BY Jan Kedves in Interviews | 26 MAY 14
Featured in
Issue 15

Laugh out Loud

Berlin-based musician Jam Rostron aka Planningtorock tells Jan Kedves why US comedian Melissa McCarthy is a feminist icon

BY Jan Kedves in Interviews | 26 MAY 14

Tammy, 2014, courtesy: Warner Bros

Jan Kedves In April you posted the following message on your Facebook page: ‘gotta get a handle on my Melissa McCarthy obsession.’ What was that about?

Jam Rostron It all started when I saw the trailer for her film The Heat (2013). I got obsessed with it immediately. Melissa McCarthy’s such a great comedian! I only have to see her face and I crack up! What also got me excited about The Heat was that it’s a film about two very strong, fully-developed female characters, and it is about them and nothing else – a format practically non-existent in the mainstream film industry. To create a film that has mainstream appeal but also focuses on such issues is quite exceptional.

JK McCarthy plays a foul-mouthed Boston detective who has to help a FBI agent from New York – played by Sandra Bullock – take down a drug lord. At first, they cannot stand each other. Is The Heat a feminist comedy?

JR Absolutely. The Heat takes a classic comedy scenario: two very different characters who fight and squabble, yin-yang style. Usually these duos are men – like Laurel and Hardy. Here, competition between the two female characters is all about work ethic and skill – another great feature of the film. McCarthy’s character ‘Mullins’ has a very different idea of what policing is than Bullock’s character, Ashburn, who is basically obsessive-compulsive.

Tammy, 2014, courtesy: Warner Bros

JK How would you describe Mullins?

JR Hard-working, very smart, very instinctual, very good at her job. No frills, very down-to-earth. Also, in terms of body-consciousness, she feels very attractive and confident. She doesn’t give a shit about how she looks, she just completely loves her body. Bullock’s character is the one who has ‘the body’ and ‘the looks’ yet you feel kind of sorry for her. She’s so uptight! I think it’s fantastic how McCarthy deals with her body as a comedian. Mullins is also obviously very sexual. There are all these scenes in the movie where she keeps encountering ex-boyfriends still in love with her, but she has to let them down, saying things like ‘listen, how do I say this …’ – using all the clichéd lines that are usually said in films by men.

JK Eventually the two women bond over the term ‘nerd’. Mullins says to Ashburn: ‘it takes a nerd to know a nerd’.

JR You can be a nerd in all sorts of ways. Mullins is a nerd in the sense that she has a gun collection in her fridge and knows everything about weaponry. Bullock’s character is more of a bureaucratic nerd: very studious, following all the rules in the police handbook. She’s a real rule-shitter! I think it’s cool that the movie shows women as massively nerdy.

Tammy, 2014, courtesy: Warner Bros

JK Like women who produce electronic music – like yourself?

JR Absolutely! I’ve always been surrounded by amazingly-skilled female nerds. Musician Kevin Blechdom – she’s one of the biggest nerds I know! She has such an amazing brain. Being a nerd shouldn’t be gendered, but the idea that women can be super-nerdy isn’t really represented in society. I think it’s liberating to see it on the big screen.

JK There’s one scene in which Mullins storms into her boss’s office and ridicules him in front of all her colleagues by calling his testicles ‘tiny, tiny, tiny, little-girl balls‘. It’s funny, but isn’t it also a bit misogynistic?

JR It’s complicated. From a traditional feminist perspective, it could be confusing. But if you look at it from a more evolved perspective of intersectionality, trying to take into account a woman’s full circumstances – her class, her economic status, her ethnicity – then you have to understand where Mullins comes from. There’s a scene where she goes back to her family home with Ashburn, and it becomes clear she comes from this heavily-gendered background where being female is seen as a weakness. So that’s her reality. And she uses that to her advantage: to be the powerful one in the situation where she humiliates her boss. I think this scene is cleverly done and quite strategic. The script is so on it!

Tammy, 2014, courtesy: Warner Bros

JK In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent earlier this year you said: ‘I would really love to make a TV series: something with comedy and also music and also dealing with issues – but bonkers.’ Is McCarthy a role-model for you in this regard?

JR Definitely. I mean, she has even set up her own production company, and her new film Tammy (2014), released this July, will be the first film for which she wrote the script. So she seems very clever in riding on and capitalizing on her success – but in a cool way, completely on her own terms. I think that’s very inspiring. And it’s true, making a TV series that deals with queer and feminist issues, completely through comedy, is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. I know a lot of people in TV and film but they always say ‘well, it’s really hard …’ Of course, I know it’s naïve to think ‘yeah, I could do that’, just because I have a few funny ideas. But I would still love to try. It must be amazing to make people think and laugh at the same time. In another life I wish I could be a comedian.

Jan Kedves is a writer, editor and author of Talking Fashion. From Nick Knight to Raf Simons in Their Own Words (Prestel, 2013). He is based in Berlin.