Are Women Funny (differently than men) ?

This post by Andrew Ladd is the latest contribution by a male writing trying, in part to explain why we see so many fewer women in comedy shows like SNL and The Daily Show and also why, anecdotally, he believes most people (men) say they know more funny men than women.

Only men seem interested in writing these kind of things. Men who aren’t comedians.  I suppose anyone looking for traffic or attention like to drudge out the old: men and women are just different chestnut too then we can all have a Billy Jean/Bobby Riggs moment for a day or so. Women respond. I mean look at me. I’m responding. I guess it’s proof, finally, that I am a woman.

But this comes on the heels of last night’s post (which was lost, but written after being inspired by Melissa Gira Grant’s beautiful tumbleblog) to start blogging about my process of creating The Law Project and my own internal way of seeking to continue to smush stand-up, theatre, performance and interactivity. That is to say, I’ve been a little torn. Do I keep pursuing stand-up or commit only to solo shows ? I really am not a fan of either/or. And I love much about both. And storytelling, performance etc. More of this in future days. But i am explaining why I have decided to do the decidedly female thing of responding to a male article about whether and how women are funny. 

Ladd argues that women are funny in different ways than men are and that we (men) need to become more used to this other kind of anecdotal humor because we’re missing out if we don’t. He discovered this difference when a professor forced him to watch the sitcom Reba for his sociology thesis. Apparently you can get a PhD in Reba:

Even if we don’t get rid of any current forms of humor, we still ought to supplement those with new, more “female” ones. If Comedy Central had an “Anecdotal Humor Hour” alongside its usual nightly line-up, then women wouldn’t have to get their asses out on the The Daily Show or play bimbos in SNL skits or tell hecklers (à la Roseanne Barr) to “suck my dick!” in order to “be funny”—and then there would probably be a lot more women who wanted to give it a try. (Okay, so “Anecdotal Humor Hour” sounds awful, but all that proves is that I shouldn’t be a television producer.)

More importantly, having more “female” humor in the mainstream would help begin to re-teach everyone, in particular men, what humor really is—or at least, what it can be. My experience with Reba shows that men just need to experience enough female humor to start finding it funny, and that conclusion seems borne out, too, by a few more general examples.”

Ladd is essentially calling storytelling a feminine form of humour.

I am not such a fan of the “men are wired this way, women are wired that way” kinds of arguments almost ever. Mostly because:

•fluidity exists, hello. 

•even if they’re true, you can’ do shit about it

•it’s the most awesome way to avoid any responsibility to make things better

So here are a bunch of my reactions to his piece in no particular coherent order. Consider them Andrew, like a stand-up set. Just bits. 

1. The structure of comedy clubs (though i believe comedy clubs are in serious decline) is to give people only 5-7 minutes. So the majority of people who work up to headline who have only gotten 5-7 (most true in a place like NYC where comedy time is tight) is a 45 minute set built out of whatever they learned to do in 5-7 minutes. My favourite comics don’t necessarily sound this way, so much: Patton Oswalt, Paul Mooney, Dave Chappelle…their long sets aren’t set up/ punchline all the way through. But that’s harder to learn to do if all you ever get are 5 minutes with which to work.

2. The funniest person I’ve ever known is my Aunt Fraida. Period. I’m a comic. I’ve seen a whole lot of comedy. She makes me pee myself like no one else. Yes I know the relationships sometimes she’s talking about and yes she’s a storyteller. Many many people and especially women have friends like her. They’re not all up on stage. They are at the kitchen table. My main early comedy time was eating dessert after Friday night dinner with my aunts, mum and grandma. But i learned it listening to the ladies from the shul and how funny Betty Van Rijk was. And men found her plenty funny too when they wee around to hear what she was saying. They didn’t need a lesson.

3. Even today you wouldn’t see Betty Van Rijk’s humour in a comedy club or SNL because Ladd has this right, they’re not built for that kind of humour. Anxiety capitalism is what drives it. That’s my name for the stuff economist  Umair Haque spends his time skewering. To me it says : give me a result NOW. i don’t trust anything ($, laugh) will come later. Givev it to me NOW. Again, NOW. Give me conflict to generate the biggest energy (loudest laughs). 

4. I believe the unexpected and contrast (yes this means diversity of people and elements in your comedic material) drive engagement that’s more ongoing. I talked about it some in my talk at Web 2.0 about How to Tummel. is everyone with you and is the humour ongoing? Sound like a talk show? An Afternoon talk show? Sound like relationships over display? In the new economy building your business is about an ongoing relationship. Kathy Griffin tells stories, but quips and throws out one-liners with the best of them. And her business and comedy are enriched by her relationship with her very specific audience. 

3. Getting stage time early means getting booked by people who know you. Often people who like you, are friends, like your stuff or that you booked at shows you put on. There have been a lot fewer chicks than dudes doing this though it’s certainly changing.

4. Not caring about whether or not men will want to hold your hand and tell you they love you makes it a hell of a lot easier to say whatever you want. 

5. A lot of what you have seen depends a lot upon who has had the authority to hire people and greenlight movies and the assumptions they make and what they care about. 

6. When you tell stories or do things that are engaging and take time , or re different; you have to be ok without getting the laugh every 20 seconds. There’s the issue of the booker, is that the only way they evaluate you and you the much more primary thing. Can you tolerate not getting the laugh yet. Do you need that constant reassurance or can you tell there’s engagement and work to get there other ways? You then have to create a space in which you can learn to do that. That’s what I’ve done in every show I’ve built. When I created Tangent with my partner: the first alternative show in San Francisco we wouldn’t let comics do their material. I hadn’t done much stand up so I didn’t have any to not do. But I saw how uncomfortable the comics were-male and female – to let go of that rhythm even though we’d built a space with an audience (a very gender mixed audience) who *wanted* to be engaged and not just laugh every second. They w
anted intimacy, stories, thought-provoking stuff, feeling. And they were listening, You didn’t have to order them to listen to you by dominating the room, you could just be with them. 

Is that feminine? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s something only women can do. But it’s certainly not the mode of most comedy clubs. 

7. Alternative clubs which supposedly broke away from the strictures of the Ha Ha Huts don’t feel so alternative to me. There’s no new tension in snark. Snark is old old old now. And it’s so self-protected. My fave joke about comedy that I think really only works for comics is: What’s the difference between a mainstream comic and an alternative comic? A mainstream comic is angry that he didn’t get his dick sucked when he was 13 and an alternative comic is humiliated.

Oops. Did I just do a set-up / punchline joke? I must have been confused earlier. I guess I really am a man.

Random link: stuff from Esman, Griffin, Garafalo, Rivers etc on the comedy and the bullshit.

((tags:: TheLawProject, stand-up, performance, storytelling, comedy, men , women, genderqueer, humour))

Posted via email from subvert with heather gold