Where Are All The Funny Girls?

by WiseFool

Are women funny? Why is comedy still a male-dominated world? And why don't more women want to be comedians?

Frankly, I find it bizarre and ignorant in the extreme to suggest that women are in some biological sense less funny than men. Let’s face it, it’s akin to suggesting that Earth is flat; we can see the evidence of our very spherical world, just as we can see the many examples of hilariously funny women.

But, there can be no denying that comedy is still a very male-centric domain. The question is: Why? Why are there so few women stand-ups, comedy writers and comic female actors? And why are some people, of both the male and female persuasion, pathologically averse to lady clowns?

Funny Ladies

Of course, women can be funny!

I get intensely angry when someone, and it’s usually a man (although not always), says that women are not as funny as men. I noticed this was a large topic of debate attached to a group of videos on youtube, which were snippets from an interview series called Dawn French’s Girls Who Do Comedy.

Given that the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Victoria Wood, Wanda Sykes, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, Catherine Tate, Jennifer Saunders and Joan Rivers were among those featured, it baffles me that anyone could suggest that these talented women are, in fact, not funny.

Coincidentally, BBC Four commissioned another series, in which Dawn French interviewed a number of male comedians, Dawn French’s Boys Who Do Comedy, and the difference between the attitudes of male and female comedians toward their chosen profession was stark.

Whereas the women, almost without exception, approached themselves and their jobs with a sense of humor, the men seemed to take a much more serious attitude towards being funny.

And this, I think, may be just one of the reasons that there are fewer female comedians, but I’ll come back to that in more detail.

The point is that there are many hysterically funny women out there. It’s simply that they are so vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts.

And because there are more male comedians, it leads some people to conclude that ‘they must not be as good at it’. If women were as funny as men, they’d be just as many female comedians, right?

Well, not necessarily. There are a few other factors at play.

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Funny girls are all around us, they just don't necessarily feel compelled to perform

In my experience, women, generally speaking, have better senses of humor than men. The female members of my family, including me, laugh much more than the male members of the brood. And, I suspect, this is generally true of most women. Lord knows, women have to have a sense of humor! We’d all be only children if they didn’t.

So, we know that there is not something intrinsically unfunny about women. The question, therefore, becomes not ‘can women by funny?’ but ‘why do funny women not feel the need to make it a career?’ This, to my mind, is a much more intriguing query in terms of both psychology (of women and men) and sociology.

Comedy And Ego

Why being humorous can be a dog-eat-dog business

I think one of the many reasons fewer women feel the burning desire to dip their toe into the piranha-filled waters of comedy, especially stand-up, is that it can be a brutal business.

Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that women are more fragile. Of course not, we can take it on the chin like a good ’un and, in many walks of life, women are forced to grapple in a way that men don’t necessarily have to. So, the fact that female stand-ups must face heckling and/or abuse from audiences probably isn’t enough, in of itself, to put them off. But it, combined with other things, may well make them think twice.

And perhaps one of the most disconcerting things about being a female comic is that she not only has to tackle shouts of ‘show us your boobs!’ from male members of the audience, but she is also forced to battle with male comedians.

Having dabbled in the world of stand-up comedy, I know from experience that, to men, getting a laugh is all about ego. I’m not going to pretend that saying something that you hope will be amusing, and it having the desired effect, is not a buzz for women, too. Of course, it is. However, I don’t believe there is that same level of competition for women; the sense that the funniest person, man or woman, has somehow achieved an alpha position within the pack.

Usually, women seem to be more happy to let others shine. Male comedians, on the other hand, can be like a dog with a bone. Next time you’re watching comedians on a panel, improvisation show or an interview with multiple guests, see if you notice whether one comedian seems to dominate the conversation or airtime - this will almost certainly be a man.

Because, for men, comedy is the equivalent of a peacock spreading his tail feathers or a gorilla beating his chest. In short, to a guy, being funny, is a way of asserting his dominance and, more importantly, attracting a mate. It ain’t the same for women.

The Women

Written by Clare Boothe Luce, Anita Loos and Jane Murfin

There’s Nothing Sexy About a Female Clown

Women Can’t Attract a Mate by Being Funny

Jane Turner and Gina Riley (Kath and Kim) Funny Doesn't Mean SexyTo paraphrase Jane Austen (who, incidentally, is another incredibly funny woman), it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man can laugh a woman into bed. It does not work vice versa. Women that work in strip joints or lap dancing clubs, don’t get an extra large tip if they manage to make their patrons laugh.

No, in female terms, being sexy has absolutely nothing to do with being funny. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. Tina Fey is, I would say, an incredibly attractive woman, but, at times, she has to be prepared to look ‘unattractive’, in the conventional sense of the word, to get a laugh. The same was true of Lucille Ball and almost every female comic throughout history.

Which is why, typically, you will never see a traditionally good looking gal; a woman who has men swarming all over her, telling jokes.

A man can have fallen out of the ugly tree, women will still be interested if he can make them laugh. As much as it pains me, it simply isn’t true the other way around. Moreover, men tend to keep ‘funny women’ at arm's length. This, I suspect, is partly due to the ego thing. If a woman is witty, she’s taking the spotlight from him.

I must emphasize that I’m referring to the average man. I know that there are some men who do find funny sexy and do not feel intimidated by a smart, amusing lady.

However, it seems to me, that from a very young age, girls are aware of the fact that funny and/or clever does not equal attractive. This, of course, is not helped by the swathes of female ‘celebrities’ who are famous for being, essentially, rather intellectually challenged and, we’re led to believe, nothing more than a pretty face - the kind of women P!nk sings about in ‘Stupid Girls’.

Give a ten-year-old girl the choice between being funny or pretty - she will almost certainly choose pretty, because our society prides looks over everything else. And not only is comedy not a successful way for a woman to snare a mate, but it will actually require her to look ‘ugly’ on occasion; she will become a comedy grotesque, if you will.

I detest our society's preoccupation with and, more importantly, definition of, beauty. But that’s a subject for another time. The point is that this, in my opinion, is far and away the largest reason for women to shy away from a career as a clown.

Where are all the funny girls? Quite a few of them are at home, suppressing their natural comic bent in order to attract a man and then allow him to be ‘the funny one’, because they don't want to be perceived as unattractive.

Updated: 04/11/2012, WiseFool
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WiseFool on 08/11/2012

Hello Adam, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I have great respect for Chris Hitchens (the world is much poorer without him) and his view is, essentially, the same as mine. Women don't NEED to be funny to attract a mate - men do. That may be evolutionary fact, but it doesn't mean women can't be funny.

On your first point, I can assure you the women of my family are not dimwits. I'm not familiar with Kevin Hart or Dane Cook (don't think we've seen much of them here in the U.K.). Most of the gals I know are very much into 'intelligent' humour - George Carlin, Eddie Izzard kind of stuff. But you (and Chris Hitchens) are right, of course, there is a difference between a sense of humour and the ability to be funny. Personally, though, I think it's important to know HOW to laugh in order to MAKE others laugh; that was my only reason for bringing it up.

Thanks again.

adamryan on 08/06/2012

"In my experience, women, generally speaking, have better senses of humor than men. The female members of my family, including me, laugh much more than the male members of the brood."

Suppose the men in your family are intelligent. Have you considered the possibility that the women in your family aren't funny to them, and that this is why the men aren't laughing? Laughing more often doesn't necessarily mean funny, and you can't judge the quality of a comedian by how often they get a laugh. Good comedians will make people laugh often but they will also use intelligent humor. Frequent laughter is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition for being a good comic. Dimwits who enjoy shit comedy like Kevin Hart, Dane Cook, etc will laugh a lot too, but the quality of those comedians is very poor. A lot of men judge comedy by the intelligence it evinces. It could be that the females in your family are Dane Cooks and the males aren't laughing because they're Louis C.K.s.

"So, we know that there is not something intrinsically unfunny about women. The question, therefore, becomes not ‘can women by funny?’ but ‘why do funny women not feel the need to make it a career?’ This, to my mind, is a much more intriguing query in terms of both psychology (of women and men) and sociology."

Christopher Hitchens has a great video on YouTube about women and being funny, you may find it interesting since he touches on the psychology and sociology of comedy and the need to be funny. Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7izJg...

WiseFool on 05/09/2012

Hello, Sharilee. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It is always good, I think, to stop and question why things are the way they are in a society. So often, we just accept the status quo without stopping to wonder how a culture has been shaped. Very pleased to read that you found that aspect of the article interesting, too!

SharileeShares on 05/09/2012

Wow, very interesting article. I agree with your propositions that women tend to be less inclined to be professionally funny because it is less intrinsically "sexy" and they have less need to prove themselves. Very astute points!

And it is true that humour is more highly valued in our culture, in men, so there's more of an incentive for men to be funny. An interesting sociological article!

WiseFool on 05/06/2012

Hi Tolovaj, thanks for your comments - they're all very good points. And, of course, you're right, our brains are different. I'm not sure that precludes women (or men) from doing something that is seen as more suited to the opposite gender's brain, though. I've known plenty of 'obsessional' women, the difference may be, however, that women are, by very dint of their reproductive capacity, often forced to put others before themselves and/or their ambitions. Men can (not that I'm saying all men do) remain focused on said obsession and still be a parent. There are, obviously, some women who do the same, but that intrisic need to care for the young, usually, prevails.

P.S. I don't for one second think it's impossible for a woman to laugh a man into bed, but it is a grossly unlevel playing field - this, I know from personal experience. So, very glad to hear that you're one of the men who appreciates a woman with wit!

Tolovaj on 05/05/2012

You made some good points. Women are different than men and even if we share a sense of humor, our approach is different.

It is a proved fact our brains doesn't work the same (male brain is more specialized and more adapted to concentrate on one single task: think about watchmakers - not exactly a profession for ladies), this makes men more inclined to obsessions (think about maniacs, mass killers or war starters - not exactly too many ladies there, right?) and trying to live from joking (this really doesn't sound like a serious plan, huh?) is very near an obsession.

Having some experience from improv comedy from years ago I can say there were (still are) some very funny women, but for every one were (are) at least five equally funny men and because there is always competition in improv (or stand up, or in movie industry...) men are dominating.

So we should applaud to female comedians even more!

P.S. I disagree on the premise woman can't laugh a man into bed...

WiseFool on 04/29/2012

Hello Wendy, thanks for the comment. I think you're right about the confidence thing and that, again, comes down to this fixation that women have to 'look' a certain way to be attractive or even accepted. Men don't tend to have that worry. I saw the ep of QI you're referring to and I remember, at the time, finding it odd. If anything, I laugh more at female comedians, because they, usually, talk about things I can relate to. However, I believe Wanda Sykes had a theory that women can be intimidated by a woman on stage, because she’s commanding the attention of the room, including all the male attention. - I guess it makes some of us feel insecure. Anyway, as you say, he’s hoping things improve! Thanks again.

WiseFool on 04/10/2012

Thank you, Katie. There are some great female comedians, writers and comedy actors around, but we could always do with some more. It's not about beating the boys, of course, but it would be nice if it were a level playing field. And, like you, I think laughter is so fundamental to our health and general well-being!

katiem2 on 04/10/2012

Great and funny stuff here, I love comedy and we have a great variety of female comedians here to enjoy. Thanks for the reminder, laughter is the best medicine.

WiseFool on 04/08/2012

Thanks, Brenda. I agree. She was absolutely hilarious, both in her wit and fabulous physical comedy. It's strange that we haven't really had anyone to quite match her in the intervening years.

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