Rebecca Kamm
Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Are women funny?

(Clockwise from top left) Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig, Sarah Silverman and Betty White. Photo / Supplied/AP
(Clockwise from top left) Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig, Sarah Silverman and Betty White. Photo / Supplied/AP

Time to get cynical again, and tear apart flawed perceptions of women. This time I'll start on a positive, though! (And spiral downwards from there. Sorry, Dad.)

Just a few days ago, surprisingly awesome actor Matthew Perry spoke out about a certain discourse that has been debated by various media in recent times, and of which you're probably aware. That discourse being: Are women funny? (Yes, they are, but keep reading please.)

He said, "This year we saw many hilarious performances by women - as well as many idiotic articles from men about how women suddenly became funny. This wasn't the year women finally became funny, this was the year men finally pulled their heads out of their asses."

I don't know if the former Friends star actually wrote the above himself. Still, he says it like he means it in a cool, tongue-in-cheek way, and people will hear it, so I'm glad it was said.

Perry's comments refer to the tedious, ongoing merry-go-round that is the 'Are Women Funny?' debate; initially sparked off by English writer Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens posited that men were funny and women were not, and that this was because humour evolved biologically as a mating call for men. Women were the object of men's desire, he said, and therefore they just didn't have it in them to tell a good joke. Their job was to sit back and dispense laughs like dog biscuits to affirm men's prowess.

To quote: "The chief task in life that a man has to perform, is that of impressing the opposite sex... An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh."

And: "Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."

And: "Male humour prefers the laugh to be at someone's expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with... Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is."

And: enough.

A little later, as the outrage swirling around him showed no signs of abating, Hitchens cooed, "The achievement of my essay [was] to make sexier women try harder to amuse me. Well, that was my whole plan to start with."

(I wish it weren't, but that's quite funny.)

When he passed away, irritating essayist Meghan Daum took up the mantle in an op-ed for the LA Times, fanning the flames further.

"Sorry, sisters - Hitchens was right," she wrote. "While there are a great many women in the world who are side-splittingly droll, I'm afraid that in the aggregate we're just not as funny as men."

It goes on. In a New York Times profile on Eddie Brill - a veteran stand-up comic and longtime booker for The Late Show with David Letterman - Brill was asked why the show had booked only one female standup in 2011.

"There are a lot less female comics who are authentic," he replied. "I see a lot of female comics who, to please an audience, will act like men."

Then there was Bridesmaids. When the (overhyped?) film came out, the by-now exhausted 'Are Women Funny?' debate popped up yet again to wave its weary hand. Except this time it was all dressed up in shiny new 'Here's Proof Women CAN Be Funny!' clothes.

Well, I don't care if the general conclusion was, finally, that women are funny. I already knew that. And the inferred need to 'prove' such a thing was offensive to begin with.

Just ask Amy Poehler, Joanna Lumley, Sarah Silverman, my best friend, Kristen Schaal, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Lisa Lampanelli, Amy Schumer, Samantha Bee, Whitney Cummings, Melissa McCarthy, Anna Faris, Kathy Griffin and Chelsea Handler. Or their predecessors, Lucille Ball, Betty White, Joan Rivers and Lily Tomlin.


Of course, comedic prejudices go further back than Hitchen's article. Old-timers John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Jerry Lewis all said women aren't funny. Rosanne Barr wrote a scathing article last year about her experience as a woman in comedy. (Responsible for Rosanne, the first female-created sitcom, ABC actually refused to name Barr as the show's creator.) And Tina Fey, in her recent autobiography Bossypants, details the rule that stated she and fellow comedian, Amy Poehler, couldn't be on stage together without a man. Because there wouldn't have been enough "material".

Here's what I think, in a short, roundabout way: the very best humour is usually centred on banal, everyday reality; the which is lifted up to a comic microscope to cleverly reveal its inanities. Men will, understandably, almost always identify more closely with other men's everyday reality. So OF COURSE they'll gravitate more towards funny guys for chuckles.

I don't believe there's anything inherently wrong with that (although it does have implications when comedy industries are largely run by men). Believe it or not - it's quite often the same deal for women. For instance, plonk two equally funny people in the middle of the room, and chances are I'll pay more attention to the person quipping on things to which I can relate. Duh.

Surely this is a more likely root cause for the debate, than the notion one gender is funnier than the other? And besides, short of bringing in a panel of comedy-loving, genderless aliens to judge, how could something so personal and abstract ever be measured?

Anyway, all these gloomers are overlooking the coolest thing ever. Which is when women and men make each other laugh. For any of you who have fought viciously with a boyfriend or girlfriend then collapsed into laughter halfway through, despite yourselves, or done hil-AR-ious secret impressions of each other's more annoying acquaintances into the wee hours: you know what's up. (Does this sound like an online dating ad, yet? Good.)

So, once and for all: peace and harmony! Funny People, not Funny Men and Funny Women! LOL; can we please transcend our fundamental differences via the purely human vehicle of humour? Et cetera. Thank you.

P.S. I find this a bit funny. Imagine how much more funniness when she grows up!

What do you honestly think; are men funnier than women? Why might people have this perception? Was Matthew Perry right when he said men have finally "pulled their heads out of their asses"? Do comedy bookers like Eddie Brill need to give more women a chance?

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.

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