Are men or women the funnier sex?

I appreciate Adam Carolla’s willingness to defy PC shibboleths.  I respect his intelligence.  I do not, however, find him funny.  Nor do I find Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, or Stephen Colbert funny.  I like Tina Fey when she’s not foolish enough to wander into political territory.  I loved Seinfeld, which was a joint Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld production.  I hate Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is solely a Larry David production.

I laugh just thinking about the I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy meets William Holden (one of the last great gentleman of the Silver Screen).  As you may recall, Lucy, newly arrived in Hollywood, drags Fred and Ethel off to the Brown Derby to see the stars.  She finds herself seated next to Bill Holden, and begins to stare at him.  Holden, tired of being stared at by every tourist in town, turns the tables and stares right back at Lucy.  Part I of the episode ends with Lucy fleeing the Brown Derby, having embarrassed herself horribly (and amusingly, of course).  Part II opens with Ricky bringing Holden back to the hotel room to meet Lucy.  Lucy doesn’t want to meet Holden.  Hilarity ensues:

I think that episode is probably one of the funniest comedic moments ever captured on film.  In a peculiar way, part of the fun is that Lucy, the perfect comedienne, had no sense of humor.  She could sell a joke; she just couldn’t make one.

Marx Brothers?  Side splitting.  Three Stooges?  Not so much.

Are my comic tastes typical for a woman?  I don’t know.  I like to laugh.  Significantly, I don’t appreciate crude humor.  One of the reasons Jon Stewart doesn’t endear himself to me, aside from his lopsided political views, is the fact that he’s incredibly crude.  I also don’t find meanness funny, which is why I enjoy the puckish Jay Leno and actively dislike the vicious David Letterman.

This rumination has a point.  Adam Carolla does not believe women are funny:

Q. The lesson you learned from a sexual harassment seminar was “Don’t hire chicks.” Do you hate working with women?

A. No. But they make you hire a certain number of chicks, and they’re always the least funny on the writing staff. The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks. If my daughter has a mediocre sense of humor, I’m just gonna tell her, “Be a staff writer for a sitcom. Because they’ll have to hire you, they can’t really fire you, and you don’t have to produce that much. It’ll be awesome.

At Ricochet, Chazzy Star asks readers to chime in, pro or con, regarding Carolla’s opinion.  I think Carolla has a point, sort of.  There are two things at work here.  First, women are less likely to do crude, vulgar humor.  There are some exceptions, such as Lisa Lampanelli, who make crudity a centerpiece of their act, but I find her offensive rather than funny.  Moreover, I doubt that I’m the only woman who feels this way.  Because women shy away from crudities, they have a smaller comedic repertoire on which to draw.  A lot of them also end up doing domestic or relationship humor, which can also be limiting.

That limitation leads me to my second point, which is that I think men are less likely to appreciate women’s humor than women are to appreciate men’s humor.  While neither men nor women appreciate a vulgar woman, both will accept and laugh at a vulgar man.  Likewise, while women may appreciate domestic or relationship humor, men are likely to consider that “chick” stuff, and to disengage.  So not only do men have a larger repertoire, they also have a larger potential audience, one made up of men, who like manly jokes, and women, who also like manly jokes.

I don’t want to lock people into boxes, of course.  Although it’s not apparent from my writing, which goes for snark and sarcasm, rather than humor (I just can’t write “funny”), I’m actually quite amusing in conversation.  Several people have told me I ought to do stand-up, a thought that makes me feel faint.  Stage-fright and I are old and good friends.  In any event, mine is a reactive humor.  I need to have someone say something that triggers the loopy drive in my brain, and then funny stuff starts coming out.

Do you agree with Carolla that men are inherently better than women at humor?  Do you think I’m on to something when I suggest that women are more constrained in the humor they’ll create, and less constrained in the humor they’ll appreciate?  And have you got any good jokes that are neither crude nor otherwise offensive?  I do love to laugh.


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  • Ron19

    I asked my wife, “Honey, do this joke make me sound funny?”

  • Ymarsakar

    I’ve found that Japanese comedy is composed of both male and female centric lines. In a sense, America is degraded and backwards in terms of human progress on this venue.

  • shirleyelizabeth

    While I am turned off by all crude humor, when it is a man delivering the joke I tend to just ignore it; when it is a woman I am disgusted by the person.
    It is fun to get a good laugh from entertainment sources, but I’m more likely to seek out wit than hilarity.

  • Michael Adams

    Shyness is the difference, I suspect.   Shyness of some sort or other is part of women’s self defense, deep inside our animal natures.  LionESSes hunt, as do men.  Lions eat, and women gather. Humans have been predator and prey, and some of those roles divide on gender lines. I offer, not proof, but as an example, my Beloved Spousal Unit, who is very funny, once she opens up, but she is shy, does not really like people all that much. That is the reason that there are less than a dozen people on Earth who have seen just how hilarious she can be.
    I see another example in your dislike of vulgar humor.  A man who makes crude jokes, usually sexual, but not limited there, may be crude and rather an oaf.  A crude woman, however, opens herself up to all manner of unwanted attention, her very crudity is also called bawdiness, and there is an assumption that she chooses to make such jokes to announce her availability. It is a very rare woman, indeed, who wants to have to fend off untoward advances from so many men. Therefore women learn, or are just born knowing, to avoid some topics., except in all female settings.
    The thing is, sex is genuinely funny.  It has been suggested that God made us to reproduce sexually to keep us humble, since no one can take himself too seriously, when he is considered in those ridiculous postures. However, subtracting sexual humor from the overall picture can make women seem, statistically speaking, less funny.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Two points come to mind. One is that it is apparent that your son has not yet acquainted you with the finer points of male fart jokes. Second, thanks for the clip: it makes me realize that Marco Rubio doesn’t look like he has aged a day.

  • Ellen

    Hmm,  well here are a couple of observations and you all can take them as you will.

    1.  I’ve never met a man who had NO sense of humor, but I’ve met many, many women who literally never got the point of a joke and cringed at slapstick.

    2.  Most women don’t like slapstick (I do, and I LOVE the Three Stooges which makes me a minority).

    3.  I can’t think of many women comedians I actually enjoy.  Lucy, Etta May, Carole Lombard  and…..well, I’m still thinking.

  • USMaleSF

    Of course men are funnier than women.

    And of course there are some funny women. There are also some White basketball stars and Brits with good teeth.

    Humor is major male turf because without it, beta males…even omega males…would find it even harder to carry out two of the most crucial evolutionary tasks for People Living With Testosterone: finding a place within the male gang, and getting the positive attention of attractive women. Funny guys are valued by the male gang even if they are otherwise unpowerful or untough. And Funny guys who are not alpha types can make contact…interpret that as you wish…with women who would otherwise not find them appealing.

    Men are funnier than women because they have to be. It’s Mother Nature’s way.


  • lee

    Ellen–I tend to agree with you.I don’t find Lucy, Carole Lombard, Tina Fay… funny. However, I do remember Ellen Degenres was very funny when she was young and just starting out. Actually, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and David Lettermen were all kind of funny when they were younger and wetter behind the ears. They lost it when they fell in love with their own brilliance. And I use sarcasm when I type the word “brilliance.”
     Early Saturday Night Live–Gilda Radner wasn’t too bad, but not as good as John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. And speaking of early SNL, “Third Rock” had a great ensembel, but the funniest were John Lithgow, Joseph Gordon Levit, French Stewart, and Elmarie Wendel. I even found Wayne Knight (who I HATED on “Seinfeld” funnier than over-the-top Kristen Johnston. Jane Curtin did a good job as “straight man” but not so great at “funny.” 

    I am funny, or so I’ve been told.* But my husband is far funnier.

    * So, I was in a depression therapy group. After attending a few sessions, I was finally ready to open up. I told the story of a woman I knew as an undergrad who had recently died, and my alumni newsletter carried her obituary . It ended, “She was a member of Mensa. She is survived by her mother and her cat.” I shared how I did not want that to be my obituary, so I quit Mensa. Afterwards, the psychologist leading the group told me I was very funny, had great comedic timing, and should consider going into standup. But I am shy….

  • Libby

    I agree, men are funnier for the reasons USMaleSF mentioned above.
    I’m not a fan of the current “funny” women like Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman and Tina Fey (whose reign as SNL head writer were the worst years for the show). It doesn’t help that a lot of female comedians rely on a “feminist” viewpoint. Also, nothing is more cringe-worthy than listening to a female comic joke about women’s, uh, biological stuff. Ick!

  • Charles Martel

    Wow, what a neat topic!
    Lee, what a great joke. Your psychologist was spot on.
    Book, I wonder if we were separated at birth. The Lucy-Bill Holden encounter is one of my all-time favorite scenes. The look in Holden’s eyes as he watches Lucy dunking her on-fire nose for me always ends in silent heaves—my oxygen for further laughing having long been exhausted. I like slapstick, but don’t like the Stooges anywhere as much as the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy. Curb Your Enthusiasm was painful for me. Watching a schmuck screw up is funny once or twice. Watching whole episodes about a relentlessly thoughtless and cruel man who is supposedly funny just wasn’t my cup of tea.
    The mention of Lisa Lampanelli gave me an idea about the differences between the sexes’ comedic chops. I watched Lampanelli in horror on the most recent Celebrity Apprentice as she revealed herself to be a self-hating, woman-hating bag of envy and resentment. She spent much of her time railing against the other female contestants, especially the good-looking ones or the ones she considered mentally inferior to her. The pattern that emerged was that of a hyper-intelligent woman who resents the fact that in men are seldom attracted to coarse, slatternly, loud-mouthed beyotches, and that no amount of shouting out PC platitudes is going to change that.
    Lampanelli can never be as funny as a similarly bent and twisted male for one crucial reason: Audiences look upon her with mingled mirth and horror. Yes, she’s fast and funny, but she’s also this horrendous caricature of a female. She is no more attractive than a catastrophic roadside accident, although certainly as fascinating. On the other hand, as USMaleSF alludes to, we expect men to be crazy and often unattractive. Even when they refer to those things themselves, they do so in a self-deprecating “whatta you gonna do?” manner. Nobody’s that offended or horrified because we all unconsciously accept that men are the original twisted sisters. I expect a beard on a man; not so much on a woman.

  • Gringo

    Recalling sense of humor in men and women:  several years ago I was talking with a long-time family friend about her deceased  parents, who had known me since I was an infant. I told her how I had liked her mother’s sense of humor. 
    She was shocked. My Mother’s sense of humor?  
    How could I have considered her mother to have a good sense of humor, while her own daughter did not consider her own mother to have a good sense of humor?
    Her mother was a very serious, earnest person, very concerned about doing the right thing: the very model of the modern enlightened liberal. In that sense yes, her mother could  be seen as a humorless person. [She was not a busybody trying to make sure that OTHERS did the right thing- she was more concerned the SHE do the right thing.] While her mother did not have a humorous outlook on life- looking for the absurdities in everyday life- she had a good collection of jokes to tell, Nearly 40 years later, I recall her telling me about the discussion among various professionals about whether 9 was a prime number or not. She had a good collection of witty, rather intellectual jokes, although she did not have a humorous outlook.
    My family friend’s father, on the other hand, had a rather dry sense of humor which he interjected into many otherwise serious situations. Such as the time that out town was inundated with a heavy rain. He called the switchboard at his place of work and asked if it had the phone number for Noah.
    His  humor was so dry that in one instance it took me decades to realize he was joking. One time when he was 67 our two families got together. The discussion got to what high school classmates of my generation were doing.  I asked  the father what he knew of HIS  high school classmates. “They’re all dead,” came the reply. At the time, I took him  at his word. I was a long ways from 67, so as far as I knew, he was telling like it was. After he died at age 91, I concluded at age 67 he had been putting me on about his high school classmates all being dead.

  • jj

    The Lucy/Bill Holden encounter reference is lost on me, I’ve never been able to sit through an episode of any incarnation of Lucy.  She wasn’t funny: she was an ass.  I don’t find that funny.  Weird, I know.  Same with Abbott & Costello vis-a-vis Laurel & Hardy.  Bud and Lou did bits from their vaudeville days, and actually followed actual scripts, and Lou was often quite clever, only rarely an ass.  Ollie and Stans’s entire basis for humor was that Stan was, like Lucy, an ass.  That doesn’t work for me at all.  Martin & Lewis – Jerry was an ass.  Not funny.  Rowan and Martin – Dick was an ass.  Equally not funny.
    I may be a bad judge.  I never heard of and have no idea who the hell Adam Carolla might be.  I know the names of Maher, Stewart, Colbert, and Fey – but I admit freely I wouldn’t know them if I fell over them on the street; and have no idea of what they ever said that got them whatever gig they have.  John Belushi was every bit as big an a**hole as you probably think he was, and I never made it through a Saturday Night Live even when I was standing in the studio, it was so goddam puerile.  From Day One.  and Jerry Seinfeld once looked at me across a tuna sandwich and told me he had a sizable bet going on the proposition I’d never seen an episode of the show.  He won.  I hadn’t.  Still haven’t.  To me – the bits I did see of it were not even vaguely amusing, let alone funny.  He always called it a “show about nothing.”  I agree completely.
    Are women funny?  Sheila Jackson Lee is an ongoing riot, though she doesn’t mean to be.  Pelosi’s remarks from this morning may cause you to hurt yourself laughing, so yeah, she is.  Can’t really think of other female comics, except the Waters jackass, the representative from south-central.  The three of them are hilarious, far funnier than Joan Rivers or a young DeGeneres.  Women are unconsciously funny, I guess, but only rarely deliberately so.  (Actresses, the Carol Lombards, Constance Bennetts, etc. may or may not be funny, depending on whether the scriptwriters were or not.  Actors are really not funny – or unfunny: they’re reading lines.  Back in the days of “screwball comedy,” they certainly didn’t write any of the lines.)  Which makes it largely circumstantial.

  • sarah

    I saw Bridesmaids and loved it mainly because I immediately recognized it was humor women traditionally don’t do.  I admit I laughed so hard I nearly hurt myself, but my girlfriend got the dry heaves during the barfing scene and my husband couldn’t concentrate on the humor as the stories in between were causing him to cry.  I don’t think I can comment on which is funnier, I have funny friends from both genders.  


    Women funny..well it depends if they are in or out of character. Carol Lawrence was both. I can only think of two male comedians that made my face ache with laughter – George Carlin and Richard Jeni. I could have used a facial chiropractor to get my jaw back in place after their performances.

  • MacG

    At first I thought Lisa Lampenelli was either the sister of or Andrew Dice Clay in drag…

    I think that Bonnie Hunt is funny.  I really liked the Carol Burnett show and Vickki Lawrence did a good job there as well. 

    The problem with most comedians is that I’ll hear someting funny then ‘share’ Hey this guy’s funny only to have them do someting that should not have been shared.  “You think HE’s funny? 

    Libby points out nothing funny about female biological stuff.  This may be a clue as to why there are fewer female comics.  The ‘jokes’ sound like the compliants guys hear at home so they are confused when they get hit for laughing when they hear similar things at home.  “HA! that was a good one! I heard Margaret Cho say something similar. It was hilarious!….but um it uh doesn’t seem, uh so funny now…You were joking right?” (ducking now) :)

  • Beth

    USMaleSF–spot on.  Men HAVE to be funny and they for the most part know how to use it to their advantage.  Frankly, I much prefer humor from men because, well, I like men better.

  • Ymarsakar

    I favor dark and grim humor. Such as that required on the battlefield, in order to prevent people from crying and breaking out in hysteria. Instead they laugh.

     I also like double entendres or things that are ambiguous and can be taken an innocent way and a not so innocent way.

     Slap stick humor is not particularly interesting to me, but I see it often times when it comes to harem style romantic comedies. I feel sympathy more than I do laughter.


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