G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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In his infamous Vanity Fair piece titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny“, Christopher Hitchens argued, essentially, that men are funnier than women because they have to be in order to remain sexually competitive. Adam Carolla has now drawn flak for touching on the same topic. I off-handedly tweeted at Louis CK, and he responded in a manner that makes me believe that he disagrees with Carolla. Also, he punked me pretty good.
But the heart of the argument made by Hitchens which serves as the framework for Carolla’s point was handled by Louis CK himself in his famous “Hot Girls at the Bar” bit. Louis CK ridicules the hot girl at the bar who doesn’t have to do anything at all to get attention from men. When the hot bar girl is asked what she does she responds “people want to fuck me”.
CK segues into a bit about Bar Dudes. His characterization is perfect. Whereas Bar Girls just show up and get attention by default, Bar Dudes essentially go hunting in a giant pack. They are trying.
But the statement “women aren’t funny” is not precise enough. That statement is also a stand-in for “women aren’t as funny as men”. What is truly meant by this statement is “the amount of humor held by the average man is greater than the amount of humor held by the average women”. Statistical probability takes over from there, and we’re dealing in the extreme right tail of the distribution when we’re talking about stand-up comedians or television writers.
It’s not that a female from birth can’t be funny or even that she can’t be the funniest person to ever walk the earth. It is possible for women to be really funny, as both Hitchens and Carolla have pointed out. But there just aren’t the sheer number of women who see comedy or gregarious humor as being necessary for them to get attention. The average female gains less marginal attention by being funny than the average male. This also holds across the attractiveness spectrum. Whitney Cummings gets attention for being funny. But she gets the most attention for being attractive. Margaret Cho (not that she’s actually funny) gets a lot more attention from being “funny” and almost no positive attention for her looks.
In his focus on the evolutionary advantage provided by hilarity, Hitchens only touched on the advantage men gain vis a vis women. But most people – men and women – spend most of their time with members of their own sex. Funny men become funny by interacting with other funny men. The schoolyard dozens is a good example. There, humor is used either to shine above schoolmates or to diffuse potential threats. It’s all an intrasexual competition for status, and there is not a female analogue to this. Females don’t try to one-up each other like men do. They don’t compete on these ground, and this creates observable group differences.
Perhaps the discussion of which group is funnier should focus on an actual group (say, of six guys versus six girls) and gauge their level of hilarity. Take 100 or 1,000 such groups and see what you see. And then intersperse a lone man in the group of girls and vice versa. We can make predictions about all of this. There’s a case to be made that a group of 5 men and one woman might be funnier than a group of six men. But is there any doubt that the six women, zero men group would not be as funny as any of the other group scenarios? What does this tell us?