Earlier this month, Veep superstar Julia Louis-Dreyfus posed naked on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing nothing but a flubbed Constitution tattoo on her back. But it seems that she’s one-upped herself with her newest feature in GQ’s comedy issue, which sent her to a nightmarish hellscape for anyone who hates clowns and the unnecessary objectification of funny women, reducing a funny and hugely popular comedic actress to a sexy body in love with Ronald McDonald’s creepy cousin – a treatment male comedians never get unless it’s done through an ironic gender-bender lens or Kanye West music video parody. The Rolling Stone cover at least had thematic ties with Dreyfus’s work on Veep, but the GQ shoot has her meeting a clown, having sex with him while wearing a clown nose, and posing with him for a photo with their new hybrid human/clown baby. To say the least, it’s disturbing. But is it exploitative, or is it just another magazine’s desperate attempt at controversy?
Obviously Dreyfus agreed to do this and has nothing against posing naked for magazine covers, but this GQ shoot brings to mind the 30 Rock episode “Mamma Mia,” where Jenna tries to warn Liz against using the cheesy props for their shared Time Out cover shoot; Liz doesn’t relent, and though the cover photo is awful and cringeworthy, she still smiles at the sight of her gracing the cover – toilet, rubber chicken, and all. Dreyfus has traded the rubber chicken for a clown nose and the toilet for a half-naked clown who wants to bang her, which isn’t much of a change.
While anyone could argue that this GQ shoot is either sexist and exploitative or a pro-feminist show of empowerment, the root issue seems to be the mismatch between a legitimately funny performer filtered through the lens of a photographer who is trying to be funny (the GQ photographer also shot Dreyfus’s Rolling Stone cover). The sexist double standard flops both ways; there’s plenty of intentionally funny male nudity in movies, whereas women get stuck in a pigeonhole of issues when they do the same and the whole “Are Women Funny?” debate gets another tired round of spotlight in the blogosphere. Photographers and comedy writers have vastly different approaches to what makes a hit, what’s entertaining, and what will best showcase their subject, and the Dreyfus GQ shoot doesn’t really have as much to do with gender as it does a non-comedian’s contrived take on “just clownin’ around.” With that said, it would have been nice to see Louis C.K., GQ’s comedy issue cover boy, totally nude except a pair of fuzzy kitty ears, coyly hanging his tongue over a saucer of milk, but instead we got his deer-in-headlights glance at the camera while a bunch of hands make sure all his fancy suit is on properly and fully covering him. Where’s the justice in that?