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Ladymia69's avatar

What do you think about Christopher Hitchens' argument that women aren't funny (See details)?

Asked by Ladymia69 (6881points) February 18th, 2011

I have read this article a few times over the past few years and its argument always comes up empty. I admire several female comedians (as long as they aren’t joking solely about girly things) like Sarah Silverman (who I think has crossed over into the boys’ club because of her ability for dick jokes and ironic racism) and….well, that’s the only one who comes to mind at present. Deep down in my gut I feel like maybe men are funnier, but another part of me screams, “No! Women can be equally as funny!”

I don’t want to believe women aren’t funny. Help me out here.

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76 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

The funniest person ever was a woman—Lucille Ball.

How about Carol Burnett, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey.

We had a question about this awhile ago.

Here.

Aethelwine's avatar

I had the opportunity to see Lisa Lampanelli. I was in serious tears the entire show. In fact, it was one of the best performances by a comedian that I have witnessed.

Ladymia69's avatar

@psychocandy I like that you brought up Jennifer Saunders and AbFab. I have adored that series since 1994.

@jonsblond I think Lisa Lampanelli is a man’s comedian. She panders to men more than women. I don’t find her funny at all.

Aethelwine's avatar

@ladymia69 Well, I have always gotten along better with men…... (and half the audience was women laughing hysterically)

tragiclikebowie's avatar

I’m hysterical, I don’t know what he’s talking about.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Oh, Hitch. I’ll bet he barely believed that to begin with. He likes to stir up controversy. Plus, he hadn’t met @lucillelucillelucille.

Ladymia69's avatar

Oh boy, here comes @bob_!

bob_'s avatar

Of course women can be funny. Like with that whole “we should have the right to vote” thing.

OH SNAP!

Seriously, though, the fact that there are more male comedians does not prove anything, it’s like saying that women can’t fly airplanes because most pilots are men. Good comedy can come from any person.

Aethelwine's avatar

Here’s more:

Lily Tomlin
Ellen DeGeneres
Joan Rivers
Phyllis Diller
Kathy Griffen
Janeane Garofalo (before she went radical)
Sandra Bernhard
Elaine Boosler
Rita Rudner
Gilda Radner
Whoopie Goldberg

Coloma's avatar

Most of my favorite comediennes ARE woman! as @jonsblond‘s list describes.

I would love to write and do some standup comedy but I am not into late night gigs in the city, so I remain in obscurity. lol

Gilda Radner was one of the best. I was part of the original SNL crowd waaay back in the 70’s. It had a 11:30 p.m. Sat. nite slot, it was THE show!

cak's avatar

@jonsblond – amen to you list!

Cloris Leachman (spelling?) is a riot.

iamthemob's avatar

I’m amazed that, steeped in cultural critique as he historically is, that Hitchens seems to celebrate evidence that men and women’s brains act different to humor with the implication that there’s a biological, rather than social, basis for it.

I don’t find the results, or the phenomenon in general, to be surprising. But I am surprised that Hitchens thinks there’s something “natural” about it. Women are not, as a rule, encouraged to engage society in the same way that men are. I also don’t see how he determines that more women comics are bad than women comics without showing whether there is a different ratio of good to bad. I also am inclined to believe that the ratio would be skewed to a high percentage of women being better comics as there are probably more men who feel comfortable getting up in front of the crowd.

It’s also interesting that, for some reason, the concept is introduced with the example that men don’t talk about women they like being funny as part of their description, and women do. Well…to be honest, they also don’t really talk about them being smart unless they’re really smart. As he mentions, theoretically women should be able to recognize humor if we’re assuming that there’s an evolutionary reason why men are funny – e.g., to attract women. Of course, that not only means that they should be able to recognize humor – but that they very well should be able to recognize who is funnier than whom better.

What this does, really, is provide just as much reasoning that women are simply more funny, and men are just really trying. With numerous efforts, the’ll hit the target a lot of the time…but they’ll also be off a lot. And of course, if humor is “man’s humor” then men won’t really find women funny instantly and uproariously unless, well…unless they’re dumbing it down.

Christopher Hitchens I believe really, really, really wants this to be true because, as he mentioned, he has spent his life trying to entertain the ladies. If men are really funnier than women, that effort won’t have been in vain. If women have been, for the most part, just “humoring” men – well, he’d look pretty stupid wouldn’t he?

Stupid and not funny – and as he mentions also, that’s one of the saddest thing men can hear. That he can’t hear it is, perhaps, the least surprising thing of all.

WasCy's avatar

Some women are funny. The essay admitted as much. Some women are hysterical. But in looking at “the mass of women” that I know vs. “the mass of men”, it seems pretty obvious to me that… he’s right. Most women don’t see “the funny” the way most men seem to. And I liked the way he noted that “boys have their jokes among themselves” ... when the girls aren’t around. They know who rules.

I think he made some good observations and some good points. Many women have issue (singular, the way Hitchens noted that Kipling used the word) that make them unfunny on the topic, and on ‘the rest of life’ in general.

Now I’m not going to be satisfied until I look up the Oscar Wilde joke that he referenced.

everephebe's avatar

I think the whole of his argument is flushed down the toilet with his title (& premise). I think he has some intriguing points but he really shoots himself in the foot in a couple of places. Women are funny. Is being humorous as biologically important to women as it is to men? Now that’s an interesting question.

Coloma's avatar

It is to me!

I have always had a great sense of humor and find many PEOPLE to be humorless, sad to say.

It’s a lack of playfulness at heart more so than anything else.

The day I lose my humor is the day I hope I die. ;-)

everephebe's avatar

@Coloma but there is a difference between having a sense of humor, and being humorous. Which is the fine line, which Christopher Hitchens’ argument should have walked.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Oh, he’s just a stupid poopy-head.

iamthemob's avatar

I really would caution someone who wants to make an argument about who is funnier than whom to be certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, that s/he is a good judge of “funny.”

I’m beginning to suspect that he just wanted an excuse to make a zinger about how he things ID is stupid, but not seem like he really wanted to.

everephebe's avatar

This video of Hitchens’ reaction the the Alessandra Stanley’s essay, “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” is interesting.

Blackberry's avatar

There are funny women, of course. I’m surprised he would say such a thing.

Ladymia69's avatar

I think he makes a mistake in making the point of his argument that women don’t have to be funny the way men do ( because they already have the upper hand in the mating ritual), but yet titling his article “Why Women Aren’t Funny”. Most of his arguments are really weak and seem arbitrary, like he is simply arguing for the sake of arguing, or for shock value.

iamthemob's avatar

After the video, I’m even more surprised at him. But maybe I’m not. He focuses even more on there being some form of natural or evolutionary benefit to the fact that men are funny.

He says we need to be because we’re particularly unattractive to each other and to women. I want to say “the lady doth protest too much.” Of course, the male figure in Greek and Roman classical times was celebrated as the most profoundly beautiful. He seems to think that we need to make women find us attractive because there’s something physically repulsive about us. Of course, that’s not the case – if it was so, we probably wouldn’t even be here at all.

But if we’re talking about it as a competitive advantage, I really wonder how long he thinks that the difference needed to become evolutionarily clear. Considering that it depends so much on language and cultural context, which is always shifting, I wonder how he assumes that it could even be selected for.

And he neglects to mention what I seem to feel I’ve seen as part of the phenomenon – that men seem to really care about whether or not we find each other funny. Of course, there’s always the argument that this is all part of our competitive nature, which is evolutionarily derived. But he also seems to recognize that humor is tailored for men – and so much of the “quick hearty humor” falls into the style of the “fart joke” (very much about being, as mentions women say, “childish.”) That, for me, just reinforces the idea that, at least now, women just have a different – and perhaps better – sense of humor.

PS – the entire argument regarding the surrender display of a women’s laughter is the seediest argument, particularly when he gets at the simulacra part of it. I wonder what he means when he says that it’s a reward in itself – if it’s a simulacra of anything, it’s the woman’s sexual pleasure—not the man’s.

And if men are good at anything in the sexual realm, it’s being able to get off without giving two shits if women get to do the same.

dreamer31's avatar

Apparently, he has not met me;)

gailcalled's avatar

He is usually able to muster compelling evidence and convincing arguments, but not in this essay. It is forced and fragmented and silly.

I crack myself up regulary; my ex-husband, even when he was looking for mean things to say about me, admitted that I make him laugh.

ilana's avatar

I’ve noticed a lot of younger women who far outclass many men in their ability to be funny. Most of them are not known in the mainstream audience, I think that might be one of the reasons it seems that men are more funnier.
There aren’t enough funny women in the mainstream public, the ones who are there though, are funny but perhaps don’t resemble the entire spectrum of female comedians. They are given a much rougher time than male comedians, for reasons we all probably know.

WasCy's avatar

I don’t think he’s talking about any “inability of women to be funny.” What resonates with me is the huge proportion of women who “don’t get the joke” or if they do, “don’t see what’s so funny about it.”

Sophomoric humor, practical jokes and pranks, goofiness, silliness (except when perpetrated by kittens, puppies or babies) is humor that women (as a rule, and in my experience) just don’t ‘get’. I think it’s a good essay.

Aethelwine's avatar

@WasCy Any woman that doesn’t get a bodily function joke is no friend of mine. ;)

ETpro's avatar

Let’s face it, there are secondary sex characteristics and they do seem to apply to how the two sexes think. So it certainly is possible that men are funnier than women, or vice versa. But I have had a couple of girlfriends along life’s way who could keep me in stitches laughing. On this one, without research to test the sense of humor, which would be an awfully subjective thing to measure in a laboratory, I think this is just Hitchens expressing his own personal prejudice and nothing more.

Tina Fey, Lucile Ball, Lilly Tomlin, Megan Mooney, Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, Minnie Pearl, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, Sarah Silverman. In their prime, I’d put any of them up against Christopher Hitchens at the Comedy Club and they would hand him back his fat, MCP ass. Hitchens offers up some clear thinking on the evidence for a creator god, but that certainly doesn’t make him an expert in comedy. Or does it? In fact, his article is so off-base it’s actually funny.

Ladymia69's avatar

Most of all, I DESPISE generalizations, and he is making a huge generalization (because some woman probably told him he isn’t funny, and maybe that he is ugly too). And when he says if the women are funny, then they are dykes or Jews, he just sounds like a fool who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

bkcunningham's avatar

I think it is an excellent essay and I agree with most of @WasCy points. @ladymia69 you may be taking it too seriously.

Ladymia69's avatar

@bkcunningham That is null. I took it the way I took it, and that was the way it was taken.

Aethelwine's avatar

@ladymia69 If you think someone is pandering to men, aren’t you generalizing all men as being the same? just curious

bob_'s avatar

@ladymia69 THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

That’s an unfortunate article. Comedy to this day is male-dominated and hard on women comics – I guess I don’t find that funny either. I guess I don’t get many jokes at the expense of women just to reinforce men’s dominion where none should be.

ilana's avatar

@WasCy Or maybe it’s just not funny? I don’t speak for all women but bodily function jokes just don’t do it for me. I’m sure women understand the jokes. I mean there’s not that much to understand, we all have funny bodily functions…

I think women have been subject to this kind of humor for so long. I also hear a lot of people say, well if she doesn’t “get” (in other words laugh at) my jokes, she has no sense of humor. Well, no maybe your jokes just suck. That’s my opinion anyway.

Time2's avatar

I wouldn’t trust any argument based on evolutionary psychology. A lot of it is devoted to reinforcing gender stereotypes, like Hitchens is here.

Coloma's avatar

Being humorous is much more important than having a sense of humor, it’s not about good/bad jokes, it’s about using your own experiences in a humorous way.

The best comedians are not joke tellers, they are STORY tellers!

ilana's avatar

I’ve always been a fan of Hitchens, but like some others may have said; he’s trying to mix what society and culture have created into what is biologically and evolutionary rooted.

gailcalled's avatar

I love to read the humorous essays and stories of Woody Allen, Garrison Keillor, Dave Barry, David Foster Wallace, Art Buchwald and the like. Are there women comedic writers?

The funniest humorist alive was Victor Borge. He wrote his own material and performed both on the piano and at the mike.

Coloma's avatar

@gailcalled

My ex told me the same thing, that I was the funniest person he knew.
He wasn’t laughing when I served him the divorce papers though. ;-)

gailcalled's avatar

@Coloma: I told you we were part of the same gene pool.

Coloma's avatar

I’d be happy to tell the ‘chung due’ story.

bob_'s avatar

Man, this is getting too serious.

Know what this thread needs? Fart jokes.

ilana's avatar

@WasCy “And I liked the way he noted that “boys have their jokes among themselves” ... when the girls aren’t around. They know who rules.”

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by the last sentence :/ but we sure do have jokes amongst ourselves. Why wouldn’t we? You’re a guy so you would know your own inside jokes, but how would you know a woman’s? Our jokes may be “different” to you specifically, but so is everyone’s sense of humor.

chyna's avatar

@gailcalled Do you remember Erma Bombeck? Funny columnist in the 70’s and 80’s.

gailcalled's avatar

Yes, a very funny lady; and now that I think of it, Jean Kerr also. Her husband was Walter Kerr, the drama critic of the NYT.

Time2's avatar

A thought I had is that, according to Hitchens’ argument, gay males shouldn’t be funny either. At least, since he considers it natural for lesbians to be funnier than straight women, wouldn’t it be natural for gay men to be less funny than straight men? But I don’t think anyone would agree with that.

Ladymia69's avatar

Hey, everyone: I farted!

ilana's avatar

@Time2 Really good point.

dreamer31's avatar

His argument is absurd dam I hope I spelled that right

Aethelwine's avatar

@ladymia69 It would be funnier if you had shat.

dreamer31's avatar

@jonsblond Where I come from, the word is sharted.

WasCy's avatar

Look, I’m not saying that women can’t be funny and that there aren’t good female comics. Even Hitchens didn’t say that though I think he maybe overgeneralized on the thing about funny women being dykes or Jews, etc.; I thought his essay was best when it was not about “women comics” but “women in general”.

My mother was one of the funniest people I knew. She had a wonderful wit and a sly sense of humor. She introduced me to Monty Python on PBS in the 60s, when they were relatively unknown in this country. No other mother of any of my contemporaries would even dream of doing such a thing. In the first place, they’d never watch the Montys, or if they did happen to watch more than a few minutes, they wouldn’t get what was funny about it, and not one of them ever in a million years would have suggested to their sons that they might enjoy the show. And relatively few women I’ve known since then have ever ‘enjoyed’ that kind of humor. (Some put up with it, which kind of proves Hitchens’ point.)

That’s not to say that “no women like Monty Python” or that brand of humor. I think you women in Fluther should recognize as most of us men have that you’re an exceptional and not altogether representative group of your gender. Just like most of the men here who talk about feelings and emotions and think and write about “relationship” stuff are also not wholly representative.

How many of your fellow women, non-jellied, like Monty Python, Blazing Saddles, Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, etc.? Not many, I’ll bet. And the men? We quote Blazing Saddles lyrics at the drop of a hat.

The jokes are funny, and maybe our tastes are not always as ‘refined’ as you think they should be, so you (plural, but not “all of you”) think “it’s too juvenile for my taste” – and I agree! – but you take ‘funny’ where you can find it.

I loved my father as much as I have ever or will ever love another human being. He died tragically and unexpectedly and much too early two days before my 50th birthday. I was crushed. A week later I found the joke in that. Seven years later I still miss him terribly, and the joke is hollow, but it’s still “the joke about my father’s death” – he would have loved it.

Time2's avatar

@WasCy Why do you think people on this site are not representative of their genders? Is it because the site attracts people like that, or because the openness of the site encourages people to act outside of what people expect of their gender?

For the record, I’m a guy and I don’t find juvenile humor all that funny. But my mom loves it (which is probably why I hate it) and so do all of her friends. Oh, and she also loves Monty Python. And I’ve known many girls who loved practical jokes. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that women find each other funny. Personally, I think that if men find women unfunny, its because they have trouble empathizing with women, because closely knit groups of friends always find each other funny, men and women, in my experience at least.

Aethelwine's avatar

@WasCy Monty Python, Chevy Chase? Grab the popcorn, I’ve got the beer.

WasCy's avatar

@Time2

You missed the important adverb in my disclaimer: not ‘wholly’ representative. My sense is that most of the women on this site are exceptional representatives of their gender. By that I don’t mean “they’re more like me” or “less woman than other women”. But they aren’t like “most” women, who don’t, won’t or can’t see humor in everyday life… and silly humor, pratfalls, sophomoric stunts and ‘jackass’ humor. Maybe it’s a Western thing. Maybe Hitchens and I just know too many of the wrong kinds of women. I don’t know.

Even my mother, as good a sense of humor as she had, would be one of the first to remind us “it’s funny until someone gets hurt”. The funny thing was, it was funny even after that point – just not for the one who got hurt, maybe.

As to your point about your mom liking Monty Python, I’m guessing that she might be about my age. Ask her how her mom felt about Monty Python. Forty-five years ago not many of ‘those moms’ did, at least not in central Massachusetts they didn’t.

Time2's avatar

@WasCy Fair enough, though I still think the difference is cultural, not biological.

tranquilsea's avatar

Although I disagree with much of what Hitchens was trying to say I also agreed with some of it. I don’t appreciate much of what passes for potty humour. I understand it but I don’t find it funny in most cases. Through the years when I was hip deep in screaming toddlers it was hard to find anything funny but I managed to periodically.

I come from a large family of women. I’m one of 5 girls. Humour was/is important to us. I think that was what attracted the men to our family. Sunday dinners were times for quick wit and repartee. The men loved it but we loved it more.

Monty Python – check (I’m kind of partial to Philosopher’s football at this point)
Saturday Night Live – check

@WasCy some of my most needed jokes happened when my sister was in the ICU with shunts in her head, on a respirator, broken and battered. We didn’t know if she was going to survive. We were all sitting in a diner, food in front of us, not eating nor talking. Some funny quip came to mind and I just let it go. Everyone looked at me with saucer eyes and then started laughing. And laughing. We desperately needed to laugh at that point.

Same type of thing happened when my mom died.

The thing that I am unsure of is whether or not we are an anomaly. We tend to hang around people who we find funny and engaging. So I naturally seek out men and women who have the same characteristics.

iamthemob's avatar

I feel like the biggest hole in his argument is that:

(1) he addresses one type of funny person only – the writer/comedian/stage person. No behind-the-scenes people, no non-writing comedy actors, and no improv people (the gender balance in the Waiting for Guffman family line between genders brought us Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch – the latter arguably what I would consider to be the comedy powerhouse of the new decade).

(2) he addresses only one type of funny. Comedy and humor are inherently subjective – I “get” that Seinfeld is funny, but don’t laugh. My reason is simple – all of the characters are jerks. I think the American “The Office” is funny now – but the original episode was almost a scene-by-scene recreation of the British version. I can laugh over and over at the British version of that episode, but the American version falls flat.

There’s really little point in addressing the overall issue, even though I clearly feel the need to because, well, Hitchens can be a misogynistic d-bag in my opinion a lot of the time. Hitchens has put himself in an unassailable position here because nearly all of the data is based on anecdotal evidence. So, when people offer other examples – he can point out the nature of the evidence and say they are “exceptions.” And he can offer more of his anecdotes as ways to refute.

tranquilsea's avatar

@iamthemob I read the article a few months ago but my overwhelming feeling was that he needed to hang around more women.

iamthemob's avatar

@tranquilsea – If I were a woman, I wouldn’t want to hang out with him.

I think that this might be a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He’s obviously mad at the girl who turned him down for prom, too.

tranquilsea's avatar

@iamthemob Perhaps he is mad. Although being deliberately provocative like he was with that article wouldn’t help his chances lol. He’s a very intelligent guy, although not extremely attractive, and of the intelligent and funny women I know that would be enough to give him a good chance. But being called inherently unfunny is game ender.

iamthemob's avatar

@tranquilsea – When have you ever known Christopher Hitchens to not be deliberately provocative? I feel like he’s of the mind “You’re nobody ‘till somebody hates you” – at least they notice you then. ;-)

Considering that I’m pretty sure that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy for him, I think that subconsciously he wants this to alienate the women, especially the funny women, from him. If they actually showed up, he’d have to (gasp) admit he was wrong.

chyna's avatar

Maybe women scare him.

tranquilsea's avatar

@iamthemob Well, as we all know, provocative sells.

I, for one, would love to prove him wrong.

iamthemob's avatar

@tranquilsea – you’ll just be the exception to him. ;-)

bkcunningham's avatar

I wonder how many posters who were offeneded or didn’t see the humor in the essay are women?

tranquilsea's avatar

@iamthemob lol anytime I’m talking to my friend about things I’ve done in my past she says, “Well, you know you’re are just the exception.” But in this I know I am not so.

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – I don’t think there was a whole lot of offense stated – just disagreement (although the whole commentary on dykes and jews means there’s plenty to be offended by).

But are you saying that the essay was humorous? I don’t know if you mean that it was supposed to contain humor or itself was an entire tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor…

This is an interesting quote from Hitchens himself, which I think speaks to the article:

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

bkcunningham's avatar

I do think it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham

I was wondering myself if that could possibly be the case, even on starting the article. I wanted to believe it – but it’s been a good solid few years, and I can’t see a response that isn’t him doing anything but defending the assertion.

But, to be honest, the article is funny, just perhaps not in the way Hitchens intended.

“It’s not his fault that he had no new insight, because neither he nor any other man has ever been privy to the real, hidden reason why women aren’t funny. Until now.

We are funny—but only behind your backs! We women have a secret society—a sort of female version of your He-Man Woman-Haters Clubs. Instead of cracking jokes that would flaunt our superior intelligence and better grasp of the subtleties of human nature, we women save our humor for clandestine lunches, spa days, shopping excursions, or Mommy and Me classes.

Here’s what I did think was funny about Hitchens’s article. And by funny I mean when-you-see-somebody-accidentally-walk-into-a-plate-glass-window funny. Hitchens assumes that, because women laugh at him at parties, he actually is funny. A woman will laugh at a man not only if she thinks he’s genuinely funny, but also as a way of rewarding him, like a trainer throwing a herring to a seal. It’s an audible, easy-to-understand way of giving encouragement to his fragile, little ego. Think of it as the public version of faking an orgasm. But Hitchens needn’t worry. If I ever meet him at a party and he’s as funny as he was trying to be in this article, I’ll laugh my ass off.” —ROBIN SCHIFF (writer, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion)

bkcunningham's avatar

That was pretty funny, @iamthemob !

iamthemob's avatar

Yeah. I wish I said it. Unfortunately, some woman did. ;-)

chyna's avatar

^^/groan

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