Saturday, February 11, 2012

Can Women be Funny?

Seth Rogen. Zach Gilifianakis. Jimmy Kimmel. What do these comtemporaries all have in common? Yes, they are funny, but would you characterize to be sexy? I have recently noticed that nowadays there are far more male comedians, including Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, George Lopez, and Conan O’Brien, than female ones in the media. Probably some of the most well known female comedian are Chelsea Handler and Ellen DeGeneres, who both star in their own shows. According to the article “Why Women Aren’t Funny” by Christopher Hitchens, one reason for this humor gap is that men use humor as a biological mechanism to impress women. Women, on the other hand, have no need to impress men; instead, they are the audience. Furthermore, Hitchens asserts that “ There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians.” In other words, Hitchens does believe that generally, women are not as funny as men.

 Although the number of male comedians far outnumbers the number of female comedians, there are increasingly more females starring as the main protagonist in both television series and in movies. However, they still have to conform to societal perception of femininity, including a skinny, hourglass shape body and being sexy. One example of this is Kelly Ripa, who stars in morning show, ‘Live! With Kelly’. As the host, the media portrayal of Ripa fits into society’s mold of beauty. The media’s portrayal of Ripa reflects the necessity for women to look their part. Additionally, even with Regis Philbin who recently retired and Kelly Ripa as the official host of the show, each show features an additional male co-host. This demonstrates that it is more appealing for female host to be paired with a male co-host.

Similarly, more and more movie roles are now reserved for females. Some examples is the movie ‘Bridesmaids’, which was released last year, and the franchise, ‘Sex and the City’, which was both a television series and released two movies. Both these movies consisted of female ensembles. Even though we see all females composing of the main characters, most of them also look the part. The media, in a sense, glamorizes them and their bodies, subtlely making them objects of desire.

This is contrary to numerous male comedians’ physiques. With the mainstream look for women as thin and hourglass-shaped, men do not always have to adhere to the standards of masculinity, being muscular and fit to be taken seriously in comedy. For instance, Seth Rogen is often lauded for his movie roles including “Pineapple Express”, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up”, and “50/50”. However, Rogen doesn’t represent societal’s views on how males should look like. He may not be obese but he is not exactly a man you would call sexy.

I would have never really noticed this trend, until I looked at it with a gendered studies point of view. In fact, we are just watching television and movies for entertainment. But, a closer look into the world of entertainment reveals that women who are supposed to be funny should also be sexy, in contrast to males.


  1. I do believe that there are different standards for men and women in society and in comedic roles. However, I think that there are many exceptions to your argument. In television, some women play comedic roles but are not portrayed as sexy, such as Mayim Bialik as a nerdy and socially unaware character on the Big Bang Theory. Even in Bridesmaids, the character played by Melissa McCarthy is not particularly feminine like some other characters. Another female character who has a comedic role though is not portrayed as an object of desire is Etta Candy from the first issue of Wonder Woman we read. Instead, jokes are made at the expense of her weight, showing that it is not necessary for characters to be skinny or glamorized to be funny.

  2. Also, consider the material used by male comedians. Much of it is vulgar, and if their bodies are not traditionally what society would call "beautiful," much of it is also at their own expense. This is considered funny by the masses. I can't speak for all of us, but as far as my interests go, I'm not trying to listen to women talk about (it's difficult to merely type this without cringing) pooping, peeing, farting, burping, screwing, cussing, etc. Especially if that woman is obese. Granted, guys joking on these subjects isn't ideal for my sense of humor as well, but men have much more societal leeway on this front. When watching girls, I want to believe they're beautiful, inside and out, and behind closed doors. Vulgarity is simply not welcome. This may be a sexist fault on my part, but it's simply how I've been conditioned by the environment that raised me. Men are funnier because they have a larger area to pull material from, because they're already expected to be vulgar, and because the societal pressures to have a hot bod are not as great as they are with women.


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