body, that’s not very creative,” he explained. “Anyone can record reactions to a beautiful woman walking by. I try to make sure my jokes are deeper than that.”
While Garcia does feature fully clothed women in some of his videos, often an underlying theme of misogyny still prevails.For example, in his Valentine’s Day video titled, “When you're trying to smash, but Mother Nature has other plans,” he showers a girl in gifts and affection—showing her to a room with a bed full of rose petals (which he eventually arranges into the shape of a penis) and a large teddy bear—until he finds out she’s on her period, at which point he shows her out and slams the door in her face.
Viewers were less than thrilled with the antics of the male character in the video, with some noting that it wasn’t very funny at all. "That is so fucked up," one commenter wrote. "She can't control it. Damn dude take care of yo girl."
Others were more succinct: "Asshole 100 percent."
“Everyone knows it’s easy to get someone to click on a video, or to make it go viral, that features a beautiful girl.”
Many of the male comedians behind these videos will acknowledge that there’s a trend of using women’s bodies merely as props. Yet they do not view their actions as sexist or misogynistic.
“All I have in my family is women… and they all watch my videos, laugh, and support me,” Brown explained. “Never been called sexist in my life.”
“To label me sexist based on my videos is very ignorant,” Garcia stressed. “I do not degrade women.”
For these guys, it is all fun and games in the name of comedy.
But for the young female comedians and actors who are arrive at castings for videos like these, it's not so funny. Many are fed up with being typecasted, exposed, and left without meaningful roles.
Nicole Arbor, a Toronto-based stand-up-comedian-turned-online-celebrity after making multiple viral videos, started producing her own content once she grew tired of the roles she was being offered.
“I was sick of auditioning for the role of ‘hot chick,’” she told the Daily Dot. “I got so many calls from guys who just wanted me to stand there and go ‘uhhh’ while looking sexy, while they do something funny.”
She has since produced nine viral videos with millions of views, collectively. Yet her success still does not shield her from the rampant sexism of the online comedy world.
“I was hired, as a comedian, as myself, for a YouTube Super Bowl halftime-show video,” she explained. “I showed up, and they put me in a slutty cheerleader costume, then gave me this single instruction: Whip your hair from side to side.”
Other female comedians also say they face pressures to conform to an industry that has all of the space in the world for sexy female bodies, but limited roles for their talent.
Johanna Martinez, a theater-trained actor and comedian, feels especially squeezed, not only as a woman but as a woman of color.
“As a Latina woman, they want to box you in as the sexy maid or the stripper,” she expressed. “That’s why the videos that I do, there has to have some dialogue.”
She acknowledges, however, that all online video actresses aren’t after the same end goal.
“For some women, the goal is popularity, which is fine—I don’t judge that,” she said. “But that is not my goal: I want to be an actor.”
And popularity is certainly not hard to come by for many of the women featured in these videos, who can sometimes boost their followers by the thousands by appearing in a skit.
“There are tons of girls, typically Instagram models, who hit me up trying to be in my videos, because they know it will get them more followers,” Brown said. “They’ll be like, ‘I’ll do whatever, wear lingerie or kiss you to stand out from the other girls.’ Girls are open to doing it because they know they are going to gain a lot of followers. Guys do it because it is easy.”
Because more followers can translate into more work and cash in the online world, Chase says, “a lot of these women make more money and get more opportunities than the men.”
However, evidence of such favoritism, as far as fame and opportunity are concerned, could not be found. Compared to his most frequently featured female co-star, Martinez, Brown has far more Facebook-page likes, at 291,240 to her 3,419. The even-more-popular Lepore has 5 million more likes than Ana Cheri, the woman whose breasts are featured on the artist’s main video page.
And so a very valid and important question remains in regards to the responsibility of these video makers: Where should comedians draw the line when it comes to the dependency on female sexuality for clicks?
Bobby J, who started his career as a stand-up comedian, and more recently began to do online videos, forced many to consider this question after he featured his daughter in a video titled "A father's duty" that touched on the subject of oral sex.“It is every father’s job to make sure his daughter never learns to give good head,” he stated in the introduction of the video, before proceeding to slap various phallus-shaped objects—like popsicles and corn dogs—from her hand in a series of shots.
Much criticism was leveled at the father for featuring his daughter in a video with suggestive and sexually explicit language: "You don't think her classmates are going to see this? And humiliate her in school. This video didn't help her, it harmed her."
Others defended the video as merely a joke: "If yall really think he used this video as a parenting moment, I see why yall dumb closed minded asses are offended."
Though opinions were somewhat divided, it is inarguable that the video struck a nerve with the public. And yet the comedian stood by his work.
“With social media, everything gets blown out of proportion,” Bobby J told the Daily Dot. “I did the same joke during one of my stand-up acts and everyone laughed.”
While many artists are trying to navigate the boundless terrain of the Internet, our likes, clicks, and shares have become the driving force behind their artistic direction.
Undeniably, stand-up comedy—a storytelling, delivery-driven artform—is received quite differently from visually driven social-media comedy. While many artists are trying to navigate this boundless terrain, our likes, clicks, and shares have become the driving force behind their artistic direction.
“It is all about analytics, and it is far easier to make a video go viral that talks about sex or features a sexy woman,” Brown stated plainly.
So what does that mean for the futures of online comedy and the women in these videos who have made them so successful?
Arbor stresses this one hard truth: For women to have more diverse, meaningful roles in the online world, they must create them for themselves.
“Girls have to start making their own content,” she stresses. “Everything changed for me when I decided: I can do this, but no one is going to write me into their shit. I'm going to write my own shit.”
This empowered, optimistic view of online comedy is also shared by Martinez.
“I honestly believe at the end of the day, it [the Internet/social media] will open more doors,” Martinez told the Daily Dot. “I'm Spanish, I'm 5'4”, and I'm not thick or voluptuous like these Instagram models. I'm not Cindy Crawford. I'm not the prettiest, the skinniest. But I can create my art and share my art, and I believe that others will see it and give me a chance because they respect my work.”