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!
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.