Wednesday, November 23, 2005

unfunny women.

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:

Victoria Wood
Dawn French
Jo Brand
Jennifer Saunders
Julie Walters
Joyce Grenfell
Hattie Jacques
Joanna Lumley
Maureen Lipman
Kathy Burke

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:
  • Stand Up For Equality, from feminist e-zine the f word.
  • ah, the Guardian. Standing up for the inexplicably successful Gina Yashere.

    Blogger leflange said...

    Women. They aren't funny. It's true. You can nearly be funny on occasion, but you're a fairly rare specimen.

    A lot of male hierarchy is based on being funny, paradoxically through undercutting yourself. Men also see the ridiculous in most situations, as we don't like taking things too seriously, except sport.

    It's a strange thing.

    11/23/2005 4:19 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    i probably should have told you some time ago i'm actually a man.

    11/23/2005 5:28 pm  
    Blogger Paul B said...

    The practical differences of the sexes are fairly well established.

    Women CAN (and men CANNOT): wrap parcels, pack suitcases, remember birthdays and anniversaries, and know recipes innately [I always have to look them up, even if it's something I've made a zillion times before].

    Women CANNOT (and men CAN): whistle, parallel park, throw cricket balls, and tell jokes properly.

    Obviously these are total generalisations, but I reckon they hold good in 90% of cases. Women generally just cannot remember punchlines, or find that they've forgotten some vital part of the joke and have to go back to fill in the gap ("Oh, I forgot - he was blind!").

    French and Saunders are alright though. Sometimes. That Titanic parody was genius.

    11/24/2005 1:33 pm  
    Blogger Artegall said...

    Hattie Hayridge is a pretty awesome stand-up, and Lucy Porter's good too. It's partly the way the culture's evolved, as you say, and partly something in our evolution that means women laugh more for companionship.

    11/24/2005 1:39 pm  
    Blogger Tamburlaine said...

    I found it interesting in your Reader's Digest list (which evidently is based on their probably ancient readership) that most of the "funny women" listed are actors, not stand-ups. Actors who can be funny with someone else's script are not unusual, but it takes something else to make people laugh with your own gags. Joanna Lumley and Kathy Burke are great comic actors, but not comedians.

    Perhaps I'm showing my age, and Galatea you're free to mock, but Linda Smith and Sandi Toksvig on radio (I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, and The News Quiz) are very funny, and equally the match of any of their male colleagues.

    11/24/2005 2:47 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    my opinion on Linda Smith is confused. Sometimes I think she's very funny, and sometimes she says something so hideously obvious and unfunny i want to scream.

    ditto toksvig. and why do they both have such stupid voices? also, linda smith has stolen victoria wood's hair. and that's plagiarism in my book.

    11/24/2005 3:17 pm  
    Blogger Paul B said...

    I've stolen Boris Johnson's hair. I'm holding it to ransom.

    11/24/2005 3:41 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    ugh. bald boris would not be a third as sexy.

    i demand you return it at once.

    11/24/2005 4:40 pm  
    Blogger Paul B said...

    Surely you can't have a third of zero...

    Boris Johnson sexy? I was obviously wrong - women are funny after all.

    11/24/2005 4:52 pm  
    Blogger leflange said...

    Yeah, but funny "woooo". Not funny "ha ha".

    11/24/2005 5:52 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    what? so men are allowed to find shami chakrabarti sexy, despite the fact that she looks like an 11-year-old elf, and I'm not allowed to harbour the hots for BoJo?

    11/24/2005 8:43 pm  
    Blogger Paul B said...

    I'll be honest, I've no idea who Shami Chakrabarti is, but upon an image search on Google, I find she does indeed look like an 11-year-old elf. And that's not a sexy look, for me at any rate.

    A vote for Boris Johnson as 'sexy' is a vote for toffish buffoonery and saggy man-breasts. Nobody wants that, surely. Gyms would go out of business overnight and enunciation (sp?) classes would be inundated.

    11/25/2005 9:58 am  
    Blogger galatea said...

    several points arise:
    1) Gyms are the work of Satan.
    2) The new, hip term for man-boobs, replacing last year's 'bitch tits', is 'moobs'.
    3) a vote for toffish buffoonery is a vote well spent.

    11/25/2005 11:18 am  
    Blogger leflange said...

    Bitch, it's only one man who finds that elf attractive, and no one else. You know.

    11/25/2005 12:55 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    simply not true. Yes, Artegall started the Shami Appreciation Society, but I distinctly remember a groundswell (ugh) of support for his position.

    Are you trying to distance yourself, now you have acknowledged she looks like an 11-year-old elf?

    11/25/2005 2:35 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    also, i'm not sure whether you've been listening to too much Vanilla Ice, but when did it become acceptable to refer to me as 'bitch'?

    11/25/2005 2:39 pm  
    Blogger leflange said...

    When the fuck did it matter to me whehter it's acceptable or not to call you 'bitch', bitch?


    As for this groundswell crap. I don't need to 'distance myself now' because I've always thought it the most bizarre of Artegall's obsessions, and I still think it's a joke. She's completely asexual, and I'd be very doubtful as to whether she might prove a bedroom 'akrabarti'.

    11/25/2005 5:10 pm  
    Blogger galatea said...

    oh, go back to blogging about your manifold homosexual crushes, will you?

    11/25/2005 6:19 pm  
    Blogger The Grinch said...

    I find 11-year-old elves quite sexy, but then I am an enormous gurning green creature who has stolen Christmas.

    Not Linda Christmas.

    Women, to answer the original feminist conundrum, are not funny. This is because women are, generally speaking, far more psychologically well-adjusted than men. All humour is insecurity. If you think about it 99% of geniuses and artists are men. 99% of psychopaths and paedophiles are also men. Men are deeply unhappy, depressed, insecure and psychologically maladjusted creatures, who commit suicide at the drop of a hat. Women just cry a lot, so fair play to them. Unfortunately this makes them boring, fit only to adorn the arms of tortured genuises. Discuss.

    11/30/2005 3:22 am  
    Blogger galatea said...

    Did I tell you about my friend who invited Linda to talk at his university media society? She (obviously) dropped out, giving him to send out the email, "CHRISTMAS CANCELLED".

    tend to agree with you about insecurity, humour as a defence mechanism against ever having to form a proper emotional connection with someone.

    but as you'll have read in the daily mail, women are losing their essential femininity as quickly as their hourglass figures, so we should have lots more suicide, stand-up and soddishness to offer in future.

    can't be arsed to argue with you about 99% of geniuses being men. it's probably true, if you have an androcentric view of what constitutes genius.... there is no female equivalent of Timmy Mallett, say, or David Dickinson, and they *are* geniuses.

    11/30/2005 12:42 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Women are only funny when men make fun of them. Ha ha ha.

    6/17/2006 3:47 pm  
    Anonymous Jimbotfu said...

    I used to think that no female comedian could make me laugh...
    but then I found US comedienne Sarah Silverman.
    Seriously, guys...give her a try. Not only the funniest lady in the whole world, but one of the funniest of any gender, period. (no pun intended, thank you very much Jo Brand.)

    8/19/2006 9:37 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    To answer the grinch above:

    The above comment just proves the opposite of what its saying! Women are far LESS psychologically well adjusted than men, and that's why they are not funny! Men can laugh at themselves more because they are more secure with themselves, women are far too insecure to do so! Humor is not insecurity, it is intelligent and perceptive insight into human nature. Almost all geniuses are men because they have more intelligence and creativity. Most women are threatened by this and cannot accept it, hence all the man hating comments on this blog. Women in general feel inferior to men, jealous of men, inadequate compared to men etc, and thats why they are always whining about how superior they are..LOL! The truth is obvious: women are deeply unhappy, depressed, insecure and psychologically maladjusted creatures, who suffer from depression twice as often as men!

    8/27/2006 7:25 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I love the comedian above. I haven't laughed so much for ages. Thanks mate.

    10/24/2007 10:05 am  

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