By Amelia Dickens
What to do when you hear those all too common words: “Women aren’t funny.” Sometimes they are charitably preceded or succeeded by an ever-growing list of exceptions. Sometimes its only ‘pretty women’. How many times have we heard these words, or even thought or said them? There’s no denying that in mainstream comedy, successful breasted practitioners are in the minority. Panel shows frequently feature a woman (or even two!) but this almost seems like an act of generosity or filling a quota.
So, are women funny?
An essential element to humour is identifying with negative characteristics such as humiliation, desperation and insecurity. Many of these are tied in with sex and as women are seen as being the ‘gatekeepers’ of sex, they are perceived as having an element of power that negates their empathetic and therefore comedic value. There is a definite element of, “Well, what right do you have to be making jokes?”
Because of the way films and television have traditionally been formatted, women are accustomed to identifying with male leads and male culture, while men are more likely to dismiss comedy that focuses on female characters and concerns as ‘chic humour’. Is this unfair to men? Absolutely, and the patronising assumption that men will be unable to understand jokes if the person telling them has a vagina is a prime example of how patriarchy can be oppressive to the male gender too.
Of course, this question can also be, and frequently is, answered by cataloguing the multitude of funny women and this tactic is immensely tempting. However, it’s a pretty undignified position to be put in, and it is difficult not to appear to be on the defensive. So without reference to specific comSHEdians, I feel genuinely optimistic that the humour gap is closing. More and more sit-coms are written, directed and starred in by women – even if to feature a leading actress with more than 10% body fat, it’s a pretty sure bet she did write and direct it.
So, whilst some people will continue to make this generalisation, most people will continue to know it’s idiotic. As long as we remember this, I think we’ll be safe, even without reeling off a binder full of funny women.