Are Women Funny? Pt. 2

This debate never seems to disappear for some reason among the comedian discourse.  A recent article from the National Post in Canada commenting AGAIN about how women are not funny, this time emphasizing that funny women are considered sexually undesirable.  I’ve already commented about this citing previous literature showing that women ARE funny, we just don’t want them to be as a society (for whatever reasons).  I really am tired of this whole “women are evolved to not be funny” argument, so hopefully this will put it to rest.

One of the papers cited from the article is from Sigal Balshine’s group at MacMaster University (incorrectly cited as being from Eric Bressler.  Even though the graduate student (Eric) probably did all the work, you have to cite the last author, as they’re responsible for conducting the study).  In this study they ask the question “do you prefer to mate with individuals who are funny, or who find you funny?”  Based upon this study, they report that women prefer men who are funny (and also laugh at them), while men only prefer women who laugh at them.

This can be interpreted two ways:

  1. Men don’t like women who are funny.
  2. Men prefer to dominate the humor in a relationship.

So, does this paper answer the question: “Are funny women unattractive?” NO.

The problem with this study is that it creates two realities: one where you (male or female) are dominated by the opposite sex’s humor, and one where you dominate humor over the opposite sex.  What this study says is that women who dominate men by humor are perceived unattractive.

To underline the point I made previously (supported by this paper):

While men want to be funny and not be dominated by a funny woman, women are OK with (if not prefer) being dominated by a funny man.

So, why are there so few female comedians? Because men who think they are funny try to enhance their sexual fitness by performing on stage.  Women don’t see any sexual fitness benefit in performing comedy, so there is less of a desire to do so.  The problem with this argument that funny women are unattractive implies that women who perform comedy are unattractive.  So, I’ve taken a randomly selected list of comedians to see if indeed there is a sexual selection on being a male vs. female comedian:

I took all comedians who lived over 40 years of age and then plotted male vs. female against the percentage of the population (that I examined) that had children.  I then compared that to the national average (these numbers are a little off, but still accurate).

From this chart, we see:

  • Being a comedian REDUCES your sexual selective advantage (based upon percentage with children) compared to the average American.
  • Female comedians have considerably less likelihood of having children than their male counterparts.

Together, I think it makes it pretty clear why there are not many female comedians.  It’s detrimental to their sexual selection.  Women have reduced chances of having children if they’re comedians compared to men or compared to doing anything else. So, it’s really evolutionary biology 101:

  1. All people (in theory) want to have offspring.
  2. Women who perform standup comedy are handicapped from doing so.
  3. Therefore, very few women will perform standup comedy.

Even still, this doesn’t resolve the debate over whether women are funny.  I would argue that appreciation of humor is equivalent to making humor.  So it doesn’t make any sense to say women aren’t funny.  They’re appreciation of humor is equivalent (or proportional) to the quality of the humor that’s generated.  It’s like the old saying “If a guy tells a joke and nobody laughs, is it a joke?”

I’ll give an anecdotal example.  I was talking with a woman (living the dream, guys), and we were complaining about this Moldovan guy who was supposed to meet up with our group, but was wanting to us to go meet him somewhere else.  I said to her “Typical Moldovan”, using a comedic trope of “Typical ________” where you fill in the blank of that racial/ethnic group, for simple racial humor.  She then starts laughing hysterically, and I’m shocked because I didn’t think the joke was that funny (or that she was that racist).  She then says, “I was laughing because Moldova always wanted to be separate from Russia, and he’s acting like that, being separate from the group.”

This is why it’s important to really understand what humor is before we even say which gender is better at it.

So, in conclusion:

  • Women and men are both equally funny (though there is greater expectation on men to be funny). 
  • There is a sexual disadvantage for women to perform live comedy.
  • People need to stop writing stupid articles about the evolutionary biology of female comedy.
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