Enough With the Endless, Undue Praise of Betty White

I watched nearly every minute of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards Sunday night, which is sad, because though it was only two nights ago, there’s a good chance you have no idea what I’m talking about.

In case you missed it — and trust me, you didn’t miss a thing — Betty White won Outstanding Female in a Comedy Series for her role on Hot in Cleveland. White beat out Tiny Fey (30 Rock), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Jane Lynch (Glee) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), proving that if you live long enough, you can be honored for anything, no matter how little you deserve it.

This is not an attack on Betty White. Bless her heart for maintaining that comedic punch at the ripe age of 89. But, the reality is she’s not the funniest female on the block, and though her fellow nominees showed nary a sign of jealousy, it seems this routine of honoring White at any and every opportunity has become older than White herself.

Suffice it to say any joke she’s told over the past few years has gone by one simple formula:

(Reference something modern we wouldn’t expect an 89-year-old woman to know about) + (Something sexual) + (Blunt acknowledgement of age)

Any one of those variables may stand alone, but when the three are piled together, you can roll the laugh track for 20 seconds, easy. (And if you’ve seen Hot in Cleveland, they absolutely do.) Let’s look at some of the White’s best quotes from 2010:

  • “Oh, I don’t need sleep. I just went to my hotel and had a cold hot dog and a vodka on the rocks.” (New York Magazine)
  • “I’m also on Facebook, and the Twitter.” (You Again)
  • “Gays love old ladies.” (Parade Magazine)
  • “I don’t know, Mr. Winger. Last time I called on you I got what the Maku Maku call ‘dirt-roaded.'” (Community)
  • “Well ladies, as I used to say to my loving husband, Irving, of 55 years . . . what are you waiting for, stupid? Eat it.” (Saturday Night Live)

You don’t want to dismiss White for her flimsy, formulaic brand of comedy because she’s old. That’s polite and all, but aren’t you then playing into the lie?

I don’t mean to sound rude. Here, in the twilight of her career, White has sprinted through several victory laps, appearing on every relevant awards show, myriad sitcoms and in plenty of movies. Good for her, truly. But let’s not fool ourselves and label her encore ‘outstanding,’ especially in comparison to some of her peers.

(And by ‘peers,’ I mean fellow actresses half her age.)


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