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Olivia Munn, Sexism, and the Daily Show

Will wonders never cease: professional self-promoter Emily Gould recently accused feminist blogs of stoking their readers’ outrage to “gin up page views.” Gould’s case in point is a reported piece by Jezebel’s Irin Carmon about how the Daily Show, every liberal’s favorite fake newscast, is actually bit of a boys’ club. It’s an odd target for a screed against baseless outrage because Carmon marshals a lot of evidence to support her thesis.

The fact that the Daily Show hasn’t hired a permanent female correspondent in seven years should give us pause. What’s worse is that they decided to break the dry spell with Olivia Munn.

Munn is best known as the co-host of the G4 network’s video game review Attack of the Show! She has also had a relatively undistinguished acting career, mostly bit parts in blockbusters, B movies, and forgettable TV. She has no professional background to speak of in improv or stand up, yet she was vaulted over other female comics who have been making their bones for years. Her geek credentials are dubious at best, apart from her willingness to dress up as a slave girl and sign autographs at comic conventions.

“Olivia Munn has the sexual subtlety of a gay pride parade float,” wrote Eric Spitznagel in Vanity Fair. That’s not quite fair. Gay pride floats are camp. Munn plays a pathetic character but she takes her act very, very seriously.

Here’s what Munn had to say about people (read: women) who noticed that after all these years, the Daily Show finally hired another lady: “I never tried to use anything besides my own sweat and blood and talent to get somewhere. I think that anyone who’s out there trying to bring down why any woman would get anywhere, or why we’re different, just needs to fucking turn her fucking computer off, take the sandwich out of her mouth and go for a goddamn walk fucking walk. You know what? Just walk it off, bitch. Just walk it off, bitch.”

What a kidder! We feminists totally need to lighten up.

Emily Gould and Olivia Munn would have you believe that women are just hating on Munn because she’s so pretty and sexy. Actually, nobody cares that Munn’s good looks and overt sexuality have helped her get ahead in show business. That’s pretty much a given in the entertainment industry. Who cares if she posed for Maxim? These days, that’s standard for ambitious young women in Hollywood.

What’s exasperating is that Munn has gotten famous with a shtick based on unalloyed self-abasement and misogyny. She plays the nerdy hot chick who will gleefully do anything for male approval. “Olivia Munn is a woman who gives geeks a great name,” gushes Ask Men. With endorsements like that, who needs feminist critics?

Munn often addresses her AOTS viewers as “gentlemen,” just to reassure the fanboys that she’s all about the male gaze. (We all know real women don’t play video games, right?) She’s studiously non-threatening to men but vicious to women, especially those who see something undignified about her act.

Munn’s most famous performance involved jumping into a pie wearing a French maid costume. The setup: If AOTSfans submitted a certain number of signatures on a petition demanding that Congress institute a National Pie Week, Munn would jump into a pie. The stunt perfectly sums up Munn’s approach to comedy: She didn’t take the plunge because she thought the idea was funny and trusted that her audience would, too. The joke was that she’d have to jump if enough dudes asked her to.

You’ll be shocked, shocked to learn that the scene ended with her wallowing on all fours in chocolate pudding screaming “Nom, nom, nom!” while her male co-host applied additional whipped topping to her face with a giant spoon. (Video.)

Munn once told Complex magazine that she aspired to do a photo shoot with cum in her eye, ostensibly as an homage to the film “There’s Something About Mary.” It’s all part of her highly marketable comic persona as a smart woman who revels he her own degradation and dares other women to criticize her for it.

Another famous clip from AOTS shows Munn, hands behind her back, gulping down a dripping raw hot dog suspended from the ceiling by a string

I’d like to think that Jon Stewart saw potential in Munn that ran deeper than her persona. I don’t see any evidence to back up that theory so far; but he’s Jon Stewart and he’s a genius. Maybe he thinks this is a ladder she can climb and discard. I can hope, right?

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Unfortunately, the Daily Show writers have Munn playing to type. They’ve written her as a ditz, and the audience is laughing at her instead of with her.

The Daily Show is a cut above most fake news shows because it’s a sophisticated satire of the media. It only works because the correspondents nail the professional affectations of TV reporters. Munn clearly doesn’t have the chops to be newsy and funny at the same time. She did some sports reporting in college, but she doesn’t sound like a trained broadcaster. Her delivery is choppy, her demeanor is uneven, she spends a lot of time making reflexive sexyfaces at Jon Stewart, as if she’s hoping nobody will notice that she’s in way over her head.

In one of Munn’s early segments, the Daily Show even staged a catfight between “frumpy” super-pregnant Samantha Bee in hip waders and hawt Munn in skinny jeans–with the two TDS females vying for the mantle of Sexy News Bunny. Joke’s on Sam Bee, of course, because she’s supposed to be oblivious to her new status as the unsexed preggo.

Here’s another classy joke from that sketch: Munn is the new Asian correspondent but she doesn’t get what her Indian-born colleague Aasif Mandvi is talking about when he protests that he’s the Daily Show‘s Asian correspondent. ‘Cause she’s supposed to be the dumb one. Get it?

It’s a tough world out there and we’ve all got do to what we’ve got to do to get ahead. But the least Munn can do is stop acting all butthurt when feminists call her out. We geeks are not renowned for our social skills, but there’s one thing we do know: You can’t suck up to the cool people and dump on the other rejects and expect the rejects to like you. A corollary applies to women who ingratiate themselves to men while tearing down other women.

[Photo credit: flickr user Vince Viloria, licensed under Creative Commons.]

[Query: Can anyone identify the singer in this Attack of the Show! clip from the official G4 YouTube channel? It’s a girl in a silk dress singing in pidgin English about a fictional restaurant called Chocolate Wang. I think it’s footage of Munn when she was younger. It’s something AOTS ran while Munn was on the show. I found the clip by searching for Olivia Munn videos on YouTube. (Video.)]


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