December 8, 2006


Why Women Aren't Funny: What makes the female so much deadlier than the male? With assists from Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron, and a recent Stanford-medical-school study, the author investigates the reasons for the humor gap. (Christopher Hitchens, January 2007, Vanity Fair)

Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny … " (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny? He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise.") However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own … [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] … and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh."

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about. [...]

Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone's expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with—and often a joke in extremely poor taste. Humor is part of the armor-plate with which to resist what is already farcical enough. (Perhaps not by coincidence, battered as they are by motherfucking nature, men tend to refer to life itself as a bitch.) Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is. Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink or the bathroom, or the venting of sexual frustration on furry domestic animals, are a male province. It must have been a man who originated the phrase "funny like a heart attack." In all the millions of cartoons that feature a patient listening glum-faced to a physician ("There's no cure. There isn't even a race for a cure"), do you remember even one where the patient is a woman? I thought as much.

The qualifier "male" humor is, of course, superfluous. All humor is male, which is why it is all conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 8, 2006 10:56 AM

Perhaps female humor goes over your heads boys.

Posted by: erp at December 8, 2006 11:13 AM

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Mel Brooks

Posted by: djs at December 8, 2006 11:24 AM

Thanks. Now tell me why there are so few female musicians worth listening to.

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at December 8, 2006 12:54 PM

aha, yes, all humor is conservative. In fact, I'm laughing, right now, at how ridiculous that statement is. George Bush is hands-down hilarious.
Your claim brings to my mind the well-crafted personality of Stephen Colbert; except I'm guessing you didn't intend it to possess any kind of satirical value.
And I'm told that the color orange, infectious diseases of the spleen, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and over half of the naturally occurring elements on the periodic table are also included in the imaginary domain of conservatism. You guys sure have a lot going for you.

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 1:27 PM

And Stephen Colbert is NOT funny. Moronic, yes. Sophomoric, yes. Annoying, yes. Funny, not even on his best day.

Posted by: Bartman at December 8, 2006 1:35 PM


Macduff, though a canny Scot, has no idea what you're talking about. Clue him in.

Posted by: Twn at December 8, 2006 1:37 PM

I know what he's talking about. Yes, I can see how OJ can connect an abstract concept of humor to an abstract concept of conservatism.
However, that loose connection collapses rather quickly unless it is kept fastened by a willfull narrow-mindedness, and unless phrased differently, has virtually no implications for what conservatism or humor means in the real world.
It's like saying that all cooking is feminine. It sounds like it could be right, but when you stop and think about, most good cooks are male.

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 1:48 PM

@erp: Perhaps? Sitting here at Animal House's Bizarro-Algonquin table, can there be any doubt? All it means is that the fart jokes are polysyllabic, so to speak.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at December 8, 2006 2:34 PM

"well-crafted personality of Stephen Colbert"

"All intentional humor is conservative" has a corollary, "All Leftist humor is unintentional", as MacDuff has so ably illustrated.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 8, 2006 2:43 PM

OK, I'll play.
Here's the deal. The three words that can be used to define modern, post-Cold War Liberalism are as follows: "openmindedness" "tolerance" and "diversity." According to the tenants of Liberalism, we're all supposed to be striving towards being openminded and tolerant of all cultures and ideologies, right?
But, if you're making fun of somebody, like Stephen Colbert does to George Bush, you're not being tolerant of them. In fact, many Liberals have resorted to what can only be classed as hate speech when discussing people whose only crime is to hold differing opinions. Doesn't sound very diversity-minded to me!
So, if you're making fun of someone, you're not being tolerant and respectful of them. While it is certainly possible for humor to be Liberal in content (as with the aforementioned Mr. Colbert), humor is innately Conservative in tone.
I know there's no way you're going to buy this. I have yet to meet the Liberal who is capable of admitting to even the tiniest amount of ideological impurity. But whenever you make fun of someone, you're being Conservative and not Liberal.
But don't take my word for it! OJ has an ongoing contest to find the mythical Liberal humor. I've been trying for years and haven't found it. Good luck!

Posted by: Bryan at December 8, 2006 2:49 PM

This is yet another bell curve issue: there certainly are funny women, but it seems undeniable that on average, men are funnier.

It may have something to do with a psychological model I once heard. Psychologically, men tend to have hard shells but soft centers: lots of assaults just bounce off, but hit us hard enough and we can be cracked or shattered. Women are soft and delicate on the outside, but get increasingly tough and resistant the closer you get to their centers. Perhaps women often don't make or get humor because it's often like a mild assault, and if you worry about hurt feelings you can't be in the spirit of fun that makes humor possible.

Macduff: "All humor is conservative" is one of OJ's least convincing hobbyhorses. It seems obviously untrue to me as well.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 8, 2006 2:54 PM

Male or Female?

She was in the kitchen preparing soft boiled eggs for breakfast. He walked in. She turned and said, "You've got to make love to me this very moment."His eyes lit up and he thought, "This is my lucky day."Not wanting to lose the moment, he embraced her and then gave it his all,right there on the kitchen table.Afterwards she said, "Thanks," and returned to the stove.More than a little puzzled, he asked, "What was that all about?"She explained, "The egg timer's broken."

Posted by: h-man at December 8, 2006 3:19 PM

Women, with rare exception, Rosie O'Donnell comes to mind, don't find farting and scatological jokes funny.

Posted by: erp at December 8, 2006 3:48 PM

Ok, where do I start?

Is humor necessarily intolerant?

Is the opposite of Cold-War liberalism, "conservatism"?

I could think of many other qualities of
Liberalism that put it more in line with owning humor (even though I wouldn't want to, because it's ridiculous) than OJ claims that conservatism does. Example: humor, very often, is built on ridiculing cultural traditions, forcing the spectator to question them to their very roots. Is that conservative?

Mark Twain was a president of the American Anti-Imperialist Society? Is that conservative?

There are even ways to connect "conservatism" to bodily functions; so do the Republicans have domain over constipation, while the Democrats are the logical equivalents of diarrhea?

PapayaSF: thankyou. I was beginning to wonder if I forgot to take my medication, again.

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 6:27 PM

Yes, humor is intolerant. It is based on the feeling of superiority and reinforces social norms.

Cold War liberalism was conservative.

The ridicule is entirely dependent on the tradition.

Anti-imperialism was conservative. Twain wasn't funny.

The fact that man has body functions, that he is ludicrous, is conmservative.

Posted by: oj at December 8, 2006 6:30 PM

Yes means no.
1 + 1 = 3
The meaning of life is 42.
Make sense? Ok, I'll actually talk then.

Humor doesn't necessarily reinforce social norms; in fact I would argue the opposite. Feelings of superiority; OJ, I never knew you were so sensitive. How cute.

Everything, liberal and conservative, is entirely dependent on tradition; your statement is meaningless.

Cold War liberalism was conservative...ok, why do you hate it so much then? What does this imply about the "real conservatives." Is this opposite day and nonbody told me?

Anti-Imperialism is conservative? Ok, now I really don't see what your talking about. Please explain? About Twain not being funny; almost everyone disagrees with you.

Twain wasn't funny? Ok, howabout Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Al Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, Harold Ramis, Rob Reiner, the majority of SNL cast members for the last 30 years, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the writers and voices of The Simpsons, Douglas Adams, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, members of Monty Python, Steve Martin...I could go on. I would suppose you would label all of them conservative?

I get into a lot of silly arguments, but this one takes the cake....

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 8:50 PM

The argument is not that all comedians self-identify as conservatives. It's that everything they do that is genuinely humorous is conservative - whether they understand that or not.

Posted by: djs at December 8, 2006 9:47 PM


I understand. But, I find it silly to try to connect a narrow definition of humor with a narrow definition of conservatism.
If liberals wanted to, they could draw the same tenuous connections.

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 10:43 PM

Does anyone else keep getting internal server errors?

Posted by: Macduff at December 8, 2006 10:44 PM

Good one Macduff! That's funny!

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at December 8, 2006 11:32 PM


No, they can't. In fact, the Left acknowledges that it has no sense of humor. Political Correctness was the final straw.

Posted by: oj at December 9, 2006 7:35 AM


The Right acknowledges it has no sense of humor when it wants to censor comedians as well.
I don't actually believe that, but I felt pressured to speak in terms you could relate to. You know, a sort of cocky pseudometaphysics that enjoys lumping together groups of people into narrow, meaningless categories.
Racist humor, while more likely to be enjoyed by conservatives, really only captures a small cross-section of the possibilities of comedy.

So, aside from comedy, are all forms of social/political criticism "conservative"? If I mock the Holy Bible, and in the same breath compare the Bush administration to the King Herod administration, is that conservative?
Do you think maybe there are multiple definitions of the word "conservative". Do you think maybe Liberal and Conservative aren't necessarily the opposite of each other?
I know it's funny, but it's irresponsible and immature to abuse the ambiguity of abstract terms to further a diseased sense of self-identification.
It's kind of like how the word "freedom" lends itself to an infinite number of possible uses and interpretation. It might seem right to you to say that I am exercising "freedom" in the act of killing people; but maybe I should stop and think about what "freedom" is exercised when living bodies turn into dead ones.
Let go of your ego.

Posted by: Macduff at December 9, 2006 11:05 PM

Killing people is the exercise of freedom par excellence. Freedom is evil.

There are few things funnier than when your lot rage against the Bible and compare America to Nazi Germany or Herod's Israel or whatever today's psychosis may be. The Left is almost always hilarious, just unintentionally. It exists to amuse the rest of us.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 8:31 AM

I posed the suggestion hypothetically because I don't have any rage towards the Bible; it's probably my favorite regional mythology.

And let me clarify that I meant "ego" in the Freudian sense. I do not intend to offend, maybe just to annoy a little bit. I have a lot more respect for you than it seems, simply because you are brave enough to voice your opinions. So please, don't take my rants personally. I'm greatful for the service that your website provides.

But you still haven't addressed any of my points which is enough proof to me of the groundlessness of your assertions.

Posted by: Macduff at December 10, 2006 5:18 PM

How would you offend when no one takes you seriously? Your comparison just proved the point I was making.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 5:40 PM