Comedy: a thing men do?

The earliest recorded “women aren’t funny” joke made was made around 1695, when William Congreve, a famous playwright, wrote,”I must confess, I have never made any observation of what I apprehend to be true humor in women… If ever anything does appear comical or ridiculous in a woman, I think it is little more than an acquired folly or an affectation.” Three hundred years later, this notion is still around. Considering Seth MacFarlane was still thought of as a “comedian” after his notorious “Boob Song”  at the 2013 Oscar’s, all I’m saying is this: look at your life, look at your choices.

While I know that women are funny (see: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Aubrey Plaza, Jessica Williams, Jen Statsky, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobs, to name a few), I want to know why this misogynistic idea is so prevalent.

It seems to me that the main issue is not that girls are not funny, but rather that they are raised to respond to jokes, not make them themselves.

I figured the best and most reliable way to find answers, much to the science and one-third of the history departments’ pride, was to examine psychological studies. In 1976, psychologist Paul McGhee found that before the age of six, both genders told the same number of jokes yet after that age, girls made fewer jokes. This means that somehow, within the first six years of a girl’s life, she was sent the message that she should repress her humour.

Already in childhood, boys have a head start. For those who insist on making some kind of connection with biological instincts, Eric Bressler’s research explores the difference between a GSOH (Good Sense of Humor) for women and men. In the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, Bressler found that women want men who are humor “generators” whereas men want women who are humor “appreciators.”

What does this mean? When a woman laughs because of a joke, her reward center—otherwise known as the pleasure center of the brain—lights up. This area is what lets us know when something feels really good, like eating pizza or having sex. This means women are more likely to go for funny guys, leading men to naturally incline towards telling jokes. Meanwhile, women are less likely to tell jokes because biologically, men don’t respond as favorably. Evolution: it happens all around us.

However, laughter can indicate different feelings in a person. A German study found that on a date, how much a woman laughed was an indicator of how much she liked her male date, while the degree to which the man laughed was unrelated to how much he liked her. Don Nilsen, linguistics professor at Arizona State University and expert on humor, said “A woman who deploys a typically male sense of humor—one that’s aggressive or competitive—is a turnoff to men.”

Nisen argues that men feel threatened, either viewing the woman as a rival or worried they’ll be the next target. Since most women are conditioned to (falsely) believe their worth is determined by how much men like them, it’s no wonder female humor is pushed to be softer and less aggressive. That said, how humor operates in a long-term relationship can be different as men who can appreciate their partner’s humor are much more secure and hold their partners in higher esteem.

Now, even if you want to brush all of this aside, I will raise you one final study that suggests we are innately biased.

So, thanks to science, it’s evident that the “women aren’t funny” notion is total nonsense. The same way people still argue there shouldn’t be a female president because they were raised to believe that PMS would lead to irrational and uncontrollable anger and a purported World War III, we are raised to accept this stereotype as a reality. As Dean Burnett puts it, “Anyone who grows and develops in our society is quite likely to end up with a schema that says comedy = a thing men do, and as such will exclude/dismiss any information that challenges that, rather than alter their way of thinking.”

The values cherished by our society are to blame for the egregious dismissal of women as possible comedians. There’s the common argument that female comedians only talk about women: their lives, their problems, their perspective. It’s almost like they want to share their experiences as women, something to which only half the entire human population of this globe can relate. The audacity of some people, for shame!

It seems to me that the main issue is not that girls are not funny, but rather that they are raised to respond to jokes, not make them themselves. Despite it all, women have managed not only to defeat this gender stereotype, but also be outrageously funny (hello, Ellen). Next time anyone wants to say women aren’t funny, try citing the wonderful world of science. If that doesn’t work, try empathy and show him this video. And if that doesn’t work, I’d suggest giving up because he’s probably the type who thinks the 50’s were the best of times and fake gamer girls are the only type of gamer girls.