Why Many Women Aren’t Funny

22 10 2009


Up until recently, I’ve always had a disproportionate number of male friends to female friends.  At first I thought  it might just be a reaction to having attended an all-girls Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade (general man-deprivation?), but no, that’s not the reason. It’s because most of the men I meet are, on the whole, much funnier than most of the women.

Before I push further with this, I should add that I have many brilliant, hilarious girlfriends, and that I am fully confident in womankind’s biological ability to be funny.  This is why I find it so interesting that, for the most part, when I meet a new girl, her sense of humor seems to be either markedly lame or entirely nonexistent.  Considering how smart and successful and well-adjusted many of these women are, this is not an issue of intelligence or any inherent social deficiency–it’s an issue of social and cultural power.

A sense of humor is essentially a kind of social currency.  It displays confidence, it displays intelligence, and it displays a particular kind of command over the topic or conversation at hand.  Being truly funny amongst a group of your peers says, “I not only understand what you just said, but I’m so comfortable with that information and quick on my feet that I can play with it and manipulate it in a way that is both impressive, entertaining and unexpected.”  Funny people use jokes and puns and clever banter to mark their social territory in the same way that a dog pees on a fire hydrant–it’s a universally understood source of  power over one’s peers.

For this reason, women who learn early in life that they can achieve a similar kind of social power with their physical appearance alone never bother developing an edgy, well-rounded sense of humor, because they don’t need it.  The really funny women are the ones who either never received that kind of reinforcement throughout their formative years, or, for whatever reason, never sought or enjoyed that particular kind of power.  These women take far more pleasure in competing on a social level than on a physical one.

The same rule applies to very good-looking men every once in a while, but not nearly as often, because even the most physically attractive men have to be at least a little funny to attract and keep friends and admirers.   Women will list “sense of humor” as the number one trait they look for in men, but you will never hear a man say to his buddy, “You know, if I could just find a woman at this bar that was laugh-out-loud funny…”

An article in Vanity Fair on this very topic asserts that men are actually threatened by funny women and prefer that their girlfriends not be funny because of the power play involved:

“Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals.”

In my experience, there are definitely men out there who are threatened by smart, funny women, and those men are in luck, because there are plenty of women with the personalities of velcro who would be thrilled to sit pretty and giggle at their jokes all day.  I’ve found that the smartest, most secure men love funny women, enjoy the social/intellectual challenge of conversing with them and recognize their good fortune when they find one.




23 responses

22 10 2009

did you just call me ugly?
if a lady has no sense of humor, there’s no reason to keep her around. true story.

22 10 2009

yes, she did call you ugly.

On that note, Wanda Sykes stand-up special on HBO last week was probably the best female Stand-Up Act ever. She did a solid hour and a half (very hard to do).

actually, better than most mens.

22 10 2009
mid twenties female

Thanks for this post! I have felt that with many of the guys I’ve been involved with over the past few years, I was always one step ahead of them in conversation. This smart/funny female notion can be too much for many of them to take.

And go figure: after being involved with me, most of them have gone on to seriously date girls from lackluster schools with equally lackluster personalities. Many guys want whatever is easy; a girl that doesn’t necessarily challenge them. Yes, these could be sweeping generalizations on my part.

There was also a Sex and the City episode a few years back where Carrie is devastated over Big choosing Natasha. Carrie brings up Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were and says: “The world is made up of two types of women. The simple girls and the Katie girls. I’m a Katie girl.”


22 10 2009
Slab Pie

I agree with you, LB.
I do believe that if more women had confidence in their intelligence, there would be more funny women.

22 10 2009

well, laura b, looks like you just solved my dating crisis.
yeah, i’m sayin i’m funny. and apparently ugly too.

but let’s just call it like it is: poop jokes ARE hysterical.

22 10 2009
Lord Enigma

Comedians are not representative because they are already exceptional people if they can make a living out of comedy. It is comparing apples to oranges. Just because David Cross is hilarious doesn’t make me funny because I am a male or not funny because I am not a Jew.

I think that a lot of women just have sticks up their asses. They need to lighten up and learn to appreciate the humor in everyday experience. And yes, that includes the occasional poop joke.

To answer your question about whether I am turned on by funny girls: I am turned on mostly by asses, boobs, and one time by coconut scented chap stick. However, I will actually enjoy hanging out with somebody that I can joke around with. I will also be much more motivated to call somebody back if I like hanging out with them. Remember, girls that are too hot and not funny really make dudes angry. I really really hate Megan Fox for example.

22 10 2009
Edward Dandyhands

Wanda Sykes is probably the most annoying female comic i can think of…gross… but the female comics you mentioned in your blog + Maragert Cho (I love when she makes fun of her korean mom) are pretty good.

you nailed it on the head when you said a personality/humor was not developed due to lack of necessity. The ideal girl is one that was not hot in highschool, developed a solid personality and sense of humor because of it, then blossomed in college. “ugly duckling syndrome”. Those are rare.

Check this out: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/02/women.funny.men.intelligent/index.html

22 10 2009

I kind of hate that you have a point. This discussion reminds me of a certain Taylor Swift song that might be dominating the Top 40 right now, not that I would know.

unrelated: love your blog!

22 10 2009
Geof Boyle

I still have that coconut scented chapstick. Anyway, there is a difference between having a sense of humor and wielding one. Plenty of stiffs laugh at stuff, but don’t make other people laugh. It requires timing and tone and especially a good sense of where different people think the lines are. A lot of it can be learned, and I suppose mothers should encourage this, or even better, fathers, since they are the first male role-model.

22 10 2009

to me, humor requires fantastic powers of observation and the ability to recognize reality and then riff on it (floating slightly above it) and it requires making a ton of judgments simultaneously. it has something to do with power. i think the reason most women arent funny is that the privilege of commentating/observing/judging society and creating reality has traditionally belonged to men. its a privilege to be funny.

22 10 2009

Ramblings–Sykes actually does this whole bit about peeing herself that’s pretty funny. “I used to carry around an extra set of panties in case I got lucky. Now I carry one in case i laugh too hard”

Enigma–I have noticed a trend of very well educated women are embracing toilet humor in recent years. The more that society embraces female sexuality and views there vaginas less and less like a ‘flower’ or ‘treasure’, the more comfortable they are noticing the humor in those things. Result, more queef jokes. We all win.

Edward– Totally agree on the Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Completely disagree on the Wanda Sykes thing. Sounds like you’re racist.

Bros– To quote Ted Danson in Bored to Death: “Men face reality. Women don’t. That’s why men need to drink”

mid twenties female– call me

22 10 2009

and i hope you noticed the irony in quoting Barbara Streisand via Sex and the City in your post complaining about how guy’s don’t like smart girls.

22 10 2009


22 10 2009
woman of non-leisure

Watch the southpark episode on queefing. The queef sisters! Better than fishsticks. But even that episode points to the low level of tolerance society has for funny/intelligent and ultimately, confident women. Alternatively it could point to the fact that society is not yet ready to recognize the female body for anything other than sexualization (men’s farting – still funny, tampon joke? too far).

Anyway, I’m just pleased as punch that you included a little AD in this post. Tobias Funke is one of my all time favorite TV characters.
“But since we both have started growing hair in unexpected places…”

22 10 2009
mid twenties female

hey BS–it’s pop culture. deal with it.

22 10 2009

and BS, I hope you noticed the irony of quoting Ted Danson in Bored to Death while pointing out the irony of barbara streisand via sex and the city.

22 10 2009

Bros 1, BS 0.


22 10 2009

I’ve actually researched gender and humor in the workplace while I’ve been out here in grad school. “According to the literature” as they say…

Both men and women have different forms of humor that they use depending on the makeup of the group: i.e. same sex or mixed (male and female). So women have “girlfriend humor” that they use with their gfs, and men have “guy humor” that they use with the dudes. We knew this. Interestingly though, when in mixed groups, it is the male humor that dominates–guys don’t do chick humor. Women who want to be funny in mixed groups, then, need to learn guy humor, and learn it well enough to both get it and produce it.

Similarly to what bros said, humor involves power–you need a certain bit of it to be funny, and you earn it by being funny. Within the workplace and many other social settings being funny in a group is a power play. Being funnier than someone inherently says “I get this more than you do, enough so to to take reality and dance around and play with it a bit and produce something more interesting out of it that wasn’t there before. How sad for you that you aren’t this insightful.” Interestingly, men use humor as a power play (expressing dominance) in both same sex groups and mixed groups. Women, on the other hand, use humor to bond when with their girlfriends only, but adopt the “power play” humor style when in mixed groups. So, when you mix humor and power and gender together, you get women who can master male humor and are therefore both funny in mixed groups and powerful in mixed groups, which certain men perceive as threatening, as power is typically aligned with masculinity.

22 10 2009

Enjoyed the piece, and pretty much agree all around with what you had to say. I was about to say I prefer spunky women but then thought that the word would not be taken in the sense I had hoped by some of the apparently picky commenters (but maybe they’re just friends of yours. and are not as harsh as they might appear?)–namely, full of chutzpah and humor. I could also say that I’m a big fan of David Cross and J. Garofalo (though I don’t agree with what Garofalo says–her actual claims–as much as I agree with what David Cross has to say, which is of course, a different question than how funny they are). At any rate, I really like Garofalo for her sense of humor, self-deprecation, and independent spirit–all of which also makes her more attractive, I might add, at least in my opinion.

22 10 2009

EM just blew my mind all over district ramblings.

22 10 2009

Fantastic comment, EM.

26 10 2009
Edward Dandyhands

Oh yeah, racism = not liking bad jokes and an annoying voice. Psh… low blow BS.

Ask 10 random dudes at the next bar/lounge/club you’re at if they like or dislike Wanda Sykes. I guarantee you 8 out of 10 will be disgusted that you even had to ask them…

…she sucks.

EM’s truth bomb was sensational. Power, humor, dominance… it’s like life on the Serengeti…

27 10 2009

Here is the article in Vanity Fair written by Christopher Hitchens – possibly the most pompous and arrogant fuck on earth, in addition to being very smart and knowledgeable.

Hitchen’s article in VF – http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701

Here is some followup video to his critics:

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