Women Aren’t Funny


Sophii Sherman

Local girl tells funny joke, proves women could be funny.

There has been a lot of progress in making comedy inclusive to women. With infamous comedians such as Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and the thousands that seem to sprout from TikTok every day, the age-old stereotype that women just “aren’t funny” evidently seems to be disproven. But despite this improvement in recent years to include more women in comedy, comedy as an industry still holds women to unfair standards. 

Scientific study has officially disproved the age-old belief that cis men are biologically funnier than women. There have been numerous studies conducted to explore humor over the years. One was executed in the form of caption contests, where a group of men and women would write several captions, and then vote on which one was the funniest. Women’s and men’s captions were voted for equally, but men were misattributed to the funnier caption when the participants were asked what gender they thought had written it.

When people hear jokes without knowing the gender of their narrator, they can be funny to the same people who would dismiss it after learning who is telling it. Women comedians are held to a higher standard than men are. It’s easy to find floods of comments on how “women aren’t funny,” in her comment section, regardless if the material was a hit with the audience or not. 

Comedy is subjective: the many things one would find funny, another would think cringy or ridiculous. The issue lies when we decide certain things are inherently funny or inherently unfunny, based on predetermined factors and criteria. 

Comedy is an exercise in empathy. Either the comedian is finding common ground between them and the audience (“aw, we both have to do this stupid thing! Isn’t it stupid!”) or the audience is getting a glimpse into the perspective of the comedian. When a woman is onstage joking about things that apply to her and around 50 percent of the population, and men say “women comedians just talk about women problems,” they are failing a very easy exercise in empathy and denying themselves a chance to laugh.

Even in non-comedic settings, such as a workplace or student group, there’s a patriarchal pressure that lets men make more attempts at humor than women. There’s less risk because societally they are punished less for their failures. If a man tells a joke and it sputters and fails, he could either get silence or pity laughs. If a woman’s joke doesn’t land with her audience, she faces the possibility of being completely dismissed and hearing “women aren’t funny.” As though her entire gender’s sense of humor hangs in the balance of her one joke. 

In social situations where women are outnumbered by men, there is an added pressure to be seen as professional, especially in environments where women are so often dismissed. Women don’t want to jeopardize being taken seriously just for the opportunity to bond or make a joke. This can happen in personal relationships, too: while (in the case of heterosexual relationships) both women and men say they want funny partners, Nichole Force found that women often prefer a partner who will make her laugh, and men prefer someone who will laugh at their jokes, as published by Psych Today.

So in turn, women often feel more reluctant to be funny due to wanting to be perceived as desirable or professional. There’s a societal pressure that encourages men to make jokes, and women to laugh and flock. Comedy is inherently attention-grabbing. Telling a joke to a room full of people is a dominating stand that says, “I’m here, my words are important.” 

In the words of comedian Drew Carey, “[c]omedy is about aggression and confrontation and power. As a culture we just don’t allow women to do all that stuff.”