Women Aren’t Funny? LOL.

I recently deleted an acquaintance from Facebook after he posted Christopher Hitchens’ infamous article on why ‘women aren’t funny’. This Facebook ‘friend’ of mine accompanied the post with the caption ‘LOL, wot a leg-end’. (No, seriously). Several of his friends then commented on the post, in full agreement with Hitchens, and openly upholding the assertion that women can’t possibly be funny. One of them even reiterated Hitchens’ point that female comedians only ever joke about ‘tampons and babies’ (without backing this up with any evidence. Which is a shame, as I’ve been trying to track down this comedienne ever since – she sounds like a leg-end!) The upshot of the whole thread was ‘Sorry, love, you might try and do a funny now and then, but ONLY MEN CAN PROVOKE A REAL LOL’.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered men – both in the media and in my own life – with this opinion. It seems some men genuinely believe that it isn’t possible for women to be witty, quick and laugh-out-loud funny. As a feminist, this could make me angry. The argument is so fundamentally flawed, however, that it provokes nothing more in me than a weary shake of the head.

Let’s start with the basics here…

Humour: so subjective it’s not even funny

Humour is one of the most personal, subjective things you could possibly think of. There is a reason why sharing the same sense of humour is one of the most important factors in building a succesful relationship or friendship – it’s actually quite rare. To find someone who makes you genuinely laugh is a precious and beautiful thing. We ALL find different things funny. For instance, the main things I find funny are tampons and babies, but you might prefer jokes about darts and real ale. One person’s humour is never quite identical to the next.

That’s why ‘women aren’t funny’ is one of the most ridiculous statements you could make. Hitchens was generous enough to proffer some ‘exceptions’ to the rule (though most of them, he so eloquently stated, were ‘hefty’, ‘dykey’, or Jewish), but maintained that for the most part, women are just incapable (evolutionarily and even biologically so) of being funny; or at any rate, being as funny as men. Interesting. Maybe Hitchens just managed to go through life without encountering many women who shared the exact same sense of humour as him, and found that the people who DID have the same sense of humour happened to be men. Or maybe, just maybe, his innate prejudices (betrayed by his insistence throughout the article on portraying women as sweet, doltish creatures primarily put on the earth to look nice and reproduce) also played a part, influencing his perception of women before they even had a chance to ‘prove’ themselves funny.

All the funny ladies (all the funny ladies)

Do you think a woman would ever say ‘women aren’t funny’? I can’t think of a single one who would. And do you know why this is? No, not because they don’t want to accept (what is repeatedly presented as) a simple truth. Not because they all want to see themselves as comedians. They wouldn’t say ‘women aren’t funny’, because all around them, they are encountering funny women on a daily basis.

In my personal life, I strive to surround myself with people I find funny. What kind of a life would it be if you didn’t spend at least a few minutes of each day with Fanta foaming out of both nostrils? I have known my best friend since school, and – to me at least – she is by far the funniest person I have ever met. We share an incredibly similar sense of humour, and she makes me laugh like no-one else can. She is witty, irreverent, and sharp, and a text from her provokes at the least a sly smirk, and at most, a full-on public fit of hysterics. There are also many people – both men and women – who would attest to just how hilarious she is. Yes, my best friend is – I’m very lucky to say – one very funny woman, who makes many people laugh, very regularly. And guess what – she’s not some repugnant, butch monstrosity of a being, either. Nor, for that matter (though I still don’t understand the relevance), Jewish.

Most of my closest friends are female. Give me five minutes with any of them, and it’ll be Laugh Central. And, shockingly enough, the things we laugh about don’t revolve around periods and childbirth. We’re not even throwing our heads back and guffawing over kittens and make-up. I would even go so far as to say the things we laugh about correlate fairly well with the things that MEN LAUGH ABOUT. And sometimes, we will be with men, and they will laugh, too. And NOT out of pity!

Men-and-women-similarity-alert!

I know, I know. Men and women chuckling AT THE SAME THINGS. Mind-blowing! After all, at the root of Hitchens’ argument is the ‘fact’ that men and women find different things funny. That women laugh about the things they can relate to (again, periods, child-rearing) and that men laugh at irreverent things like sex and toilet humour. This, of course, is laughable in its reductiveness. For a start, it may have shocked Hitchens to know that some women have absolutely no interest in, nor can relate to the issue of, motherhood. And that none of my friends have any inclination to joke about periods; that periods don’t even make it onto our radar of funny.

Maybe he would have been massively shocked to discover that the things I and all my female friends find funny aren’t governed entirely by our reproductive functions, but in fact involve a degree of intelligence, and are the same things a ‘typical’ man might find funny. This is why my DVD collection consists not of oestrogenized fluff, but of Peep Show, Garth Marenghi, Alan Partridge and Nighty Night. Irreverent, sometimes dark or dirty, and absolutely bereft of jokes about periods and children. (And, get this, Nighty Night is actually WRITTEN BY A WOMAN.) These shows reflect my sense of humour – the same sense of humour which is catered for abundantly by my female friends, just as much as by the men in my life. Gender has never played even a tiny part in what or who is funny to me.

Standing up for stand-ups

One argument I hear in support of the ‘women aren’t funny’ theory (Hitchens et al) is that there aren’t many/any ‘good’ female comedians around, ergo, it must mean they simply don’t exist. Right. Well, if you truly believe the disproportionate number of mainstream female comedians is down simply to the fact that there aren’t any funny women out there, then maybe you’re beyond salvation. It is a widely acknowledged fact that stand-up comedy is a hugely male-dominated industry. With so much testosterone winging about, it’s no wonder women are intimidated into not wanting to enter the arena. And even with a foot in the door, the ‘women aren’t funny’ theory is so heavily imbedded in the industry that female comedians have to work twice as hard to prove themselves funny and be accepted.

If your argument is that the female comedians you HAVE seen just aren’t funny, then you might want to bear in mind the tiny number of female comedians on the  mainstream comedy circuit, compared to the proliferation of male comedians. Do you find all male comedians funny? I very much doubt it. Humour is, as I’ve pointed out, an extremely subjective and personal thing. You’re lucky to find one in ten of them genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The fact that I can’t name ten current female comedians (I can barely stretch to five) proves my point. If there were as many female comedians as male, believe you me, you would find a few that made you laugh. Even if you tried your hardest to pretend they didn’t.

As a side note, people do tend to forget that ‘being funny’ isn’t just about cracking jokes on stage or down the pub. How many times have you laughed out loud at a funny book, article, TV show or film? You might be surprised at the amount of women behind the things you laugh at every day.

Aaaand in conclusion…

I could spend an eternity picking out the flaws in this argument, and append this post with an endless list of the women I find funny – in real life, on screen, in literature and comedy – but it is simply not required. All that is required is to realise that the subjective nature of humour makes the ‘women aren’t funny’ theory entirely redundant and frankly ridiculous.

If you really must insist on upholding the theory, maybe you could rephrase along the lines of ‘I don’t find women as funny as men’ or even ‘I don’t find women funny, full-stop’. This is a much more accurate statement. It is a statement of your own preferences, rather than a sweeping judgement posing as fact. Maybe I shouldn’t be encouraging people to use these phrases at all. But let’s face it, any man who uses one of these is actually saying very little about the funniness of women, and a lot about themselves.

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25 comments

  1. Maria

    I love this blog?! Followed the link on your fb J!

    To respond to your post, I was offered 5mins stand up at the Edinburgh festival this year in my male friend’s show which was an offer that was promptly taken away when it was made clear that I definitely was not going to sleep with him. In all honestly, I’d only got as far as describing how I’d come on stage with two broken arms and a smorgasboard so I guess it wasn’t entirely shocking that he had alterior motives… Had some cracking jokes about babies and tampons though. X

    • agirlwithquestions

      Aww, thank you, Maria! I’m totally gutted that your stand-up skills didn’t get an airing – I’m sure you would be a fine purveyor of tampon-and-baby-LOLs. Seriously, though, I could totally see you in that arena – I’m very lucky to count you as one of the many very funny women I know. Very enterprising of your friend, by the way. I guess you should be… flattered?

  2. Glennie Bee

    Hello! Thanks for following my blog – and I’m very happy to follow back.
    I think ‘comedy’, or what folk find funny, as well as being subjective, also strongly reflects social mores and attitudes. Hence the vogue for these young dudes with sharp hair-cuts making ‘jokes’ about rape and getting away with it; feminism has become ridiculed and sidelined – by both men and women – over the 20 past years, and the world has become increasingly ‘fundamental’ and nasty. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a woman comic to get on in the comedy circuit, which seems to me at present very combative and confrontational. Which is such a shame ‘cos like you, i know far more genuinely funny lasses than I do lads.

    • agirlwithquestions

      Hello, and thanks for reading! You make some very good points. I’ve only recently started to become more vocal about being a feminist (through this blog, especially) and ‘feminist’ definitely feels like a word loaded with some awful and outdated connotations. I think my next post will be on this particular subject. As for female comedians, I’m pretty hopeful for a change sometime soon. There are some great ones on the UK circuit at the moment – just not enough.
      .

  3. scientificfemanomaly

    Great Post! I have also heard the “women aren’t funny” line. In fact, I had one professor that even bought into and defended herself at the beginning of the semester saying, “studies show that women aren’t funny so I will not be amusing during this class.” This was silly given that I find plenty of women to be funny. Also, you have a good point–humor is subjective.

    • agirlwithquestions

      Hi! Thanks for the comment. Wow, what a bizarre way to introduce yourself to a class. The sad thing is, I think far too many women take comments like ‘women aren’t funny’ at face value (if only subconsciously) and end up resigned to the fact. It’s crazy to hear women actually agreeing with it, but I’m sure there’s not one person who could genuinely say they’ve never found one single woman funny. Humour is indeed a very strange thing!

  4. Carolina Courtland

    There are just as many funny women out there as men, every day women and professional comics. Joan Rivers has been around forever, and she is frickin’ hilarious on the show Fashion Police.

  5. Leopard

    Great post! I think it all comes down to societal attitudes towards women in the end. In order to find something someone says funny (especially in a standup scenario), you have to allow the comedian to wield a kind of power over you. I’m not sure if I can explain this any better, but if you’ll probably know what I mean if you’ve been in a live audience during a standup routine. And because society often sees women as objects rather than as agents, it’s very difficult for a man to get into the mindset where he laughs along with a woman who dares to put herself out there, leading an entire audience into laughter.

    • agirlwithquestions

      Thanks for the comment! I completely agree. I think there’s definitely a tendency for people to laugh more openly at a funny quip from a man than a quip from a woman – even if it’s the exact same joke. I’ve been in situations where a woman in a group has made a funny comment and been ignored, and then moments later a man makes the same comment and everyone laughs. It’s the same with all the UK comedy panel shows. It always seems like the women have to work twice as hard to get the audience to laugh. I can only imagine it stems from an era where women really weren’t expected to be funny (even if they were), because it wasn’t really in their ‘role’.

  6. Badass Bitch

    Awesome.
    I think some people, men and women, aren’t use to hearing humour coming from a female, and thus find it difficult to relate with them in a comedic way. Male “friends” of mine had an argument with some female friends of mine over why men dominated so many industries in society. These young men believed that it was as simple as men being quite simply, better, though they were far too aware of how misogynistic it would have been to blatantly say so, but that was their driving point. What did they want to prove with this argument? That women couldn’t meet the heights of their male counterparts. How are women able to achieve anything with such prejudice? If the human world has finally realised it’s not okay to racist or homophobic (though some remain dubious) then it’s about time that people, like these young, educated, western men realise that it’s just as abominable to be sexist too.
    You’re one badass bitch!

    • agirlwithquestions

      Hello, thank you for your comment! I completely agree. There is still a hell of a lot of casual sexism around, just like there is still a lot of casual racism/homophobia around, despite people knowing it’s wrong and outdated. This kind of sexism is so ingrained that lots of ‘nice’, ‘normal’, educated men (and women) don’t even realise some of their opinions/words/actions are sexist. I’d love to think these attitudes will change with time, to the point where people will look back on these examples of casual sexism in disbelief, just like we current laugh at all the ridiculous overtly sexist ads from the 50s!

  7. belljargirl

    Sadly, I have heard a woman say that women aren’t as funny as men. I can’t remember who it was so I must have been so traumatised that I have subconsciously erased it from my mind!

    • agirlwithquestions

      Aargh! It’s shocking how often the worst perpetrators of casual sexism are women themselves! You see it all the time. I suppose it just shows how deeply ingrained it is, for women to just accept it as truth.

      • notiemblo

        It’s called internalized oppression *sigh*.

        I’ve had it explained to me, by self-identified feminist men no less, that men have to be funny to attract women, whereas all women have to do to attract men is be female, hence no funny women. No kidding, he was totally serious. Though I guess this “theory” would explain all the funny lesbians out there!

      • agirlwithquestions

        Hello – thanks for your comment!

        The argument that ‘all women have to do to attract men is be female’ is surely doing men a disservice? Are these men really admitting that they would happily settle for ‘just anyone’, so long as they’re female? What does that say about them?…

        Also, what an insult to imply that a woman’s biological make-up is the only thing that might make them a desirable person, rendering any sense of humour, intelligence or personality redundant. *Seethes*

  8. eli

    cool post. it opens up a lot of room for discussion, but I’ll stick to a couple of points:

    First, I love (re hate, and mock)how this guy slips in that funny women are (paraphrasing) fat, gay, or jewish. I bet he was also thinking “black” on that list. But he was too scared to say it. By discounting those funny ladies,he’s indicating that hefty, gay, jewish or black women don’t count and aren’t REAL women. “what i meant when i said women aren’t funny is that REAL woman (white, skinny, big boobs) aren’t funny.”

    Second, and as a sort of follow up to that but throwing in your comment about sameness. His statement about the hefty and the dykey and the jewy, (to which I will add the black, the gay, the transgenderd, the crossdressing and the nerdy) is equally true about MALE stand up comedians. So to follow through no REAL men (straight, white, good looking, upper middle class) are funny either.

    And of course neither of those statemnets are true, funny comes in all sizes, colors, tax brackets ect, but i will thought wander a second as say that in regards to funny PEOPLE (and by funny right now I mean stand up comedians) I think it’s may often be true that there is something different about them, some thing that led them to develope comedy as a diffence mechanism. “don’t treat me as an outsider, I’m funny.” and also that a great basis for comedy it the agony of being different. Also, one who is set outside of normal society (by their gayness, blackness, womaness, size, ect) will spend more time observing that society, and the BEST comedy comes from observing the weird things that people (“normal’ people AND not normal people) do.

    great post.

    • agirlwithquestions

      Hello! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I have to say, this point…

      By discounting those funny ladies,he’s indicating that hefty, gay, jewish or black women don’t count and aren’t REAL women.

      …completely renewed my hatred for this article, as I hadn’t thought about it like that until now! Having re-read the Hitchens article, though, I think what he was saying was that women who are ‘hefty, dykey or Jewish’ (it really does kill me to even type that quote), are the only ones capable of being funny, because they have to work much harder at attracting a partner, employing the same tactic as men – humour. But yes, even if he claimed there was a logic to this point, he is completely marginalising and dismissing all women that don’t quite fit into his idea of ‘the norm’. Ugh.

      His statement about the hefty and the dykey and the jewy, (to which I will add the black, the gay, the transgenderd, the crossdressing and the nerdy) is equally true about MALE stand up comedians. So to follow through no REAL men (straight, white, good looking, upper middle class) are funny either.

      This is really interesting. You don’t see him arguing that ‘normal’ or good-looking men aren’t funny too, do you? Surely if his point is that only ‘undesirable’ women need to be funny in order to attract a partner, this would be true of men, too? Surely the ‘normal/desireable’ (straight, white, good looking, upper middle class) men, wouldn’t need to be funny either. In which case, the article could be renamed ‘Desirable/Attractive People Aren’t Funny’. This is something I’d be much happier to debate (before coming to the conclusion that this argument, too, is utter bull****).

      I think it may often be true that there is something different about them, some thing that led them to develop comedy as a diffence mechanism.

      I definitely agree with this. A separate point, yes, but still really interesting. Also, in the past I’ve heard it said that ‘ugly/strange-looking/quirky/outsider-type’ people make better comedians than attractive, ‘normal’ people. Possibly to do with who we feel most comfortable laughing at/with. A different question for a different blog, maybe, but really interesting.

      Thanks for all your thought-provoking points – comments like this make me so glad to be blogging!

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