The Humourless Sex
By Tanushree Sarkar
The ability to be funny or create humor is often associated with intelligence and the ability to attract sexual partners. So when Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, decided to study the relationship between these variables in collaboration with Gil Greengross, he purported to have found that men were funnier than women, that people who were funny were likely to be more intelligent and also had more sexual partners.
There are obvious gaps in this research (how does one assess what is funny?) but their existence highlights a problem- there is a need to propound the view that women are not funny, or that they don’t need to be funny because they’re already blessed with the good looks to attract a mate.
Women who are in the business of comedy are the first to experience the backlash of such opinions that are perpetuated through popular culture and apparently, empirically proven as well!
The conundrum here is two fold.
First, is that comediennes continue to conform to the stereotypical portrayals associated with them. Melissa McCarthy’s character in Bridesmaid is a prime example. Although it was hailed as revolutionary, it is undoubtedly regressive- almost every joke was designed to rest on her presumed hideousness, and her ribald sexuality was grounded primarily in her body type and an aversion to makeup.
Second, and the more perturbing one, is found in the reasons why men think women aren’t funny. At one end of this spectrum is the idea that funny women only talk about relationships, vaginas, tampons, emotions, family problems, personal problems; that funny women are too polite to be funny; and that funny women lack confidence. On the other end is the belief that funny women are aggressive; women being crude was unattractive and that men didn’t like seeing women in a crass role. Women are placed in a double bind: when they act like men, it’s gross, but when they act like women, they’re not funny.
On top of all this, comediennes are also expected to be crusaders of the feminist movement and their most critical audience are perhaps the feminists themselves. For example, the reaction to ‘Bridesmaids’ by some feminists- “It’s about getting married. Women, desperate to get married. What kind of a feminist are you?” They were also perhaps the staunchest supporters of ‘Bridesmaids’ – either way, the expectations of feminists from female comics and comedy writers do feature as an important factor for women in comedy and how they are judged by other women.
In conclusion, there are several perspectives of looking at women in comedy. To quote Matthew Perry, who spoke during the Comedy Awards 2012 on women in comedy in the aftermath of ‘Bridesmaids’ – “This year we saw many hilarious performances by women – as well as many idiotic articles from men about how women suddenly became funny,” Perry said. “This wasn’t the year women finally became funny, this was the year men finally pulled their heads out of their behind.”