Have been reading Tibor Fischer’s Dont Read This Book If You’re Stupid, and came across a story in which a female stand-up comedian ponders the meaning of humour. She also scales Nelson’s Column naked and loses eight pairs of tweezers, but that’s modern fiction for you.
Various neurons winked off, and I started thinking again about one of feminism's great unsolved questions: why aren't women funny?
It's been bothering me for some time. In a recent FHM awards, there were plenty of nominations for their 'Funniest Man' award, but a rather poorer showing in the female equivalent. Catherine Tate, Victoria Wood and Jo Brand all picked up a few per cent each, but the overwhelming winner was, "No women are funny".
Then I found a survey of Britain's funniest women, carried out by Readers Digest. Look at this:
TOP 10 FUNNIEST WOMEN
God. It's depressing, isn't it? The only faintly amusing thing about Victoria Wood is her haircut, and I don't think that's intentional. As for Joyce Grenfell and Hattie Jacques - it's 2005! Imagine a male top ten that still included Benny Hill and Larry Grayson.
So is it really be true that women aren't as funny as men? this blogger certainly thinks so. All the arguments he trots out are pretty well-worn: being funny is a competitive activity, and therefore men take it more seriously; men and women have different types of humour; women can't remember punch lines in the same way they can't read maps.
Really, though, this is the twentieth century, and this just won't do - neither can we totally cop out and do some 'comedy is in the eye of the beholder' schtick. Yes, I know there's no objective yardstick for humour, but it's pretty clear there are some reasons why Bernard Manning plays to thousands of people and the majority of stand-ups face an audience of about 10 (although I'm not sure I want to question Manning's popularity too closely, for fear of losing my last remaining scintilla of belief in humanity).
So allow me to present my theory: women are funny, but usually only to other women. I see this anecdotally: things that my housemate A finds funny on this blog leave my male readers stony-faced. Weirdly, though, the reverse isn't true: things that men find funny, my female friends and I do too...
I tried this argument out on W recently, figuring he'd wouldn’t laugh at me (so to speak). "I think," I opined, "that it's a gender divide thing. There's no 'universal' humour - like all male-dominated discourses, women are just made to think that comedy about beer and farting is 'universally funny', whereas as Jenny Eclair-ish stuff about periods is 'women's humour', and therefore devalued."
Sadly, although this kind of reasoning found great favour with the Oxford exam board in my magnum opus ‘The Mail/Female Divide’, it seemed he was made of sterner stuff.
"OK," he said. "Tell me a funny joke about a period."
And that had me stumped. I hate Jenny Eclair’s comedy. Arabella Weir let the Fast Show down, frankly. And they were certainly doing ‘women’s comedy’, if such a thing exists. Whereas I loved Men Behaving Badly and Bottom (but, looking back, I’m going to attribute that to the overexuberance of adolescence, as it is quite crap). But perhaps that’s because I have been indoctrinated to despise jokes about tampons, in favour of knob gags?
So now I have refined the theory, although it’s still pretty old-school feminist. If the discourse of comedy is male-dominated, then women learn to appreciate ‘male comedy’, even if they are not native speakers. With ‘female comedy’ being more marginalised, and in a lower hierarchical position in the binary, men never have to acquire its resonances and references.
At least, that’s what I think. You may say: Balls. But comedy is so much about points of reference - there’s nothing less funny than a joke that needs explaining - that it doesn’t seem a completely outlandish theory.
I suppose that means I should advocate all men to watch back-to-back episodes of Ellen and Roseanne. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Instead, try Smack The Pony, Sex and The City (there’s tits in that, you’ll like it), anything with Tamsin Greig in, Jo Brand and Ronnie Ancona. No, Eddie Izzard does not count. Yes, I know he wears dresses, but that’s not the point.
Gluttons for punishment, more here: