Why Women Aren’t Funny

Marta Acosta forwarded me another link, this time to a Vanity Fair article by Christopher Hitchens attempting to explain Why Women Aren’t Funny.

The hell?

Largely an examination of gender mixed with wit vs. humor, the upshot of Hitchens’ article seems to be that men will laugh at anything, and therefore have more material to draw from so as to create the funny-funny. Women are serious about most things, and expect to be entertained by men, and thus are more picky about what they laugh at.

Perhaps, says Hitchens, men do not want the competition from women in the funny department, but more likely, men like “childish” humor while women do not. Add to that the “authority” given to women by virtue of being the ones that reproduce and birth children, and you have the root of all that silly humor: the mocking of that authority – women.

Dude. DUDE.

I’ll be the first to admit: pregnancy is often funny. It’s not comfortable, and it’s bizarre and scary and incredibly moving at times (literally and figuratively), but be real, here. I have to stand on my head to empty my bladder, and rolling over is like steering a cruise ship. I can’t reach the faucet on the sink because my belly is in the way and my arms are too short. And we won’t even discuss stretch marks and how they make me scratch my gut like I’m on the back porch drinking a beer.

And afterward? Motherhood of a toddler? Or an adolescent? Or heaven help us all, a teenager? If you can’t find the humor in it, you’ll go bananas.

All these women he describes in the throes of maternal formality? I have no patience for them anyway. Even without discussion of motherhood and children, women in my acquaintance are pretty amusing. I think yesterday might have been one of the more serious things we’ve written about here, and even then some of the terms Candy used made me snort.

The spinning imbalance of power and authority in the article between men and women, humor and seriousness, political and familial authority – thinking about that article too much just made me dizzy. Men, the social and political authority in patriarchal societies, are subjugated under the authority of women, and therefore we are mocked and certainly aren’t funny? Amongst ourselves, we ladies are serious, self-absorbed, and have the funny drummed out of us during the absolutely formal experience of childbirth?

So what the hell is with this assumption that women sit around taking themselves too seriously – are you kidding me?

Edited to add:

Ann Althouse’s site discussed the article, as did Melinda, a comic who drew a very clear parallel between women and anger, and anger and comedy. Then, a group of comics do some dissection amongst themselves at Jenisfamous.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Amen!! If you can’t find pregnancy/mothering (and even stepmothering) funny then you’re in for a long, hard, and very dreary road.

    As far as female funnies, that guy is smoking crack. I think Sarah Silverman is one of the funniest comics working today. I live for my Thursday Silverman fix on comedy central and find myself singing ‘give the jew girl toys’ long after the holiday season is over.

    Anna J. Evans

  2. 2
    Kerry Allen says:

    Yes, he’s kidding you, and if you hadn’t already gestated your sense of humor away, you would know that.

  3. 3
    Kerry Allen says:

    And because you’ve gestated not once but twice, killing your own sense of humor as well as that of a nearby nulliparous woman, I’ll clarify that I was and am also kidding you.

    Filter word: period91. Yeah, menstruation is another subject to be dealt with srsly. Have a happy period, my ass…

  4. 4
    Najida says:

    I simply think that women and men often find different things funny.

    Like sex…..
    Women would rather have no sex than bad sex.
    To men, there is no such thing as bad sex. ;)

  5. 5
    Mel-O-Drama says:

    I’d be insulted by his article if I didn’t find its absurdity so damn funny.

    And you’re right…if you can’t laugh at the “joys” of motherhood, then what can you laugh at?

  6. 6
    Mel-O-Drama says:

    Women would rather have no sex than bad sex.
    To men, there is no such thing as bad sex.

    See, not only is that true, it’s funny. LOL

  7. 7
    Joanne says:

    There’s nothing like an article about the differences between men and women to make me laugh my ass off…

    And Sarah—- I don’t want to send you screaming into the streets… but has anyone mentioned to you about the “phantom” baby you carry after delivery? I did the dishes from two feet away from the sink for a week before I realized the little one was sleeping in his crib… yeah, pregnancy is funny.

    It’s the teen years that stop the laughter…. which is a good time to hand the little creatures over to the men in their lives so they can laugh together at stupid things to get through the next years.

  8. 8
    Teddy Pig says:

    Christopher Hitchens what a guy…

    Why do I keep thinking this guy is a 40 year old virgin, lives in his mothers garage, watches only sports related television and is not known for his regular bathing habits? Why?

  9. 9
    Liz C says:

    Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren’t like that.

    I find this very erroneous. I laugh at stupid stuff all the time.

    I hope he’s just being facetious.

    it is females who are the rank-and-file mainstay of religion, which in turn is the official enemy of all humor.

    Oh well now I know he’s being ridiculous.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    I am certain that this is also partly why, in all cultures, it is females who are the rank-and-file mainstay of religion, which in turn is the official enemy of all humor.

    Did you see the airplane of satire going over my head? Whoosh. Next up, I’ll take seriously an article wherein folks are told to eat the Irish to stave off famine.

    I’m such a tool. I’m laughing my ass off at myself.

    What’s funny (hur hur) is that I actually read the article twice, looking for that one step of outrageousness that would mark the signal of satirical writing – and I missed it. I even debated it with Hubby – is this too dry to be satire? Am I really not sufficiently caffeinated to read Hitchens? Perhaps I ought to stick to something easy, like LOLCats, for awhile?

    Heh. If anything, I can laugh at myself, and know that as a female of dubious ability to catch subtlety, I’m really freaking hilarious.

  11. 11
    snarkhunter says:

    Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink … are a male province.

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t realize how absolutely hilarious stories about visits to the gynecologist can be.

    Oh, Christopher Hitchens. I pat you on your befuddled little head, and laugh at your confusion at my jokes.

  12. 12
    Liz C says:

    Next up, I’ll take seriously an article wherein folks are told to eat the Irish to stave off famine.

    Off-topic: I love that essay. The eat Irish babies essay is just one of the best things I ever read in high school English.

  13. 13
    snarkhunter says:

    Incidentally, about halfway or 2/3 of the way down the comment thread on Ann Althouse’s blog, we get this gem:

    Obvioulsy, as a straight male, I have absolutely no interest in the female pornography known as Romance Novels.

    B/c even in a thread that has nothing to do with romance novels, we’ve got to get that little jab in!

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    But of course. It’s easy humor – which women wouldn’t get of course!

    Like this article I saw today: how to evaluate the owners of the house you’re renting?  By their bookshelf of course:

    Shelves filled with college textbooks, even anthologies of literature or historical surveys, tell you that you have not stumbled on a lifelong learner. Romance novels, how-to books on how not to be such a damned loser on assorted topics, too many old paperbacks with prices under 95 cents, or any serious collection of joke books will tell you to quaff another beer and then to depart said host’s party and life.

  15. 15
    Najida says:

    Obvioulsy, as a straight male, I have absolutely no interest in the female pornography known as Romance Novels.

    OH THIS JUST PISSES ME OFF ON SO MANY LEVELS!
    a.  Romance isn’t porn (But we all know that.  The implication is that it’s beneath him.
    b.  A male not interested in porn!  That’s a lie!
    c.  If it was something geared for guys with Jenna Jamison on the cover, you’d damn well bet the farm that he’d be beggin’ GF/Wifey to ‘read it for us!’.
    d.  Ack.  But if it’s something for a woman, then it’s “beneath me”.
    e.  Asshat.

  16. 16
    --E says:

    I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I do get tired of the Uterine Consipracy Theory as an explanation for everything women do. I’m pretty sure that men are not wishing they could have the babies. I’m pretty damn sure they’re thrilled to pieces that they don’t have to do it.

    In fact, except for the moments when a man actually witnesses a woman delivering a child, I think many fellows are unimpressed with the whole business. “Well, your body’s built to do that, right?” Yeah, and your body’s built to go chase down mammoths, so why don’t you get on that, eh?

    However, I cannot help but agree with his basic point, which is that women are, on average, not as funny as guys. If Hitchens had stopped with his thesis of “We have to be funny if we ever want to get any; the women don’t have to work so hard” I’d be right on board with that.

    Come to think of it, though, my female friends who make me laugh the most are the ones who haven’t reproduced. Which isn’t to say the mommies aren’t funny, but I don’t get to hang out with them the same way I do with the non-parents.

    I think that brings up another potential gender divide: men are encouraged to have fun with their children, while women are encouraged to be the day-to-day rules-makers. In the stereotypical, “family values” household, moms set the schedules and handle logistics and quartermarshal duties. When Mom is looking after the kids, she’s also trying to accomplish other things, most usually household chores, but also often duties for a for-pay job, or calculating how to get Jimmy to soccer practice and Buffy to dance class, and still get dinner on the table. By contrast, when Dad is looking after the kids, he has one job: keep the kids entertained.

    (The preceeding paragraph is obviously a gross simplification. But it seems to be the expectation of middle-American culture in general.)

    This doesn’t make these moms unfunny. It makes them too overworked to have the energy for unrestrained goofball humor.

  17. 17
    iffygenia says:

    I’ve heard this a number of times—always from attention-getting types of men.  Which always leaves me thinking, “I’m damn funny… when you let me get a word in edgewise.  And you know it; that’s why you work so hard at shutting me up.”

  18. 18
    Kerry Allen says:

    Perhaps I’m the exception to the rule, but not only am I mother, I’m a single mother, and there is no daddy to ever pawn the kids off on to be entertained, so I’m doing every last bit of work around here, but I’m still a goofball.

    We laugh until we puke. But that’s just us.

    Also, if Mr. Hitchens thinks religion isn’t funny, he doesn’t get out much. I got a million “a priest and a rabbi” jokes, and twice that many Pope jokes.

  19. 19
    Kris Eton says:

    Mr. Hitchens’ problem is that he doesn’t understand women respond to different humor than men—because HE IS A MAN.

    There is universal funny stuff that all will laugh at. But I could write an article about how men don’t get humor, they just laugh at anything gross or disgusting. Which is not humor. To me, the best humor involves wit. So, therefore, in my world of humor, men are not very funny at all.

    And I don’t what mothers or pregnant women he’s been around. My whole pregnancy was like a 9-month-long sitcom episode. And babies? Babies can be the funniest things on the planet. If I haven’t laughed at the absurdity that is motherhood, I would be one dull person.

  20. 20
    Najida says:

    Jane Kerr and Erma Bombeck both made money off of being women who laughed at motherhood. 

    So there! Mr. Hitchens…..

  21. 21
    Najida says:

    Sheesh!  It’s Jean Kerr and I can’t spell for chit.

  22. 22
    Sallyacious says:

    You know, that’s right up there with the idea that feminists don’t have a sense of humor. That we take ourselves too seriously to be able to laugh at things. I laugh at myself all the damn time. When I do something stupid and look like an ass, when one of my students points out one of my shortcomings in a funny way, I laugh my self sick.

    Perhaps the “problem” is actually that Christopher Hitchins isn’t funny. As Emily Watson’s character says to Ryan Phillippe when he tells her Brits don’t have a sense of humor, “We do when something’s funny, sir.”

  23. 23
    bettie says:

    I wish Hitchens would stick to doing what he does best: trashing Mother Theresa and making the Fox News guys look like dumbasses. This piece pissed me off back when it was a “Fighting Words” column on Slate.com.  Here’s something I’ve noticed:  Women are much more comfortable not only laughing at themselves, but pretending silliness for the sake of a joke (think Ellen DeGeneres).

    I’ve a habit of saying absolutely ridiculous things with a perfectly straight face.  My female friends laugh because they think I’m funny.  My guy friends laugh because they think I’m stupid.  Usually they try to explain to me why what I just said is patently ridiculous.  And when I say, “I was joking!” they nod and smile as though they’re thinking, “Sure you were, sweet cheeks.”

    Men have been blaming women for the things they think about us since the dawn of time (lustful thoughts, anyone?).  Could it be that men who don’t think women are funny hold this belief not because we take ourselves too seriously, but because they take us too seriously?

  24. 24
    Najida says:

    You have a point Battie—- It could be that the biting wit and sarcasm that many a women are known for (think Designing Women) may fly like a big “Whoosh” over some men’s heads, while other women are smiling at the inside joke.

    I know that I was shocked in the past to hear that so and so thought I was serious when I made a snarky/funny remark.  Those who knew me got it, those who didn’t, thought it was for real.

  25. 25
    Kris Eton says:

    Mr. Hitchens’ problem is that he doesn’t understand women respond to different humor than men—because HE IS A MAN.

    There is universal funny stuff that all will laugh at. But I could write an article about how men don’t get humor, they just laugh at anything gross or disgusting. Which is not humor. To me, the best humor involves wit. So, therefore, in my world of humor, men are not very funny at all.

    And I don’t know which mothers or pregnant women he’s been around. My whole pregnancy was like a 9-month-long sitcom episode. And babies? Babies can be the funniest things on the planet. If I haven’t laughed at the absurdity that is motherhood, I would be one dull person.

  26. 26
    R. says:

    Ohh!  Fightin’ words!  Whaddaya mean I’m not funny?!  People laugh at me allathedamntime,…

    Of course women have a faboo sense of humor.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to tolerate men in *any* capacity.  I frequently make my lovely S.O. snort in his glass, and have on numerous occasions caused him uncontrollable nasal spewage.  Perversely, I take great pride in those moments.

    [But let’s face a tragic truth, here: it can be genuinely hazardous to a girl’s physical well-being to laugh—with or at—some guys.]

    Perhaps Mister Hitchens is secretly embarrassed and is just covering his arse because he may not be quite clever enough to grok all the subtleties and nuances of female comedy. 

    Yeah, yeah, I get it -– it ain’t ‘comedy’ unless it fits The Man’s Official Definition of ‘comedy’.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we call it ‘bullshit’ instead of ‘cowshit’.

  27. 27
    Tracy says:

    wow, so, since I’ve had two kids, all of my funny brain cells went into the placentas?? IS HE KIDDING?

    If he thinks motherhood makes you unfunny, he hasn’t listened to a group of women talking about their kids/pregnancies.  My friends and I have had conversations that go something like this, “Oh,  you think THAT is funny, listen to what my kid/said did etc”  Almost like one upmanship.  The women’s version of men bragging about hunting/sports exploits. The “oh yeah, I can beat that story” kinds of talks.  Those conversations are funny, but we don’t have them in front of men b/c they don’t want to hear about the grosser aspects of pregnancy, and girls, you all know that stuff is the funniest part of pregnancy!!

  28. 28
    Kerry says:

    Life is funny.

    Jokes are not funny.

    That’s why I’m staring at you when you try to tell me a “joke.”

  29. 29
    R. says:

    *snerk*

    Yeah, I really dig the bit about the placenta sucking down all my brain cells [like all brain cells are interchangeable in their capacities], along with my sense of humor—

    —uh huh.  Like there’s enough blood in the male body to make both heads function optimally at the same time.

    *snerk*

  30. 30
    Deb says:

    There is nothing funnier than my nun/priest/camel joke.  Which was originally told to me decades ago by a woman.  So there.  I don’t care if he *was* being satirical.

    *sitting on hands to stop them from typing in above joke*

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