I have a theory that stand-up comedians are the modern-day equivalent of Socratic philosophers. They wander around pointing out absurdities in our society and asking difficult questions but avoiding the hemlock at all costs (comparisons only go so far). Most of the time, they have a point (after all, entertainment is not mindless). Some points are subtle; some are overt. Despite the title, Katherine Ryan’s Glitter Room fits into the latter category. Ryan’s special is part arguing for equality for single mothers and part arguing against sexual assault, with a good portion of humor thrown in for good measure.
Ryan’s main philosophical point is protesting a culture that demeans single women. “I tour the U.K., making people mad by being a 35-year-old woman who doesn’t have a boyfriend and doesn’t want a boyfriend.” Ryan isn’t saying women who fit into traditional motherly role are wrong, but she pushes back against those who make that the expected course for all women. She questions why single fathers are applauded for caring for their children while single mothers are blamed for not keeping their families together, and she wonders why people push her to get back into the dating game even when she claims little interest in or talent for relationships.
“If I were a surgeon who killed every patient and burned down the hospital,” Ryan asks, “would people say, ‘Katherine, when are you going to get back in the emergency room, girl?’”
In the end, Ryan simply wants acceptance and recognition, even if she does not fit into the cultural norms. As Christians, we can agree. Not all people are called to be in a relationship—Christ himself gave us this example, along with many others throughout scripture and church history. Likewise, not all families fit into the “father-mother-children” model. While that model might be the scriptural ideal (though even that is an oversimplification), ideals are not always met in this world and we have to acknowledge the beauty of families even when they may not be ideal. Ryan simply asks to not be forced to conform to societal norms. While a discussion of Christianity and family is far more complex than that, Christians, or otherwise, do not need to look down on her for actively living life as a single mother.
Irony rears its head within Ryan’s plea for acceptance during the titular joke. Ryan pays a worker to remodel her home, and in the process the builder shows disdain with her blueprints and requests to see the decision-maker of the house. (Ryan quips the decision-maker of the house will be in school for another two hours.) However, after the worker tries to place Ryan in the traditional feminine stereotype of not being in charge of the home, Ryan responds by forcing the worker to call her daughter’s room its proper title: the Glitter Room. She tells him that when he returns he should “wear pink on Wednesday” because that’s what they do. Ryan says she did so to rid the man of his toxic masculinity. While I agree with Ryan that forcing men to act in certain ways is just as detrimental as forcing women to act in certain ways, I find it somewhat silly to ascribe a hesitance to say ‘glitter’ to toxic masculinity. (Though, to be fair, a fear of saying ‘glitter’ is also ridiculous.) While the joke has its merit, I found that this point undercut Ryan’s point rather than properly sell it, which is unfortunate for such an important topic.
Likewise, Ryan’s closing joke also undercuts her serious discussion of sexual assault. Ryan opens the set with a bit about Celine Dion being successful because her husband is dead. She proceeds to inform the audience that Dion was only 12 when she met her husband, but they never did anything sexual until the magical night of Dion’s 18th birthday.
“That’s the legal bit for Netflix,” Ryan jokes.
At the end of the special, Ryan returns to the subject with a bit about viewing the sexual assault in the musical Hamilton and being so upset by it that she begins berating the actor for being immoral.
“So when I say I’ve seen Hamilton, I mean I’ve seen the first half of Hamilton,” she says.
Ryan’s point is that, if men want to help women, they can start by not assaulting or having sex with vulnerable women. Period.
“Any definition of vulnerable, just stop f-ing vulnerable women,” she says.
This is a rather powerful moment to end the special on, but Ryan follows it up with a bit about Melania Trump being an innocent gold digger who got wrapped up in a dangerous game because she went for too young of a husband.
“You have to go old,” she says. “Maybe Celine Dion had the right idea all along.”
Normally, that joke would be fine. Ryan is using a callback to emphasize her overall point about women not needing a man to be worth something in life. However, the flow of the conversation makes me look back at Dion not just as the powerful woman she is now, but as a vulnerable girl who was taken advantage of. Now, Ryan jokes that Dion’s “choice” to marry young should be applauded. But having already connected the story of Celine Dion to sexual assault (even if only through a joke), Ryan ends up undercutting a lot of the power of the topic. In the end, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Disappointing, considering the importance and impact of the topic otherwise.
Overall, Ryan’s special is strong. Some jokes work better than others. Her style is a bit more in-your-face than I prefer, but I’ve found myself repeating jokes over and over to people around me long after seeing the special. I also watched it three times, so that must mean something. However, watch the special for yourself and watch out for glitter (it’s from the devil, I tell you, but maybe that’s just my toxic masculinity speaking).