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On The Rampage: Women Have Always Been Funny. And Chauvinists Have Always Been Dumb.

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Posted June 14, 2012 by Laura in Ramp Specials

Prove to me women are funny.

- Hector Ó hEochagáin

Being unfamiliar with the ‘Breakfast with Hector’ radio show on RTÉ 2FM; it was hard to tell if this Hector chap was just fond of trolling or if he really was that backward. Or both. If he decided to write off roughly 52% of the population, under the fundamentally sexist notion that women are somehow genetically incapable of humour, then he deserves our pity, particularly if he thinks himself hilarious for suggesting it.

Prove to me that women are funny, is it? How about you prove to us that you aren’t an insufferable dickhead?

Possible trolling aside, it got the blood boiling. Why does this keep coming up? Why is the stereotypical idea that the ability to craft and deliver a punchline is an exclusively male talent often accepted, not just by eejits, but by seemingly intelligent individuals? Surely humour is not gender-specific?

Let’s be clear on the following things before my arse is torn to shreds.

1.       It is perfectly natural to compare and contrast the sexes. We are genetically engineered from birth to do so whether it is fair or not.

2.       All humour is subjective. Whilst one person may enjoy dry, quick-witted black humour delivered in front of red brick walls in comedy clubs, another may favour several hours watching a plump Japanese cat leap majestically in and out of boxes.

3.       I’m well aware that by discussing the annoyance of this reoccurring debate, I am only perpetuating the cycle, but (pardon the pun) humour me for a moment. Also shut up.

This year, we saw many hilarious performances by women – as well as many idiotic articles from men about how women suddenly became funny. This wasn’t the year women became funny, this was the year men finally pulled their heads out of their asses – Matthew Perry

Cast your mind back to the release of Bridesmaids and the media coverage surrounding it. This extremely popular movie was treated as a ground-breaking tour-de-force that apparently represented the start of women ‘being funny’, having been written and produced by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and with a cast made up largely of female actors. It was utterly ridiculous. Yes, the public defecation scene made me genuinely concerned that I’d have a childish moment in the middle of the cinema, but this film didn’t exactly tread new ground and plenty of better, smarter, female-produced comedy came before it.

It’s not that these girls are better than the girls who preceded them. They’re luckier. They came along at a time when the boys allowed them to do this. In comedy, timing is everything –  Fran Lebowitz

Argument 1: Women are biologically incapable of being funny

We can all agree that most ‘studies’ are a lot of bollocks that are given far too much credibility and money. Being of sound mind, we should not pay them much attention, particularly those that suggest that tiny girl brains just can’t handle the pressure of delivering a ‘Knock Knock’ joke.

There is lots of data supposedly proving that women don’t ‘do funny’ and it reappears every time a female comedian is interviewed, because apparently there’s nothing else to ask them about.

This offensive theory was famously discussed by celebrated Vanity Fair columnist, Christopher Hitchens, through his article entitled ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’ which is unfortunately too infuriating to dissect in depth within a reasonable word limit. Hitchens declared that women were ‘backward’ in generating humour because they’re ‘slower to get it, more pleased when [they] do and swift to locate the unfunny’. He then used some bullshit study from Stanford University to back up his claim.

So basically, women are not just incapable of creating humour but we also wouldn’t know existing humour if it hit us in the face. He’s right of course. The sheer herculean effort involved with watching and trying to understand live comedy makes us break out in cold sweats. At the cinema, we blink helplessly in the darkness and hope that we’re guided by the laughter of men so we know when to release our girlish giggle and avoid  looking slow. In the workplace, we’re often noted for misinterpreting sarcastic quips made at the water cooler as blunt personal attacks so we spend more time sobbing in the toilets than nodding in agreement. This boisterous laughter business that men are into – what the hell is that about, eh?

Humour and wit are often cited as traits of intelligence. To suggest women are unable to display such traits due to their very biological make-up is to suggest we’re all fucking stupid which is just not acceptable.

Argument 2: Women are not bred to be funny

Maybe women have a built-in dignity, and if a woman slips on a banana peel… you know maybe it’s just that I’ve never tried it [a female centric comedy formula] – David Zucker, Airplane! Director

You! Are you a woman? Listen here, Sugartits. You are here to look pretty and appease the boys. If they make a joke, no matter how feeble, you’ll laugh until you cough up a piece of lung. Never attempt to make a joke yourself. It will not be funny, you will be pitied and no one will want to make babies with you.

According to Hitchens, women have ‘no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way’ because we already appeal to men by how we look. How refreshing. We should simply be on the receiving end of male jokes, pander to them appropriately and then get back into the kitchen. We can’t make jokes because we’re all too distracted with looking good, having babies and having babies whilst still trying to look good. Apparently,we’re far too nice and sweet to delve into comedy which may, heaven forbid, be in poor taste or at the expense of someone else. Imagine the devastating scenes if poor, helpless ladies were exposed to such horrors? Women would be hospitalised from the shock.

As every father knows, the placenta is made up of brain cells, which migrate southward during pregnancy and take the sense of humor along with them. – Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair.

Hitchens even went so far as to suggest that the few women who do manage to succeed in comedy circuits only do so by acting like men, or as he eloquently put it, ‘hefty or dykey or Jewish or some combo of the three’.

Frankly, this insulting to both women and men, who could not possibly be capable of relating to other people like fully-functioning, empathetic human beings. The only way for a woman to make someone laugh is to reject all notions of her femininity and adopt ‘angst and self-deprecation’ into their routine, traits which are supposedly ‘masculine by definition’. So according to Hitchens, we’re not allowed to indulge in a bit of angst now, are we not? We should all take that emotionally-charged poetry we wrote in our adolescence and were sure would make people appreciate us after we were dead and rip it up immediately.

Argument 3: There are hardly any women in comedy 

Just because there are more men doing it, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better at it… Women are less encouraged and less supported. People who book comedy nights do tend to think that one woman on the bill is really quite enough. –  Lara A King, Funny Women Award winner.

There is no point denying that, intentionally or not, the comedy circuit is male dominated. Take the recent Cat Laughs Festival for example. Out of 37 acts, 2 were female. Two. Forbidden Fruit? Out of 29 acts only 3 were female. Electric Picnic in 2011 had only 2 female acts out of 20. At SXSW only one female act (out of 30) was on the line up.

I don’t like any female comedians – Jerry Lewis

If you happen to be the sort who frequents comedy clubs, you would have to be extremely naïve to ignore the collective groan that comes as standard when the obligatory female comedian is introduced. That is, if there’s one on the line up at all. How many times have you heard people comment on a male comedian and say “Well he was good, for a bloke” or “I don’t usually like male comedians”. Never. And why? Because it’s irrelevant. If a male comedian is branded as crap, it’s because he’s just crap, but a female comedian is usually branded crap before she even starts talking. Female comedians need to work extra hard to prove to that they are funny despite what lies between their legs. Male comedians don’t have that extra barrier to leap. In addition, before a female comedian even opens her mouth there are a certain amount of assumptions people will make about the material. Eyes roll prematurely awaiting the jokes about weight loss, vibrators, babies, periods* and the mandatory man-hating rants. Men are allowed the space and freedom to deliver ‘observational comedy’. Meanwhile, woman-centric jokes are treated as lesser forms of comedy just as ‘chick lit’ is dismissed as a lower form of literature.

Women who do decide to pursue careers in comedy are often not given the same chances to shine as their male counterparts. On TV, most comedy panel shows feature a regular line up of men and only once in a while, will have their ‘token’ girl comedian (usually Jo Brand). Whilst there, the token female is never offered their fair share of screen time. This is of course not to suggest the use of positive discrimination. In an ideal world, comedians would just be comedians and people would be on TV based purely on merit, which would of course eliminate Michael McIntyre from our screens forever, the floppy-haired dickhead.

If Pineapple Express had been about two girls, they wouldn’t have made it. And if I were a woman I wouldn’t have a career – Seth Rogen

It’s only in recent years, particularly with the emergence of celebrated female comedic writers such as Tina Fey (SNL, 30 Rock) or Mindy Kaling (The US Office), that audiences are starting to realise that when women in comedy showcase their own material it can, shock horror, appeal universally. Tina Fey, in particular, has nothing to prove to anyone and yet she is still quizzed about her success in comedy like it is some sort of irregular blip in the universe.

Argument 4: Women just aren’t funny

Both sexes tend to agree that men in general are the ‘funnier sex’. What seems to be a consistent theme is that men are more likely to be humour creators, whereas women tend to appreciate the humour more and laugh more easily than men do – Michael Kerr, motivational speaker and ‘humour in the workplace expert’…whatever the hell that is.

I could, with my inferior female mind, simply be avoiding the facts. Maybe women just aren’t funny? They say most stereotypes have an origin in truth, after all. Well no. Fuck that, I say. We should not accept this as a fact.

Tina Fey. Joan Rivers. Mindy Kaling. Kirsten Schaal. Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders. Sofia Vergara. Sarah Millican. Melissa McCarthy. Kerry Godliman. Kate Beaton. Miranda Hart. Tamsin Greig. Jo Brand. Helen Fielding. Jessica Hynes. Sharon Horgan. Lena Dunham. Maya Rudolph. Shappi Khorsandi. Kathy Burke. Josie Long. Garfunkel & Oates. Kristen Wiig. Amy Poeler. Humour is subjective but if you haven’t laughed at anything any these women have produced, written or performed then you are a goddamn liar.

There is no question that there are a million more funny women than there used to be… But everything has more women. There are more women in a whole bunch of places, and this is one of them. – Nora Ephron

The problem with this tired ‘Women aren’t funny/Men are’ cliché is that it suggests that humour is a given. The ability to make someone laugh isn’t down to a genetic recipe and it’s not a skill that people just have. All women aren’t funny just as all people aren’t funny. Think of all the sour-faced, joyless bastards in your life for a moment. Their gender is irrelevant when they are leaving you passive-aggressive notes, willingly using phrases like ‘Let’s touch base’ or describing in graphic detail the ‘mysterious rash’ you didn’t ask about in the first place. It’s unfair to keep spilling out these patronising ‘Oh look, the little woman made a funny’ articles every time a film like Bridesmaids is released.

So Hector, if that is your real name. [Eds: It's not. It's Shane.] Can women be funny? Of course they can. Don’t be so fucking ridiculous.
-
* I personally challenge anyone to make a decent period joke.

About the Author

Laura

Laura likes stuff, enjoys things and hates surprises.

  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Lokomotiv Ruairi

    Great, great piece. This is even more noticeable in Ireland where humour is more prominent and frequently used every day than most places. I’m not a fan of Sarah Millican or Jo Brand, but just because they’re probably the two most well-known female stand-ups doesn’t mean they’re the standard-bearers for all others. If the same was true for men and I only ever saw Harry Hill and James Corden on TV, I’d commit myself to a life of solitude on the westernmost point of the Faroe Islands, watching The Seventh Seal on repeat on a portable DVD player until I died.

    The same people who blurt out this sexist sentiment are the same ones who’ve been laughing to Jessica Hynes and Julia Deakin in Spaced, or Pauline McLynn as Mrs. Doyle in Father Ted, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Seinfeld for years, as well as countless women from other TV shows. They’ve wet themselves at the quips of Shappi Khorsandi or Victoria Coren on Have I Got News For You. They love Lily Tomlin and think Ellen is a hoot. They own the DVD of Sister Act (and Sister Act II), and, love her or hate her, found it impossible not to laugh the first time Sarah Silverman sang I’m F*cking Matt Damon, or said: I was licking jelly off of my boyfriend’s penis and all of a sudden I’m thinking, “Oh My God, I’m turning into my mother!”

    TL;DR: I agree with you.

  • http://twitter.com/blatherina Blatherina Yo

    Don’t these people have female friends? Aren’t some of them funny? Some of my ladyfriends are the funniest people I know.

  • Beg Daddy

    I think the only reasonable thing for us to do is form a mob, go round to that ballbag Hector’s house and murder him. He deserves it. Imagine being famous for being Tommy Teirnan’s wanker mate. 

    On another note this is a great piece defending women’s place in comedy. I would go as far to say that Joan River’s self-depreciating semitic comedy is some of my favourite, and I have a penis. Loads of women like Kriisten Wiig, Sarah Silverman and Victoria Coren have shown it is possible to be beautiful, funny and possess a vagina. I don’t find some female comedians funny, Like Shappi Khorisandi, but as Ruairi said, I don’t find James Corden or Michael Mcintyre funny in the slightest. I find it impossible to comprehend these fucks making a living out of comedy, when many women are alot funnier than them and don’t get the recognition. It astounds me how many people are astonished to find that Mindy Kaling is one of the US Office’s writers. But to many, both men and self loathing women, ignorance is bliss. Silly bastards.

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    Spot on, L eile. 

    I love Joan Rivers, detest Sarah Silverman and thought Bridesmaids was about as funny as watching the dog humping a gate pillar. None of these views were influenced by anyone’s possession of a vagina. I think Stewart Lee should be canonised and Harry Hill should be shot out of a canon. Neither opinion has owt to do with either comic’s biological status. Common sense, right? Why this is still a conceptual obstacle for nunkies to struggle over is beyond me.

  • http://twitter.com/martynrosney Martyn Rosney

    On the *.

    There was once a debate held in UCC where the pre-debate was “Women are the better sex”.

    It was held by the Law Soc and the parties involved were a very uptight female law student proposing the motion with a ginger (I say ginger because I am sure they face a lot of the same discrimination) male who fancied himself as more of a comedian than a lawyer opposing the motion.

    The female backed up her position with empirical research and statistics citing examples of successful females and their outstanding achievements. The male countered each one of her points using examples like the ginger from Girls Aloud, Rosa Parks only being a civil rights hero because she was having a strop that day and Marie Curie being stupid to be messing around with uranium. 

    He ended his argument with the following line.
    “In summation I oppose the motion because women are a bloody mess…”(Pause. He had the audience eating out of his hands. Everyone thought that was his ending and the auditorium was laughing for a full thirty seconds on his closing remark and previous jokes. The laughing died down and he finished his sentence)PERIOD.(Cue uproarious laughing for a full three minutes. Ryan Tubridy who was Chairing the main debate for the evening gave him a standing ovation)I will sit firmly on the fence on this piece but I wanted to share that funny period joke.

  • frecklor

    Brilliantly written! Well done Laura :)

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