Fifty. It’s a pivotal birthday. Perhaps it’s a time when life goals begin to transition inward. Or pleading with the laws of gravity becomes as useless as the thigh cream you smuggled home from Mexico. Or if you agree with Carole Montgomery, “When you turn 50, you’re like Mr. Potato Head and your genitals just fall off. You have no genitals. Nothing’s left.”
A 60-something Brooklyn native, Montgomery is a fiercely funny comedian who believes age is just a number. And though she often uses the feminine mystique of aging as a punchline for her stand-up act, middle age actually stands out as a melancholic time for her, because it’s the first time she ever felt invisible.
“I’m a very balls-to-the-wall type of woman. So I could not understand that people were not [noticing me]. People would just walk in front of me. It’s this invisibility that happens when you hit 50. It blew my mind.” Montgomery says.
Now don’t get us wrong. This is not a woe-is-me piece about the external challenges women of a certain age face (although there is some of that) or a sounding-off opinion piece about sexism in an industry dominated by the male species (although there is some of that, too). This is just the story of how a bold woman went from checking the mike for dude comics to dropping the mike herself.
Never before have there been six female comics over the age of 50 in one television special.
Growing up in New York, Montgomery spent much of her 20s at her father’s Catskills bar, a summer gig he picked up when he was not teaching. The Catskills being a haven for comics in the ’60s. Early on, Montgomery was on a first-name basis with comics like Rodney Dangerfield and Andrew Silverstein, better known by his stage name, Andrew Dice Clay.
Now, 40 years later, a director, a producer, a solo act, even a teacher, it’s no wonder Montgomery is at the heart of Funny Women of a Certain Age. The stand-up special that premieres on Showtime later this month features acts from several ladies, all over the age of 50. And believe it or not, Montgomery’s show will mark the very first time anything of its kind has ever aired on the small screen.
“Pardon my French, but it’s about f*cking time. I’m very proud of the fact that we made history. Never before have there been six female comics over the age of 50 in one television special,” Montgomery says.
Marquee names include Fran Drescher, Vanessa Hollingshead, and Montgomery herself. And even though the call sheet tops out at six, she was casting her show from a list of hundreds, even turning away women because they were “too young.” Which is certainly not something one hears in show biz every day.
Nobody ever said to Lucille Ball, ‘Hey, you think women are funny?’
Beyond breaking glass in front of the lens, Montgomery, the show’s executive producer, creator, and second performer, recruited a mostly female crew to work behind the scenes. “My director was female. My editor was female. My stage manager was female. We have camerawomen. And that was absolutely intentional. I wanted to give work to women.”
From late-night to stand-up to cellar comedy, the man-opoly does not go unnoticed. But despite the misconception that there are few women working in the comedy space, Montgomery’s pool of talent was brimming girl power.
“Everyone searches for that elusive fame, but there are so many comedians that are working, be it cruise ships or private parties or corporate or speaking. They’re not famous per se, but they’re all great comedians,” she says.
Drescher, who became a household name in sitcoms including The Nanny and The Beautician and the Beast, opens the comedy special, and according to Montgomery, she “knocks it out of the park,” with audiences of both men and women going wild.
But even in a generation that hails so many women as comedic royalty, Fran Drescher, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, the late Joan Rivers, Montgomery can’t believe she has to address and dodge the sexist interrogation she gets pelted with from both sides of the chromosome.
“We live in a generation where that’s a problem. Back in the 50s, [Lucille Ball] and her husband invented the three-camera shoot that’s used in sitcoms to this day. She ran a studio. And nobody ever said to Lucille Ball, ‘Hey, you think women are funny?’ … It’s one of those things where when you hear that, ‘Can women be funny?’ it’s like, ‘Um, sure. Can men go the bathroom?’”
So, 50. It’s a momentous time. The title of the show is Funny Women of a Certain Age, but it isn’t just about aging. It’s about strong, vibrant women, who happen to be over 50. And who happen to be really funny. “I‘m really proud of it. And of all the women. The support could not have been better. It was one of those magical moments.”
Funny Women of a Certain Age premieres March 23, at 9 p.m. EST, on Showtime.