“Hiiiii, haaaaa, hoooo.” I’m looking at my six year old self on the big screen in my parents’ living room. Wearing nothing but a blue bikini bottom, I’m leaning into the pool, holding on to the stairs while making a song out of non-existing words. My parents and sister laugh, “You were always a funny child, even grandpa thought you were the funniest thing,” says my mum. I smile, my granddad arguably being the best comedian on this planet, it got me thinking; am I really funny? About two minutes later I see myself running around the pool doing the bird dance, while wearing two orange floaties around my arms. There is no denying I have to laugh.
Raised in a small village where stereotyping was part of the everyday activities, it made me feel uncomfortable every time I tried to make a joke, as a woman. It were the big guys, the ones that smoked cigarettes, got involved in fights and demolished street furniture. They decided on the jokes and made you believe that everything they said was funny. Therefore my desire to take the mickey out of everyone remained just that, a desire. I’m not blaming them for ruining my chance of becoming a stand-up comedian, but I do wonder where the assumption of ‘women not being funny’ comes from. It probably all starts with the question; who decides what is funny? Is it the person who tells the joke or the one who laughs? I believe that women have a great sense of humour but maybe it’s the men who can’t laugh about their jokes.
Comedian Adam Carolla once said “The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.” The former CEO of Disney Michael Eisner said that he doesn’t believe women can be gorgeous and make him laugh. Well we are sorry Eisner that us women don’t live up to your standards, but maybe we don’t want to share the bed with a bald, biased Disney freak. Comedian Loren O’Brien responded to Eisner’s comment in Marie-Claire, saying that “If you are a woman you can be only one of these three: funny, smart or pretty. When you’re funny and smart – you must be a crazy feminist. When you’re Smart and pretty – you must be a dirty slut. When you’re funny and pretty – you’re not, that doesn’t exist.” But besides Eisner’s comment I also found a depressing study that was conducted by researchers from the University of Kansas. The report concludes that humour is an important factor in human sexual selection, with women appearing to be more attracted to men who make them laugh, but men are not sexually attracted to women who are humorous. So it’s all about sex then? Should women really shut their mouths because men want them to be sexually attractive 24/7?
When looking at the people who actually made a career out of being funny, it also seems that women are often stereotyped and underrepresented. The most well-known stand-up comedians such as Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. are male. Don’t get me wrong, these comedians can’t help it that they are born as men, but they were probably more stimulated by society to get on the stage and make silly jokes. For a long time being a female comedian was seen as unladylike, which is why it probably became the norm to think that women are less funny. So each time you watch a bad female comedian performing on television you will remember that she was terrible and a woman. But each time you will see an awkward performance by a man, you tend to forget.
According to researcher Paul E. McGhee from the Fels Research Institute, this way of thinking might actually lead to the fact that ladies feel more uncomfortable about making jokes. In his study Children’s Appreciation of Humor: A Test of the Cognitive Congruency Principle, he found that women make the same amount of jokes as men when they are children. But McGhee stated that something changes around the age of six, when the number of jokes that girls make decreases. This is because boys and girls will enter school around that time and they get to know societies expectations. The girls are encouraged to be ladylike while the boys are loud and make funny jokes.
But luckily there are many female comedians who ignore ‘societies expectations’ and make everyone pee their pants when they hit the stage. Sarah Silverman, Nikki Glaser, Maria Bamford, Kristen Wiig, Amy Schumer, Francesca Martinez and many more are all very successful and yes they are female. So maybe you and I should follow their example and hit that stage while we make everyone fall off their chairs or let them run to the bathroom. My grandad will be proud.
Written by: Marloes Hagenaars