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Amok Mama: On the genetic unfunniness of women

Women might not be as funny as men, says Jacinta Nandi, but they're also not as unfunny as men want them to be.

So me and a German friend had an argument about whether the lack of humorous women could be down to genetic differences – because of cavemen and that. Basically, he thinks that because cavemen had to be clever and quick to get a woman, whereas women had to be pretty, women haven’t evolved funny genes for themselves. Or something like that. I think that’s the gist of it.

Well, I don’t think it’s even remotely true, even if women have, since the Olden Daysies Caveman times, specifically fancied funny men a lot more than unfunny men, whereas men don’t even give a shit, they just like pretty girls. However, since we inherit all our genes from our fathers and our mothers, I’ve got all my dad’s funny genes anyway! Oder? Unless the funny genes are to be found specifically in the genital area or something. Anyway, I got so angry that I forgot he might get angry back. You know how that happens? But he did and we had a big argument but I think it’s all good because you’re allowed to argue about this kind of stuff and so this blog post is dedicated to him.

Well. I don’t actually think that women aren’t as funny as men. But I may just be deluding myself to survive. It could be that if you had to add it all up together, you know: we have to do all the housework, get paid less than men, have periods, get touched up by strangers on trains and then, to top it all off, we are less funny than men – genetically less funny – well, maybe your head would just implode. Maybe I am just trying to cope. Maybe it’s a survival strategy. But I actually genuinely think I don’t think that women aren’t as funny as men.

What I secretly think is: women might not be as funny as men, but they’re certainly not as unfunny as men want them to be.

So, I was talking to my mate, and he wanted me to think of 10 funny people. You try to do it, now. Think of 10 funny people. I mean, famous people, not your mates, by the way. I think most people thinking of funny people they know – most of my friends anyway – would have a pretty much 50/50 male-female “Funny Person I Know” list. (But that just might be because I know loads of really funny women. The funniest person I know is my stepmother. I remember my dad delivering us a really earnest lecture on the history of punk – he was nattering on for a good 10 minutes – and, when he got to the end, my stepmother blinked gravely and said: “But, at the end of the day, Raj, they’re still walking about with pins in the ends of their noses.”)

But let’s do famous people. You know. Louis C.K. Monty Python. Frankie Boyle. Mario Barth. Tim Minchin. The Marx Brothers. Chris Rock. Whoever. There’s a lot of famous men out there, whatever your tastes are. And a lot less women.

Why is this? Is this because sexist oppression has led to there being fewer female artists in general? For sure. We have fewer female artists in general, fewer women who have achieved that much in general. Name 10 famous scientists, for instance. There’s Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin. But apart from that… I think, for sure, sexist oppression plays a huge role, no, make that a huge FUCKING role here. Women have been fucking oppressed and are still hugely disadvantaged, and to be honest, I’m not sure they have caught up that much more in the world of science or medicine than in the world of comedy.

But I think one of the main reasons people don’t find women funny – or think they don’t find women funny – or don’t want to find women funny – is slightly more complicated than just straightforward, good old-fashioned oppression. It’s because in order to find something funny, you have to relate to the person telling the joke. It’s easier for a story to be funny if the person telling it can be related to. So, of course, men are going to be more successful as stand-up comedians – or even Lesebühne writers and poetry slammers. Men can relate to men, obviously – and women can relate to men, too. This is because men’s experience is universal.

Let’s talk, specifically, about a German poetry slam or an expat-scene comedy gig. A guy can do jokes or tell a funny story about having period sex on a One-Night-Stand. He can even do more grotesque, malicious jokes about fucking an ugly girl in the arse or something. The men will laugh – but the women will laugh, too. Why do the women laugh too? This is because women have been trained to relate to male experience. Male experience is human experience, and a woman’s experience is the female version of that experience. Men are Coca-Cola, women are Pepsi. In school, for instance, even though I went to a very trendy-wendy school and read a lot of female authors, we still read slightly more books by men than women. Also, a lot more female writers write as male narrators, don’t they? Plus: just think about films, TV shows, video games. Think about Reservoir Dogs. It’s one of my favourite films. How many men do you know who have a favourite film without one male character in it? None. Do you see my point?

Now a girl comes on to the Slam/Comedy Bühne and does a joke about periods, vaginal thrush, anal sex, whatever. Let’s say this girl’s joke, for the sake of the theory, is exactly 100 percent just as funny as the boy’s joke. It’s been scientifically tested. It’s been stamped and approved. It is scientifically exactly as funny. A lot of the women will laugh. Most of them. Some of them won’t, though. (Because it’s disgusting for a girl to talk about her periods, because they don’t want to be associated with that bloodiness, whatever.) A lot of men won’t laugh. I mean, if the joke’s funny enough, most of them will, but to get most of the men laughing the joke has to be scientifically FUNNIER. But if the joke is only equally as funny, a lot of men won’t laugh. This isn’t really specifically sexist. It’s just that they don’t know what periods are like, so why should they laugh? They don’t laugh because they’re not used to it. They’re not used to listening to a woman’s story, they’re not used to feeling themselves to be the “other” for once. This is definitely not genetic. This is social. This has nothing whatsoever to do with evolution, and cavemen or anything like that. This is definitely social. It’s about as genetic as a Lillifee pencil case or silver high heels.

Okay, let’s talk about Mark Twain. He’s great, huh? He’s also really famous. I’m reading Tom Sawyer to my son at the moment. Fuck, it’s great. I’m really enjoying it. I really, really love it when I like Ryan’s bedtime story. It’s really warm and funny and hugely enjoyable. But you know what reading it has made me realize? It made me realize just how good Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is. I’m not saying it’s quite as good – I would probably say that Tom Sawyer is slightly better. But it really is ALMOST as good. A lot of the characters and situations are equally as funny. Now, Anne of Green Gables isn’t as famous as Tom Sawyer – because the Anne books are a bit kitschy, sentimental, romantic, perhaps. This is true. Some bits can be a bit pukey, I’ll admit. But most of it isn’t. And the main reason it isn’t as famous is because Anne Shirley is a girl and Tom Sawyer is a boy. Anne of Green Gables has been relegated to the category of “girls” literature, it’s almost seen as a 19th Century pony novel, or at least as silly as those Pollyanna books. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are held up as Kinderklassiker. The difference between Mark Twain and L.M. Montgomery is, too, definitely not only a genetic one. I mean, maybe Mark Twain is a total genius and L.M. Montgomery is, like, 75 percent of what he is. But also: a man writing about a boy is writing literature for children, a woman writing about a girl is writing literature for girls. This has nothing to do with evolution.

I also want to talk about Bridget Jones. The books, not the films. The first book, Bridget Jones’s Diary. It is genuinely funny. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is as funny as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and far funnier than anything by Nick Hornby. And I think there’s a really important reason why Bridget Jones is so funny. It’s because her diary is a world in which a woman’s experience isn’t just valid, but whole. It’s because the one place where men can’t talk is on the pages of a woman’s diary. It’s really good (the films are pretty stupid, though). There are moments in Bridget Jones’s Diary of absolutely perfect comedy. Like, there are a couple of moments that are so sharp, they’re almost painfully beautiful. But Bridget Jones has to be the kind of book it is – unbearably fluffy, ridiculously meaningless, wonderfully feminine – in order to be as funny as it is. It is that funny because in the world of Bridget Jones (the character), the female experience is the only one that counts. I would make a similar point about Jane Austen, but I haven’t got space here.

So, I used to do stand-up, yeah? Back in the old days, as I call 2009. I didn’t stop because it was so sexist, though it was fucking sexist. We had to listen to joke after joke after joke about how ugly women were and then they get to 37 and they’re ugly and old. I got really pissed off one night when my mate did a joke about musician comedians being a bit shitty and another boy – a musician comedian – got so offended. He was really personally offended, and I was really outraged. How dare you, I thought, be so offended when at every gig we girls have to swallow at least a little bit of hate, and often, a whole fucking lot? Like, we actually have to listen to some wanker going on about how shit women are and all this crap. Talk about not being able to take a dose of your own medicine! I was really angry, I wanted to punch him right on the nose. You fucking hypocrite – you complete and utter pussy. You wouldn’t last two seconds of a comedy gig as a woman – not even in the fucking audience. So, I definitely think when discussing how many successful female stand-up comedians there are, we should, before looking to evolutionary explanations, maybe also acknowledge how bloody depressing it is, listening to what cunts most male comedians think most women are, night after night after night after night. It’s bloody depressing. But that wasn’t the real reason I stopped, I just wasn’t that good, and I also can speak German but I couldn’t do stand-up in German so I started doing more Lesebühnes and Poetry Slams instead.

So, back in my old stand-up days, some nights I had a good show, sometimes I was less good, sometimes I was fucking awful. I hated it, though, it was so stressful for me. But after one really good gig, really really amazing, I was talking to my friend Jonny at the bar: “You’re a really good stand-up comedian,” he said. “Especially for a woman, but also, generally.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know. I hate doing it, though.”

“Well, it must be really hard for you to get material,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, because you’re a girl.”

“Yeah, but funny stuff happens to girls, too,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, and chuckled gratefully. “But everything that happens to a man can be funny.”

I think what Jonny said expresses what I’ve been wittering on about far better than all my examples with period blood and L.M. Montgomery have. Men are funnier than women because they are allowed to be. Because everything that happens to a man can be funny. Because men are human. But everything that happens to a woman is female. Because women are female humans. This isn’t evolution. This isn’t because funny cavemen got laid more than funny cavewomen. This is really annoying bullshit.

Let’s go back to our 10 famous funny people. So, I was challenged by my German mate in a pub, right, to name 10 funny famous people, and I was quite drunk by that stage of the night, and kept on barking “Dorothy Parker! Sarah Silverman! Whoopi Goldberg! Roseanne Barr!” in his face in a most unladylike manner.

“People who are famous in Germany!” he said.

“Marilyn Monroe,” I said.

“She was a film star,” he said.

“She was a comedian,” I said. “The films she has left behind are all comedies.”

“People think of as funny,” he said, exasperated.

Well, there’s a reason people don’t think of Marilyn Monroe as funny, even though she was one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century and that reason has nothing to do with her actual funniness level, genetic or otherwise. People don’t find her funny, because they don’t want to find her funny. And they don’t want to find her funny, because they want to fuck her. People – men especially, but women as well, and society in general* – want women to be empty vessels who receive: sperm, ideas, jokes from men. People want them to be passive. Funniness in women isn’t just undesired, or unnecessary, it’s actively disapproved of.

But the thing is, no matter how hard you try and spin it, the truth is, there have always been and there will always be funny women. Women will never be as unfunny as people want them to be. As people need them to be. You might as well get over it. Well, you might as well try.

*Also, a bit of feminism: I don’t believe all that crap about men and women laughing at different stuff, either, it’s patently silly. Women laugh with each other and men laugh at videos of disabled puppies being drowned? Whatever. There are differences between nations – I still don’t get German sarcasm – to be truly honest, I think they do it a little bit wrong – and a lot of the time, Germans and Americans aren’t sure whether I’m being ironic or not. But with other British people? I have never had to explain a joke, EVER. Boys and girls, our humour is exactly the same. Men laugh at rape more, but that’s just because they’re being cunts. It’s not even coz they find rape funny, it’s just pure cuntishness. Just throwing that out there.

Like her blog? See Jacinta read live and in German at the Mauersegler every Wednesday day at 9pm.