It can be hard being a lady in comedy, and that's not a recent phenomenon. Ovaries have long been known to sap our joke-making powers. In 1695, a famous playwright came up with what might well be the first "women aren't funny" line, only he said it in an old-timey way:
"I must confess, I have never made any observation of what I apprehend to be true humor in women ... If ever anything does appear comical or ridiculous in a woman, I think it is little more than an acquired folly or an affectation."
"And couldst thou maketh me a sandwich?"
Over 300 years later, this sentiment is still all too common, just like other horrible things from the 17th century, like herpes and bangs on men. But I don't have any real dislike for the people who say it, because they probably don't think women are funny. In fact, even those of you who would never utter something so dickish out loud probably think it as well. And that's because, while women are just as funny as men, there are some scientific reasons behind why you think they aren't.
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Laughter is so important to humans that we learn how to do it shortly after we figure out how to crap ourselves. Within weeks of birth, babies are laughing, even though they don't yet have the cognitive development to understand why something is funny. By the time they're 4, children are laughing about 15 times an hour.
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Usually at fart jokes. Thank goodness we've moved on.
So kids will laugh at pretty much anything, but what about producing humor themselves? In a landmark study, one researcher found that women make the same number of jokes as men -- when they're children. But around age 6, something changes; the number of jokes girls make decreases, and it never evens out again. That's because, around the time girls start school, society gives them a joking lobotomy, so to speak. Think back to elementary school. You probably had a class clown, and it was almost certainly a boy. Boys are allowed to be loud and funny and play practical jokes and be annoying little shits, and girls are encouraged to act like little ladies. And ladies sit quietly and decidedly do not draw attention to themselves through loud jokes or pranks.
She just put the cat in there.
Which sucks, because it's just about that age that kids start to practice and understand wordplay and more advanced humor. So adult male comedians have literally been training for comedy their entire lives, while female comedians have been fighting an uphill battle since they were children just to express themselves through humor. It would be like if we as a society told girls that math was a "boy subject." Sure, some girls would grow up to be brilliant engineers, but in general the field would be dominated by-
You know what, that is a bad example.
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When a woman laughs at a joke, the reward center of her brain lights up like crazy. The reward center is the part of your brain that makes you feel good when you eat chocolate or have sex or key your ex's car. So making a woman laugh results in a hugely pleasurable experience for her, which can lead to an even more pleasurable experience for you both (and nine months later to her least pleasurable experience ever. Use a condom).
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"Wait, you're still laughing about my joke, right?"
This means that for tens of thousands of years being funny was an evolutionary benefit, and possibly a necessity, for men. Women were more likely to be interested in funny guys, so being funny meant your "pull my finger" joke could keep muddying up the gene pool for generations to come.
On the other hand, women don't use jokes to show guys they're interested; they use laughter. In other words, a woman will laugh at something she didn't find funny if she liked the guy who said it, but a guy won't necessarily reciprocate the giggles, even if he's totally into the girl with the killer knock-knock jokes.
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"'Inoperable.' Ha! That's a good one, Dr. McCutiepants."
This could be because men don't experience the same neurological reward response when they laugh at a woman's joke. Sure, they enjoy it on some level, but there isn't a biological impulse to make babies with the funny lady. In fact, it might even be the opposite, since studies show that guys don't want a funny partner. A poll of hundreds of men found that, while men want someone who has a sense of humor (so she will laugh at his jokes), most men aren't interested in bedding the next Tina Fey. Why? According to the expert: "When forced to choose between humor production and humor appreciation in potential partners, women valued humor production, whereas men valued receptivity to their own humor." Yikes, guys! The more we learn about men and their evolutionarily driven sense of humor, the more you start to sound like dicks.
So the next time you hear a man complain that women aren't funny, remind him that it's because men are pretty self-centered and egotistical in the humor department. Or don't, and cross him off your friend list for making the comment in the first place.