Why Women Aren’t Funny

by Sierra Stern

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It’s no secret that comedy is subjective. Somebody who doesn’t menstruate probably isn’t going to laugh at a period joke, and someone with half a brain isn’t going to laugh at John Mulaney. (Kidding. I just wanted to say something controversial. It’s called a hook.) It’s fine not to think Amy Schumer’s funny. I’m not going to jump to her defense just because we’re both women. What’s not fine is that Amy Schumer has become a standard for stand-up comediennes. (That’s French for lady-comedian. Not to nitpick, but the English language is damn sexist.) According to my grueling research scrolling through youtube comment sections, comediennes are always one of two things, “better than Amy Schumer, at least” or “ugh, worse than Amy Schumer.” Where’s that standard for men? Nobody’s watching stand-up sets by men and saying “well, he’s better than Dane Cook.” (Dane Cook is one of the most hated stand-up comedians. Ever.) That’s because, when it comes to women in any area of entertainment, really, it’s always a comparing game. Comediennes lost their right to individualism when society started perpetuating the mantra “women aren’t funny.” I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you aren’t entitled to that belief if that’s something you think to be true. Nobody’s universally hilarious. No matter how much you love Friends, there’s going to be a good number of people that won’t even crack a smile at a joke you think is sitcom genius. I could just as easily assert that “nobody’s funny” because entertainment and laughter aren’t a science. Somebody thinks Amy Schumer is funny. It may not be me or you, but they’re out there. Also, disclaimer—I know that Amy Schumer has been accused of stealing material from other comics, and I believe that she has. But you’ll find that more people hate Schumer for being crass than being unoriginal.

On a whim, I searched “why are men funnier than women” and the results made my brain hurt. There was this Vanity Fair article from 2007 by some guy named Christopher Hitchens, saying that comedy was essential for men in order to impress women. Alright, Hitchens. That’s pretty funny. Straight, male comedians (which is the kind that most comedians tend to be) are not primarily trying to appeal to a female demographic. That’s why frequent topics for stand-up comics are the glorification of sex and the analyzation of women. Because that’s what’s been proven to be entertaining for men. There was a study done by University of California San Diego, where they got an equal number of men and women to caption photos (think New Yorker caption contest) and had both sexes blindly vote on what captions they deemed funniest. The final results showed that the male captions were voted, on average .11 points funnier (out of 5.0) than the women’s captions, but don’t get all smug. This difference had nothing to do with women thinking men were especially funny. Actually, men just tended to score other men higher. So science and I are in agreement—Hitchens is wrong. I think, honestly, the reason why men are funnier than women is that the definition of a funny woman is so constricting that hardly anybody can fit inside.

It helps to be conventionally attractive. Duh. That’s always a plus for a woman in the entertainment industry, even when it shouldn’t be. Being unattractive is an asset for male comedians in that it makes them look funny. Why do female comedians have to look like actresses when it isn’t part of their job description to be beautiful? Why should actresses have to look like models when the roles they play (for the most part) aren’t? And what is beautiful anyway? Comediennes are picked apart for their weights, clothing, hair, and faces even when what they look like has nothing to do with the set they’re performing. Conventionally attractive comediennes aren’t treated much better. People write, “attractive women can’t be funny” under youtube videos as though those two things have any correlation at all. It seems like the only winners are “average-looking” women, but these women only avoid a tiny corner of society’s abuse.

Did I already use the word double-standard? No? Well, I am now. The biggest criticism of successful female stand-up comics is that they talk about sex too much. People think it’s crass, and that’s honestly a whole other issue—the perception of sex and all things sex-related as taboo subjects. (I’m sure another GirlTalk article in the Love and Culture issue addresses it.) As I mentioned previously, male comics love to talk about sex. I hate to break it to everybody, but the clean-cut John Mulaneys of the world are extremely hard to come by. It’s difficult to be funny without going blue—that’s why potty jokes are so popular in elementary school. Men can talk about boobs and dicks all day long, but the minute a woman starts talking about her vagina, conservatives are suddenly all fired up (even though they were totally ice-cool about it when dozens of successful men did the same). Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby were widely beloved comedians before they were labeled sex offenders. The most hated female comics are despised for being vulgar, while the most hated male comics are despised for being rapists. I don’t consider those two things equal offenses. One could argue that I’m not separating the art from the artist here. Damn right. I’ll separate Louis C.K. from his sexual misconduct when men start separating the appearances of female comedians from their acts. Wait… no, I won’t!

People shouldn’t have to be talented to deserve human decency, especially when that talent is in the eye of the beholder. Could even a fraction of Amy Schumer’s critics have launched stand-up careers half as successful than hers? Absolutely not. Our perception of entertainment is becoming increasingly toxic as people start to believe that there is an objective good and bad for mediums like music, comedy, and art. When did we start taking these things so seriously that one stand-up routine can be, according to several youtube commenters, “so bad that I want to shoot myself.” If watching a four-minute clip of Sarah Silverman incites that type of violence in you, I don’t think that’s Sarah’s fault. Even if everyone in the world agreed that somebody was unfunny, that person wouldn’t deserve the death threats, shallow comments, and generalizations that comediennes face on a daily basis. What gives anybody the right to hate somebody for being untalented? Are we just angry that they think they’re talented when we so strongly disagree? Is that what we’re mad at? Confidence?

This final paragraph is addressed to everybody guilty of the above, myself included. The wonderful thing about videos, television shows, and live performances is that you can walk away. If you don’t think women are funny, don’t waste your time watching them. If you’re personally offended by somebody’s appearance, close your eyes. Ali Wong is not strapping you to a chair and screaming “watch my Netflix special!” Spare everybody that you think is untalented your abuse by leaving them alone. It’s really that easy.