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Which Gender is funnier?

15 Jun
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Why women are not funny

14 Jun
What makes the female so much deadlier than the male? With assists from Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron, and a recent Stanford-medical-school study, the author investigates the reasons for the humor gap.
From the John Springer Collection/Corbis.

Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: “He’s really quite cute, and he’s kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he’s sofunny … ” (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, “Funny? He wouldn’t know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise.“) However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: “She’s a real honey, has a life of her own … [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] … and, man, does she ever make ’em laugh.”

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

All right—try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid). Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift. Indeed, we now have all the joy of a scientific study, which illuminates the difference. At the Stanford University School of Medicine (a place, as it happens, where I once underwent an absolutely hilarious procedure with a sigmoidoscope), the grim-faced researchers showed 10 men and 10 women a sample of 70 black-and-white cartoons and got them to rate the gags on a “funniness scale.” To annex for a moment the fall-about language of the report as it was summarized in Biotech Week:

The researchers found that men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing. But they also found that some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women, and the nucleus accumbens … which is part of the mesolimbic reward center.

This has all the charm and address of the learned Professor Scully’s attempt to define a smile, as cited by Richard Usborne in his treatise on P. G. Wodehouse: “the drawing back and slight lifting of the corners of the mouth, which partially uncover the teeth; the curving of the naso-labial furrows … ” But have no fear—it gets worse:

“Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon,” said the report’s author, Dr. Allan Reiss. “So when they got to the joke’s punch line, they were more pleased about it.” The report also found that “women were quicker at identifying material they considered unfunny.”

Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confrontedwith humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?

This is not to say that women are humorless, or cannot make great wits and comedians. And if they did not operate on the humor wavelength, there would be scant point in half killing oneself in the attempt to make them writhe and scream (uproariously). Wit, after all, is the unfailing symptom of intelligence. Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren’t like that. And the wits and comics among them are formidable beyond compare: Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz, Ellen DeGeneres. (Though ask yourself, was Dorothy Parker ever really funny?) Greatly daring—or so I thought—I resolved to call up Ms. Lebowitz and Ms. Ephron to try out my theories. Fran responded: “The cultural values are male; for a woman to say a man is funny is the equivalent of a man saying that a woman is pretty. Also, humor is largely aggressive and pre-emptive, and what’s more male than that?” Ms. Ephron did not disagree. She did, however, in what I thought was a slightly feline way, accuse me of plagiarizing a rant by Jerry Lewis that said much the same thing. (I have only once seen Lewis in action, in The King of Comedy, where it was really Sandra Bernhard who was funny.)

In any case, my argument doesn’t say that there are no decent women comedians. There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there. Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three. When Roseanne stands up and tells biker jokes and invites people who don’t dig her shtick to suck her dick—know what I am saying? And the Sapphic faction may have its own reasons for wanting what I want—the sweet surrender of female laughter. While Jewish humor, boiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation, is almost masculine by definition.

Substitute the term “self-defecation” (which I actually heard being used inadvertently once) and almost all men will laugh right away, if only to pass the time. Probe a little deeper, though, and you will see what Nietzsche meant when he described a witticism as an epitaph on the death of a feeling. Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone’s expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with—and often a joke in extremely poor taste. Humor is part of the armor-plate with which to resist what is already farcical enough. (Perhaps not by coincidence, battered as they are by motherfucking nature, men tend to refer to life itself as a bitch.) Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is. Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink or the bathroom, or the venting of sexual frustration on furry domestic animals, are a male province. It must have been a man who originated the phrase “funny like a heart attack.” In all the millions of cartoons that feature a patient listening glum-faced to a physician (“There’s no cure. There isn’t even a race for a cure”), do you remember even one where the patient is a woman? I thought as much.

Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals. And there is a huge, brimming reservoir of male unease, which it would be too easy for women to exploit. (Men can tell jokes about what happened to John Wayne Bobbitt, but they don’t want women doing so.) Men have prostate glands, hysterically enough, and these have a tendency to give out, along with their hearts and, it has to be said, their dicks. This is funny only in male company. For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing, which is why we admire Lucille Ball and Helen Fielding, who do see the funny side of it. But this is so rare as to be like Dr. Johnson’s comparison of a woman preaching to a dog walking on its hind legs: the surprise is that it is done at all.

10 reasons to celebrate if you are still single

13 Jun

Dating game can be discouraging and tiresome. It can be so stressful that you forget that you are a happy woman just because. Here is a little article to give you a friendly pat on the shoulder, because you are happy already! You will have someone significant very soon, meanwhile you can celebrate:

1. Freedom. You are free and can do everything to pamper yourself. Your home is arranged the way you want and if you want to watch that romantic movie tonight you do not have to check with anyone. And if you want to cry while watching that movie, you do not have to care how do you look. You can just whale away. And you do not have to fight for the remote when you need some TV fix!

2. Choices. You have infinite choices. You can date any guy because you do not have to free up that boyfriend’s spot. You can embark on a guilt free session of daydreaming about dating the hottest celebrity or that cute guy from the other department. Feeling horny? Take that hot guy with rippled abs home!

3. It is all about you. You have everything to yourself: time, space and attention. You can relax at home completely. It is your space. Want to wear underwear around the house – go for it. Cold? Put that comfy track suit on! Want to sleep in or stay up late? Go for it! Need to wax or apply that mask. Feel free. You do not have to lock yourself up in the bathroom or wait for him to leave the house.

4. Your money. You can spend money the way you want. You do not have to think about spending money for presents and outings. Or pay for the gifts to his friends and family.

5. No drama. Does he loveyou? Does he not? Will he call? Will he ever pick up his dirty socks? No heartache, no dumping or being dumped. You do not have to worry about it. Your life is drama free. If you want drama, you read newspaper or watch news.

6. Ultimate control. You are master of everything. You do not have to compromise. You do not have to plan convenient date to meet your friends. You do not have to check with anybody if you got a great offer at work and have to move interstate. Only you decide what do you want waxed and when.

7. Habits. The only mess you have to clean up is your own. Nobody will ever bother you with their unhygienic habits because your habits are all hygienic and even cute. And you do not have to change your habits for anyone, waking up when you do not feel like or go to bed after 9 if you do not feel like it.

8. Your staff. You have to think only about your own staff: your dinner, your career, your debts, your pleasures, your weight, your bed, your dreams, your future, your happiness.

9. Your own mental well-being. You do not have to worry about things you cannot control: Does he love his ex more? What does he want? What does his family and friends think of you? When will he finally propose? When he decides to get rid of that stupid car/job/computer/insert your own? Is he ready to start a family? What can we do together that we’ll both enjoy? Should we get fish tank, cat or dog? You can learn about yourself. You’re left to think about makes you happy and what’s important to you.

10. Happiness. You can concentrate on making yourself happy and know exactly what should be done to make it happen. You have complete control over your mood. How hard is it to be happy when your partner is sad or angry or anxious? You do not have to be affected by his mood or at the very least feel guilty for being happy even though he is angry about something! Being singlemeans you are not responsible for cheering up someone who is better left alone.

In any case, you are beautiful, proud and patient woman who does not sell herself short and go for “Mr not so right but very convenient”.

And that is another great reason to celebrate!