Friday, December 15, 2006

Funny Girl?

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

Sister Nathifa alerted me to this article, "Why Women Aren't Funny" from Vanity Fair. In it, Christopher Hitchens, discusses a recent study from the Stanford University School of Medicine that contended that there are biological reasons why men are funnier than women.

While he thinks this biological argument is flawed, he buys the conclusion contending that women are, in general, much less funny than men. But the cause is not medical, rather it is social. It isn't that women can't be funny, but that the cultural reward structure discourages it:

In any case, my argument doesn't say that there are no decent women comedians. There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there. Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three. When Roseanne stands up and tells biker jokes and invites people who don't dig her shtick to suck her dick -- know what I am saying? And the Sapphic faction may have its own reasons for wanting what I want -- the sweet surrender of female laughter. While Jewish humor, boiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation, is almost masculine by definition.
Femininity, Hitchens contends, ain't funny. It's only when women are masculine or at least not attractive in the standard sense that we find them funny.
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.)
Reminds me of a couple jokes that some female friends used to tell:

What's that useless piece of skin on the end of a penis called? A man.

What's the hole in the penis for? Lets air to the brain.

Good stuff.

As a liberated Comedist, I love that TheWife is quite funny. I couldn't imagine a healthy relationship without regular laughter. Then again, one does get tired getting pantsed every time one has hands full of suds doing the dishes, but that's purely anecdotal.

Of course, there is a long tradition of female, funny and attractive he does not address -- the dizzy blonde, from Gracie Allen to Goldie Hawn to Suzanne Summers. Or sexually aggressive in the Mae West mold. Hitchens would be right to reply that this is hardly problematic for his case because we are laughing at rather than with. The women are being attractive and funny, but only because they are reinforcing the place of men in an unequal power arrangement. The social comic repression would once again be present.

Sure, we can list women who are neither butch nor blondie and still very funny -- going back to Lucille Ball to Carol Burnett and forward to Bonnie Hunt to Tina Fey. But Hitchens point is not the naive universal that there are no funny liberated women. Rather it is a more interesting, subtle claim that may, in fact, be true. Does male insecurity keep women from being funny?

So I ask our good Comedist sisters out there? Do you feel comic oppression? Is The Man stepping on your punchlines? On the flip side, Comedist brothers, are you intimidated by a woman who is fast.Withth a joke. Do you find puns sexy? Is there a social barrier between female and funny?