There is a thread on The Daily Show’s online forum that is solely dedicated to getting Sarah Haskins hired as a correspondent. With good reason: Haskins is a comedian and culture critic whose short-but-sweet segments called “Target Women” on Current TV’s Infomania have already become a kind of girly Daily Show, making fun of the many merciless ways consumer products are marketed to women.
Haskins is quickly becoming, like Tina Fey or Amy Poehler before her, a quintessential girl crush.
Since the segment’s inception last year, the 29-year-old Haskins has skewered everything from Botox to birth control to the cougar phenomenon with her trademark dry humor. For Target Women’s debut episode, a takedown of cheesy, women-filled yogurt commercials, she mused: “Yogurt eaters come from every race, but just one socio-economic class: the class that wears gray hoodies. It’s the ‘I have a master's but then I got married’ look.”
Haskins describes her humor as the “irreverent, feminist, funny take on things,” and her videos have quickly gone viral, becoming a favorite of women-focused blogs like Feministing, Broadsheet, and Jezebel (where commenter Nun Shall Pass wrote, “Sarah Haskins, will you marry me?” in response to a recent segment the comedian whipped together on fairytales and the happy-ending myths perpetuated by television and commercials). Haskins is quickly becoming, like Tina Fey or Amy Poehler before her, a quintessential girl crush.
Her newfound status as a funny girl icon is something that Haskins hasn’t quite grown used to. “The familiarity is strange,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I've been waiting to open US Weekly and see me buying Newman’s Own Lemonade in Stars: They’re Just like Us!”
Haskins has always had a mind for comedy—after graduating from Harvard, she moved back to her native Chicago, where she toured with the improv group Second City (which launched Tina Fey’s career) and auditioned unsuccessfully for commercials, including one for Laughing Cow cheese (she says she will feature the cheese ads in an upcoming segment). “I'm not a mom and I'm not pretty enough to sell most things, so I'm in that vast world of normal where you don't want to buy shit from me,” she says.
Haskins later moved to Los Angeles (a city that she notes “is not the world of The Hills”) to take a job writing for Current TV, and started watching a lot of television for the first time in her life. Haskins says that she began to notice how annoyingly retro the commercials for women were: Ads for birth control pills that would only mention regulating your period (not your sex life), other commercials touted milk as a miracle cure for a princess plagued with PMS, Barbie dolls and their myriad careers.
“Women can go outside the home and hearth, and work and get a job,” says Haskins. “Instead of acknowledging the complexity of that choice, marketers are asking you to be the perfect woman: to keep the house neat and clean and be the perfect wife and be thin. That’s where I get a lot of the humor from.” Not that she’s hoping gender stereotypes disappear overnight. “I hope it doesn't get any better—because it's helpful for my job,” she laughs.
The “world of links and blogs,” as she calls it, is a bit new to her; when she lived in Chicago, she had to crouch in a corner of her apartment to steal WiFi from her neighbor. She also knows that without the Internet, Target Women wouldn’t have the audience it does now. Last March, when Jimmy Fallon made his late-night debut, he introduced his show’s own comedic take on marketing on a segment (unsurprisingly called Target Demographics), the first of which featured "Blond Mothers From Connecticut."
That night, Haskins twittered about the stolen idea: “Hey Jimmy Fallon, call me when you want to give my idea back.” She was answered with zealous fans ready to blast Fallon on their blogs and her own critics who noted that she didn’t exactly invent the form. No one from the show ever responded and, Haskins says, a little sheepishly, “It was my introduction to the power of Twitter.”
She might be Internet famous, but now Haskins is hoping to branch out. She recently sold a screenplay with her writing partner, a friend from college. It’s called Book Smart, and chronicles the two overachieving girls who realize in the middle of their senior year of high school that they don’t have boyfriends and haven’t had enough fun. They decide to put their minds to getting boyfriends by prom and “hilarity ensues,” says Haskins, adding that it just might be inspired by real life. “I'm not going to spoil the ending but you can see it in 2017.”
She does admit to worrying about running out of new ways to mock women’s commercials (although that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon—she’s currently working on segments about bumbling husbands and cat food) and asserts that Target Women will broaden its material a bit in the future. “We've hit the pillars of ads aimed at women and we’ll start to look at ideas about how men talk to women, how we treat each other.”
Guys, she notes, get stereotyped in commercials, too. In ads aimed at women, they’re either breaking things or showing breathtaking amounts of ignorance when it comes to household appliances. In beer and car ads, “there’s this idea of the average Joe that doesn’t fit with men in real life,” says Haskins. “I want to dress up in a mustache and do Target Men.”
View more of Sarah Haskin’s Target Women segments at her Current TV site.
Marisa Meltzer is coauthor of How Sassy Changed My Life. Her next book, Girl Power , will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February.