Much of the critical response to ABC’s new comedy “Super Fun Night” has expressed disappointment over the show’s reliance on fat jokes delivered by the main character Kimmie Boubier, played by Rebel Wilson. Wilson made a name for herself in the film “Bridesmaids” and as the character Fat Amy in the movie “Pitch Perfect.” She’s not a size 2, and much of her humor is self-deprecating references to her body shape. In the first episode of the show, Kimmie, a lawyer, rushes down the hall yelling, “This better be for real!” She is running because one of her colleagues tweeted that there are jelly doughnuts in the break room. There’s also a joke about sweaty Spanx, and the episode ends with a scene of Kimmie trying desperately to get her Spanx on.
Is a fat joke acceptable when the person delivering it is overweight? Or is that form of pre-emptive control (if I make fun of myself, others can’t) just a poor excuse for lazy comedy? Is Wilson taking the easy way out by essentially making fun of herself?
Wilson is unapologetic about using her size in her comedy and has been quoted as saying, “As long as I look like this, I’m going to make fat jokes.” This is her right, and you have a right to either find it funny or tiresome.
I don’t find it as tiresome as many of my fellow critics because the humor in “Super Fun Night” is a (little) more than its jelly doughnut jokes suggest. I will admit that it’s hard to classify Kimmie’s frantic rush for baked goods as anything more than a not so subtle fat joke, but the Spanx punchlines are more universal. There are lots of thin women who wear Spanx, and any woman, of any size, who has ever tried to put on this body-shaping underwear will get the joke.
My problem with “Super Fun Night” is that the show does little in the way of giving us interesting and funny female characters, large size or small. Kimmie’s two best friends are Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) and Marika (Lauren Ash). One is uptight and one is a little rough around the edges. They are both socially awkward and pretty unoriginal. Also cliche is the resident mean girl character who shows up in the form of fellow lawyer Kendall (Kate Jenkinson). She sets out to mess with Kimmie because she is jealous of the attention she gets from their handsome British colleague Richard (Kevin Bishop).
The “Super Fun Night” of the title refers to a weekly get together where Kimmie and her friends pull ideas from a can for a fun night out with the rule that whatever they pick they have to do. The idea is to put themselves out there, take some risks, try new things and have fun. The conceit is a set-up for comedy scenarios — the first fun night is at a piano bar where Kimmie enters a singing competition — but it also makes Kimmie likeable because her vulnerability isn’t just about her weight. Then again, after she conquers her stage fright (but loses the contest), she makes a joke about ordering a large number of “consolation pizzas.” Wilson is talented and I think “Super Fun Night” would be better without all the weight-related gags, but in the meantime, less expected female characters who could carry some of the comedy workload would be a more welcome change.
Page 2 of 2 - “Super Fun Night” is on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.