Friday, October 29, 2010

LOL . . . ?

Over the summer, I was randomly Google-ing recently confirmed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, when I came across an article that gave her props for “having a sense of humor.” In that same vein, the article also commented:

If you give them an education and a chance at the microphone, women are funnier than men

While the gist of that particular article was not to make jabs at the female sense of humor, but was written more for the purpose delivering general praise to Kagan, I was still offended by the select statements and fixated on that. Why does a woman need to be educated and needed to be given "a chance" in order to be funny, while men are way more easily accepted to be funny in general? Why is there an abundance of male comedians, while female comedians seem to be more lacking . . . or at least, not quite as popular or have garnered the attention that male comedians have? There are so many hilarious female comedians out there, (Tina Fey is also a personal favorite of mine that that list does not mention). Why does it seem like they are merely secondary to supposedly bigger power players, who happen to be male?

There are different implications to dissect and routes to go down when assessing this broad topic – one way of looking at it is breaking down what the lifestyle and career of a comedian really entails, and if maybe it’s seemingly more “ambitious” and therefore appealing to men. But, at the core of the issue is the very basic question: are men simply just funnier than women? A sense of humor and one’s funniness is entirely subjective and varies from person to person based on a number of circumstantial factors. Ideally, that should be the end of the analysis. Does it need to be gender based? Carol Gilligan’s rather traditional views on the female voice leans toward the notion that women’s concerns are more group-based, fueled by the need to nurture and based more on contextual thinking. In general, she claims that women speak in a different voice than do men. Does this contribute to whether or not the way a female thinks lends easily to whether or not they have the ability to speak in a “funny” voice? The fact that we use different parts of our brain more readily than men do? That we're more focused on emotional and selfless thinking, so that can't possibly be as funny?

My personal preference when it comes to what I find funnier are bits and comments that tend to be self-deprecating (Conan O’Brien and Dave Chappelle are both personal favorites when it comes to this kind of humor), and I know this is a common preference for others as well to appreciate this particular brand of funny. Is it because men, on top of feeling more comfortable in their skin and confident enough to be self-deprecating, also are seen as the more acceptable gender to be vulgar and crass (also another type of humor more common amongst male comedians and preferred largely by the masses)?

I am mostly personally offended by the, albeit extremely, general notion that males are funnier than female because I don’t find myself to be a dry, humorless female who lacks the ability to find amusement in things and make others laugh. I also am not comfortable with the implication that if I were to be dubbed as funny, it’s because I’m behaving more like a man, or that it’s because I try harder. I don’t try at all - I’m naturally funny, is that okay? I’m also a female. Those two are not mutually exclusive and that memo clearly needs to be sent out already.


Yazzyjazzy said...
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Yazzyjazzy said...

I am so glad you brought this up, Betty. I highly doubt men are naturally funnier than women or that there are more funny men than women. Maybe our humor differs and that is why some women comedians are not popular?

I have often felt that humor is a considered a man's trait. I, too, have always had a silly side where I like to crack jokes and make people laugh. But in some situations, I feel like I can't unveil that funny side because it may not be attractive for a female
to be too funny. Instead, we are often expected to be kind, generous, and...quiet. Too bad. I think we'd see a lot more funny female comedians out there without that expectation.

I would also like to mention Chelsea Handler and Anjela Johnson who are very hilarious female comedians. (Chelsea is the first female with a late night show.) And by the way, I happen to know the author of this article, and she is naturally VERY funny.

gtg263r said...

I think this is a very interesting blog post topic. Reading it, I thought of one possible explanation (but not excuse) for why comedy has traditionally been a male-dominated endeavor and why women may not be considered as naturally funny as men.

Regarding my own personal preference for comics, I tend to enjoy those provocative personalities who push the envelope and use comedy as a tool for social commentary. Indeed, some of the more revered names in modern comedy have done just this: Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Dave Chappelle, to name a few. Relatedly, a lot of these comics trade on off-color humor, taboo topics, profanity, and shock-value.

I think these aspects of the comedic form may help explain the lack of presence or recognition of female comics. Broadly speaking, I think our cultural norms both condone and enable men to be crass, insensitive, raunchy, profane, and provocative. I think the converse generally holds true for women.

For example, Sarah Silverman is a fairly successful female comic who can be just as vulgar as "any of the guys." She has many male fans, but I have also known guys who have no interest in seeing an (attractive) female comic saying vulgar things that have typically been the domain of male comics.

I think more "wholesome" female comics such as Ellen Degeneres or Tina Fey probably have broader appeal because of their less provocative approaches, which do not upset traditional gender roles.

Chez Marta said...

Betty, your post reminded me of the article and answer published by Vanity Fair (aka. the New Yorker with pictures). First Christopher Hitchens, not one to be shy to stir up a debate, penned his note "Why Women Aren't Funny." Read it here: Then VF published an article (and put a bunch of very successful comediennes on its title page) by Alessandra Stanley, which you can read here: Many readers responded, too, to both articles, listing their favorite performers in support of the shocking allegation that women are, indeed, funny. Well, guess what? Women can be just as funny as men, some can even be funnier. We also can drive cars, own businesses, manage money, represent clients in court, hell, even make the decisions in court. Whoever thinks that's not the case is simply in denial.

Bijorn Turock said...

I totally agree with Yazzyjazzy. Men and women have different kinds of humor and one is not necessarily better than the other. Both types of humor can entertain any given person, but the issues that are discussed may vary in appeal depending on gender. For example, men are more likely to find a joke about a guy and his fantasy football league to be funnier then women would, because it appeals to their lives more directly. Conversely, women would likely find a joke about how men are always trying to pick them up at clubs with cheese lines as being more funny then men would.

Furthermore, I think the reason why there are more male comedians than female comedians is that more males actually support comedians. At a typical comedy club, most of the audience is men and the only women who are there are women who are there on dates with other men. A market that is fluctuated in this way with a large male demographic is surly going to yield more male comedians.

Rebecca said...

The nature of the stand-up comic business may explain the lack of successful female comics in the last 40 years. There is the constant travel, working nights in boozy dives, lack of job security, infrequent paychecks and isolation form family and friends, just to name a few.

But I think your central question in this blog points to a culture that is uncomfortable with the idea of a woman generating laughter.

There have been a fair number of comedic actresses, which seems to be much more acceptable. After all, who didn’t’ t Love Lucy? But the list of famous female stand-ups is a very short one.

In the 60's we had Joan Rivers. Lily Tomlin was a comic queen of the 1970s. Then came Whoopi Goldberg, Elayne Boosler, Sandra Bernhard, Roseanne Barr, Rita Rudner, Brett Butler, Paula Poundstone, Ellen DeGeneres. In the 90’s we had Caroline Rhea , Joy Behar, Margaret Cho , Rosie O'Donnell as well as Janeane Garafalo, Kathy Griffin and Wanda Sykes. Finally, there is Sarah Silverman of Comedy Central fame.

A while Back, Comedy Central asked professional comedians to come up with a list of the top 100 comics of all time. Not surprisingly, only 10 were women.

Joan Rivers’ theory about the results is that stand- up comedy is a very masculine form. “You’re taking an audience and dominating them. You’re the ringmaster in a lion’s den. You have to be very strong.”

She also said that society doesn’t want to see a woman in power and telling jokes is a powerful position.

When I was a young girl, it was frowned upon for girls to get attention for being funny. As I got a little older, it seemed that to be considered pretty or popular you did not want to appear funny. I think we are conditioned from an early age to think that “class clown” is reserved for a guy.