Why They Are Funny

Do women make good improvisors? Do they make good comedians? Can they write sketch? These questions plague the Chicago comedy scene. These, besides being narrow and misleading, are ridiculous questions. Women are just as talented, brilliant, and funny as men.

Playing the gender card mires the discussion and introduces extraneous variables. Instead ask, "What makes one funny?" Under what circumstances and conditions do funny people emerge?

Like most activities that require skill and mental dexterity, there is no substitute for practice. Gladwell believes that ten thousand hours are necessary to achieve mastery in a given field. Anyone who's ever written comedy knows that sitting behind a computer is a lonely business. But, it is not at the keyboard where one logs the bulk of these hours.

Those who become successful at comedy are not bred at the keyboard. They have been unwittingly preparing their whole lives. Comedy is not an end in itself. Its ends are multifarious and manifest themselves in many ways.

Comedy is a defense mechanism. Faced with an awkward situation, the funny squirrel their way out with a clever line. They diffuse threatening situations with comedy, using it to break tension. Comedy is both a survival tactic and a demonstrable skill. For those who can't run fast, hit a baseball, wield a sword, write a sonnet, or found a company, it carves out a respectable life. It's a sledge hammer in your social toolbox.

Comedy is a sexual angle. Watching someone of any gender be hit on is a hard thing to watch. But with a joke here, a witty comment there, suddenly everyone is comfortable. Humor provides a social lubricant that disguises intentions and charms potential mates.

Like the ugly Socrates, he declares the beauty he lacks secondary to the virtue he possesses, knowledge. The plebeians become wielders of wit, cunning, and guile. Male or female, we find the socially unaccepted on the front lines of comedy. It is those who have adapted their deformities, anxieties, and awkwardness into a mighty strength we admire. If comedy were simply a defense mechanism, its proponents would largely consist of over or underweight mutants. A glance into any comedy club certainly bears out this hypothesis.

However, what drives more men to comedy than women is a primordial and fundamental drive. Sex. For men being funny increases the likelihood of a sexual encounter.  This is a central conceit of this essay and a central premise. It is here where we see men really log their hours. They are biologically wired to desire sex above all else. Procreation is, from an evolutionary standpoint, the singular focus of  existence. Humor is a central strategy employed by the beautiful and ugly alike. The awkward and the suave all traffic in comedy.

In short, men practice comedy in their pursuit of sex. They log a lifetime of training and honing these skills. For women, however, sex is a given (my second premise). With the exception of the tail end of the Bell Curve, women can procure sex at will. It is not biologically advantageous for them to pursue comedy and thus fewer achieve the ten thousand hours of training necessary to achieve mastery.

Neither sex is inherently funnier. Comedy doesn't care about chromosomes. It cares about practice. Men squeeze in a session every time they visit a bar, run drills every time they sit next to a beautiful women on the subway, and get their applause with every phone number they get. Comedy impacts men because it makes them more viable mates.
Exhibit A
Though the number of women who pursue comedy is a fraction of of the men, they are a pure breed. When women, especially beautiful women, pursue comedy, it is out of an unadulterated love of the craft. When they hit the ten thousand hour mark, it's something to behold. I'm happy to live in a time when women in comedy are hitting their stride.


  1. A man's inclination to comedy is a socially acceptable outlet. It is his masquerade. Misogyny has been written so deeply into our histories that even with our heads fixed properly on our shoulders we can't see it's residual effects which are impossible to avoid. Women are not funny, their spirit is in their bellies with their wombs. Men may be funny, because they have intellect and their spirit is in their brains. That was the idea anyways (you know that), so how does a woman in 2011 become a comedic actress and play comedy the way that men do? She has to overcome all the obstacles that stood in the way of prostitutes, strippers, vaudeville performers, actresses, singers etc etc etc...men have had more practice over time, and they have been allowed to make a joke of their bodies. In fact, men have been encouraged to make a joke of their bodies. This is where sexism gets itchy. A woman's body is under pressure and control to be beautiful, but a man's body is just as limited. A man's sexual oppression and confused identity may manifest itself in a number of ways. Comedy parodies this, but it also cripples its growth and its ability to be taken seriously. It perpetuates the idea that men cannot be sexy, while at the same time suggests that women cannot be funny (without also being cutesy).

    Here is the intersection: http://coedmagazine.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/sweet-dee-from-its-always-sunny-in-philadelphia-jpg.jpeg

    Dee of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A woman who does male comedy. Great success.

  2. If 2 men were competing for my attention, the funny one will have the automatic advantage, regardless of looks etc.

  3. No matter how beautiful the outside of a person is, it is inevitable that we will all grow old and lose the beauty of youth. At the end of the journey, there had better be some substance to the person you are with. It is life, so make me laugh! By the way, you are both funny and handsome.

  4. @ Anonymous 11:46PM. I think you're right. On some level, humor is tied with intelligence and charm, the ability to find patterns and make connections others miss.

    Thanks for the compliment.

    Also, nobody likes to use their real name. Weird.

  5. Nick, some are braver than most. Anonymous may give the not so brave, the courage to speak.

  6. I appreciate how you break this debate down, instead of just saying "women are funny too" and listing examples as if a handful of names would validate the argument. Great post, Nick.