Ms. Funny

By Caroline Moley

Today female comedians are dominating the comedy scene. Tiny Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling have produced and written hit TV shows. Ellen Degeneres rules the talk show world. Amy Schumer pushes the boundaries of comedy while using her notoriety to fight for social rights. These women are only a few of the female comedians redefining what it means to be a woman in comedy today. These women have proved how hilarious and witty girls can be, however, it seems that the stereotype “girls can’t be funny” is still prevalent within our culture.

I wanted to understand if this stereotype still exists today and why. My curiosity was sparked when I witnessed many of my male friends stating that women are not as funny as men. I have also observed my male friends being surprised or shocked when they found a female comedian funny.  What then makes a woman funny to men? What makes her not funny?

I decided I wanted to understand the young male perspective on this topic; therefore, I casually discussed women in comedy with a number of males at Georgetown and other universities. I asked young males why they think woman are funny or why they don’t think women are funny. I also asked them if there was a female comedian in particular that they thought was funny or one they found unfunny or obnoxious.

Many of young men I interviewed stated that they think women are funny if the content of their jokes is relatable to men. When female comics make jokes regarding their periods, diets, or body men find it rather annoying. Most of the men who agreed with this statement find Amy Schumer quite funny because of her raunchy jokes. They said she is more relatable than most female comics.  These young males also find Ellen Degenerious funny. One young male said it is probably because Degenerious appears and acts more masculine; therefore, she is more identifiable to men. These same young men said they do not find female comedians like Chelsea Handler and Kathy Griffin funny because they perform comedy that is obnoxious and not relatable for men.  It makes sense to me that men need to be able to relate to the content of the comedy in order to find it funny. I still wonder, however, if Chelsea Handler or Kathy Griffin were Trey Parker or Matt Stone making the exact same jokes on South Park, would men find the jokes funny? Does the physically body from which a joke is being told affect whether or not the joke is funny?

Some young men told me that the appearance of a female comedian affects whether or not they find that woman funny. I found it interesting that most of the comments I received, whether the young men said girls were funny or not, revolved around appearance. A number of the young men I interviewed said that girls are more funny if they are hot. According to some of the young men I interviewed, a woman is funny if she is hot, confident, clever, innocent, and not trying to be funny for attention. I found this standard alarming considering a woman would have to embody “perfection” in order to fit within such an expectation.  In other words, it is not reality.  On the other hand, a number of young men I interviewed said a woman is funny if she is not attractive.  It is striking and concerning to me that there is such an emphasis on appearance. The first thing these young men focused on was a female comedian’s appearance, which has nothing to do with her being funny or excelling at her craft. I have never heard people describe male comedians solely on their looks. Once again our society is obsessed with girls’ appearances no matter what they are doing with their brains and intellect. A couple of the young men I interviewed stated that men are simply funnier than women. When I asked why they did not seem to have an answer other than they just are.

Society is started to accept that women can be funny but we still have a long way to go. I think the problem stems from the fact that as a society we are quicker to judge women; therefore the standards we set for women regarding their appearance and personality are much higher than they are for men.