Is Rachel Dratch Too Ugly for Hollywood?

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April 12 2012 10:50 AM

Is Rachel Dratch Too Ugly for Hollywood?

Was she screwed by Hollywood’s beauty standards—or is she just not very funny?

Comedian Rachel Dratch.
Comedian Rachel Dratch's new memoir is called Girl Walks Into a Bar ...

Photograph by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

It’s been a rough few years for Rachel Dratch.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

After a steady climb up the comedy ladder—a stint with the famed troupe Second City, several seasons on SNL, landing a lead role in 30 Rock—she tumbled. In 2006, NBC replaced her on 30 Rock with Jane Krakowski. After languishing on the studio shelves, Spring Breakdown, a rowdy girl-power chick comedy, was released straight to DVD. When Vanity Fair listed the top dozen women in comedy in 2008, she didn’t make the cut. (“Dude, that was a dark day,” she told New York. “I was like, Oh, there’s everyone I worked with.”) And her opportunities dried up.

She booked gigs—a guest spot on Wizards of Waverly Place, a voice-over gig on Adult Swim’s cartoon Assy McGhee—but they weren’t the prime roles she had been working toward. What happened? The petite brunette with the slightly froggy eyes is too unattractive to be a star, apparently. In her new memoir, Girl Walks Into a Bar …, she explains:

I am offered solely the parts that I like to refer to as The Unf---ables. In reality, if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I’m a troll, ogre, woodland creature, or manly lesbian. … Trolls, ogres, and woodland creatures can be done with CGI, so that leaves yours truly to play the bull dykes.

Other roles offered to her: “[l]esbians. Secretaries. Sometimes secretaries who are lesbians.”

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Dratch is careful to make it clear that this isn’t a case of debilitating low self-esteem. On CBS This Morning, she noted, “don't think that about myself, but this is like what I was seen as in the whole Hollywood scene. ... In real life, I'm gorgeous, beautiful." (The last two words came with a distinct whiff of self-deprecation, though.)

Delightful as Dratch is in interviews and in her book, there is something uncomfortable about this framing. If we accept the premise, that Dratch hasn’t cracked Hollywood because she isn’t good-looking enough, then there would seem to be a feminist obligation to support her, to buy all her DVDs, go to her movies on opening night, protest the studio heads who reject her. Indeed, on Jezebel last week, Dodai Stewart was outraged on Dratch’s behalf: In a post titled “Hollywood Thinks Rachel Dratch Is a Troll (But if She Were a Dude, She’d Have Her Own Show),” Stewart demanded, “where is Rachel Dratch's Garry Shandling/Larry David-esque TV show?”

But was Dratch really a victim of Hollywood’s insane beauty standards? What if her particular brand of acting—and she has admitted that she is more a character actor—just isn’t right for leading-lady-dom? Am I betraying feminism if I say that I’m just not a huge Rachel Dratch fan? She seems like a lovely person. Girl Walks Into a Bar’s discussion of her unexpected, late-in-life pregnancy is funny and honest and poignant. I’d love to get drinks with her. But as much as I strive to support smart, funny women on TV and in the movies, Dratch’s work doesn’t appeal to me.

In brief spurts, she can be hilarious. Exhibit A: her attempt to name 20 white people, while wearing a Snuggie, during an appearance on Billy on the Street.*