BOJACK HORSEMAN & the “Male As Default” Problem In Comedy Writing

No, no, no. We aren’t saying BOJACK HORSEMAN, one of the most enjoyable series on Netflix has the “default male” problem, we’re saying that the creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, has come up with one of the most ingenious defenses of such a charge – if it were to be made – in years.

And that, boys and girls, is how we weasel our way to:

bojack croc

Boring Old Raphael
by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Anonymous asked: rewatching s1 for like the 100th time–at what point does all the brilliant animal sight gag stuff (eg the croc wearing crocs) get added? is it like, we need to have a croc wearing crocs, where can we fit this in? or do you start out by needing someone to guard the food and say let’s do a crocodile–hey, he should wear crocs? or some kind of total afterthought, or something else entirely? thanks. love the show, my favorite of all time.

Hello! I am going to answer your question, and then I am going to talk a little bit about GENDER IN COMEDY, because this is my tumblr and I can talk about whatever I want!

The vast vast vast majority of the animal jokes on BoJack Horseman (specifically the visual gags) come from our brilliant supervising director Mike Hollingsworth (stufffedanimals on tumblr) and his team. Occasionally, we’ll write a joke like that into the script but I can promise you that your top ten favorite animal gags of the season came from the art and animation side of the show, not the writers room. Usually it happens more the second way you described— to take a couple examples from season 2, “Okay, we need to fill this hospital waiting room, what kind of animals would be in here?” or “Okay, we need some extras for this studio backlot, what would they be wearing?”

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the croc wearing crocs came from our head designer lisahanawalt. Lisa is in charge of all the character designs, so most of the clothing you see on the show comes straight from her brain. (One of the many things I love about working with Lisa is that T-Shirts With Dumb Things Written On Them sits squarely in the center of our Venn diagram of interests.)

Now, it struck me that you referred to the craft services crocodile as a “he” in your question. The character, voiced by kulap Vilaysack, is a woman.

It’s possible that that was just a typo on your part, but I’m going to assume that it wasn’t because it helps me pivot into something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year, which is the tendency for comedy writers, and audiences, and writers, and audiences (because it’s a cycle) to view comedy characters as inherently male, unless there is something specifically female about them. (I would guess this is mostly a problem for male comedy writers and audiences, but not exclusively.)

Here’s an example from my own life: In one of the episodes from the first season (I think it’s 109), our storyboard artists drew a gag where a big droopy dog is standing on a street corner next to a businessman and the wind from a passing car blows the dog’s tongue and slobber onto the man’s face. When Lisa designed the characters she made both the dog and the businessperson women.

My first gut reaction to the designs was, “This feels weird.” I said to Lisa, “I feel like these characters should be guys.” She said, “Why?” I thought about it for a little bit, realized I didn’t have a good reason, and went back to her and said, “You’re right, let’s make them ladies.”

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