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December 7, 2006

"why women aren't funny"

Oh, Christopher Hitchens. From Vanity Fair: Why Women Aren't Funny.

I was hoping for a reasonable intellectual treatment of the topic that, say, acknowledged the funniness of some women (he cites Dorothy Parker, Sandra Bernhard, etc.), while addressing what I think is the valid question of why it seems there are more funny men than funny women, and perhaps answering that question with something beyond the rather obvious assertion that men are faced with greater pressure to be funny in order to attract a mate, whereas women are faced, somewhat, with a reverse pressure to attract a mate by not topping the potential mate's sense of humor. I am familiar with a world in which one feels compelled to prop up the delicate egos of delicate men.

I did get some of that in this article:
Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals. And there is a huge, brimming reservoir of male unease, which it would be too easy for women to exploit. (Men can tell jokes about what happened to John Wayne Bobbitt, but they don't want women doing so.) Men have prostate glands, hysterically enough, and these have a tendency to give out, along with their hearts and, it has to be said, their dicks. This is funny only in male company.
...but also the assertion that "Jewish humor, boiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation, is almost masculine by definition." Hrmph?

I also got much, much more about the oh-so-scary woman-womb that terrifies men with its generative powers, crushing humor in its mighty maw.

Your comments?


Anonymous Matt Penn said...

While I might acknowledge that the way some of us were nurtured to accept so-called "established" gender roles might have something to do with the PERCEPTION that men are, generally, funnier than women, it is worth noting that some of the funnier women we know (e.g., the cited Sandra Bernhard and Dorothy Parker, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell, the improbably named Whoopi GOLDBERG) are rather unconventional characters; none of whom embraced "traditional" female gender roles. Maybe that's what makes them funny? I don't know.

I think the following questions are worth considering, in pondering the veracity of Mr. Hitchens' various assertions:

1) Is it possible that a sense of humor is not so much borne of nurturing, but rather is a by-product of some innate aspect of our personalities that Howard Gardiner might refer to as our "emotional intelligence", or the imprint of what other scholars might dub "the haha gene"? If so, is it possible that not being funny, or being more audience than performer, is merely an affectation assumed by angry women who menstruate and have to pay more for dry cleaning?

2) One of the most famous pieces of ass--er--art in all of, um, art, the Mona Lisa, is depicted in a bemused state. What are we to make of this chick with the mystic smile, who lived so long ago, before college students and irony were invented? Granted, the broad may have been acting as audience, responding to some bon mot offered by the painter. Then again, the bitch might have aubibly farted without benefit of a whoopie cushion that Da Vinci had not yet invented, and known instinctively. . .well. . .that's entertainment. (At least, a Renaissance man like Leonardo would have tended to think so.)

3) Yo, is it possible that "woman as audience", if indeed it is merely an affectation, is not so much exemplary of passivity, as it is of aggression (i.e., a mask that bespeaks a subtle demand not only to be, say, provided for or protected, but also entertained)?

4) Has Hitch been drinking again?

5) . . .

Ah, fuck it. I would go on, but this ain't funny, and I suspect that I might want to get laid again during this lifetime. Never mind, okay?

Anyway. . .

So, Robin Williams and Condoleezza Rice walk into a bar. . .

4:28 PM  
Blogger Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

I think there are tons of funny women, but maybe some men just aren't good listeners so they don't hear the jokes.

I could never be attracted to a man who was too distracted by my boobs to "get" that I was damn funny.


6:01 PM  
Anonymous Iscah said...

He pretty much lost my attention with "Dorothy Parker isn't really funny" and "Men never describe their ideal mates as funny" (paraphrased, but I believe quite accurate).

I found this passage infuriating.
Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?
It's nice that he examined this study with an open mind and no stereotypes, right?

6:45 PM  
Blogger Dave O'Gara said...

I think women can be just as funny as men. Unfortunately this business is starving for funny women so much so that a lot of females get breaks they really haven't earned. I think the public has had too much exposure to women that suck. (Thanks to "Comedy Central Presents" and "Last Comic Standing". I think this is where the perception of women being less funny than men comes from. There are a handful of female stand-ups that I love, but the list of those that torture me goes on for miles. But all of them have had their own TV specials.

It's not just at the top either. In clubs and nightclubs around the country there are dozens of tanned bleach blonde "Daddy Haters" taking the mic for the first time. They have no material or stage persona, but they love attention. Trust me I just watched the auditions for "America's Funniest Mom" here at Goodnight's Comedy Club in Raleigh.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unfortunately a mans world in every respect of the word, and though there has been progress and much of it on the part of women, there is still a glass cieling in many fields. And this does not disinclude standup.

There are many unfunny female comedians just as there are many unfunny male comedians. But it is okay for male comedians to crack jokes about raping their woman. It is okay for them to talk about their dick when the only reason they want female comedians to open their mouths is so they can stick it in. Sad, blunt, feminist, true. I never said I was a fan of men and justly so.

At the same time male comedians treat you differently, aka you are not expected to be as funny. I had one booker say to me, "You are funny for a woman. I thought you would be terrible." Thanks buddy, thanks for the backhanded compliment.

But on the other hand, there are a lot of funny woman and many I have shared the stage with. You being one. I have read, and get the best response when I do this in my act, is to talk about being a person rather than being a woman. And that gets a better response.

Because being a woman you have one strike against you because you are a woman. And therefore, you have to appeal to everyone. Because as a male friend explained to me, "When you mount the stage I am thinking of what I want to do to you and when before you even open your mouth."

I know this sounds a little anti-male and I sound like a ranting and raving feminist. But womens rights and womens issues whether they be in performance or day to day life are something I have very strong opinions on. That is why I felt the need to comment while I was in the 'hood.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Dave O'Gara said...

I'm going to have to disagree with anonymous above me.

Anonymous (Who sounds an awful lot like my ex-girlfriend April Brucker BTW) said,

"But it is okay for male comedians to crack jokes about raping their woman."

Where's that coming from? Rape is second only to cancer in the realm of comedy killers. Name one successful comic who talks about raping his woman and I'll print this blog out and eat it. You realy can't describe rape in a comedy setting regardless of your gender.

Anonymous said, "though there has been progress and much of it on the part of women, there is still a glass cieling in many fields. And this does not disinclude standup."

As poorly written as this passage is, I think she means that woman can only acheive but so much success in comedy. That's a load. "Ellen", "Roseanne", "Grace Under Fire", "The Nanny" hell, even "I love Lucy" to name a few sitcoms that ran for years with great success. All of them centered on female characters.

Anonymous wrote, "It is okay for them to talk about their dick when the only reason they want female comedians to open their mouths is so they can stick it in."

Dicks are funny. Hence the invention of the "Dick Joke". As far as the part about sticking it in the mouths of female comics goes, well who could resist double dipping into the cheetos filled maws of Roseanne Barr and Brett Butler. Oooh at the same time, sweet dreams are made of these. Seriously though, WTF?

1:43 PM  
Blogger JenIsFamous said...

Exes square off on my blog? Right on.

Incidentally, I agree that rape jokes tend to be comedy killers (although Carlin notably took that challenge head-on), but that doesn't change the fact that a female comic in a room full of (bad) male comics telling (bad) rape jokes is, er... a little unpleasant and discouraging to some women comics. It's not that anyone's saying male comics are succeeding with rape jokes; the mere existence of them can tend to get a girl down (myself included, that being the main reason I have not returned to a certain West Village comedy haunt).

1:53 PM  
Blogger dodo said...

Most comedians, male or female aren't very funny... I would tend to agree, that for the most part every woman I've ever dated hasn't been particularly funny.. I think people that are 'funny' have cultivated it over years, for any number of 'survival' reasons, and usually men use this 'funny thing' over women, who usually use other things such as sex apeal, and learning how to suck cock very well.. That being said, my mother's really funny, but my father's funnier..

3:09 PM  
Blogger Dave O'Gara said...

I stumbled on this and thought of this thread.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Lizzie said...

My direct experience of very funny women contradicts CH's thesis, and his theories that try to prop it up.

I'm confused. Honestly. I just know too many funny women. What is this guy talking about? Are we living on different planets?

Maybe I am just really, really lucky. I mean, I also know plenty of funny males.

I'm just not seeing the big difference, here. Color me confused.

3:09 AM  

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