Mar 07

Women’s Humor Versus Men’s: Some Key Differences

The new book Ha! by Scott Weems includes thoughts on women’s “struggle in the world of comedy” as well as the controversy some stir up periodically regarding whether women’s humor is as funny as men’s.

My own take on the latter: When will some in society just accept that some people will find men more funny, some will find women more funny, and some might find both funny but will appreciate certain individuals more than others based on their unique brand of comedy—and not necessarily related to anything about their gender? And when will society discover that all humor—or comedy orientations, as it were—are equally valid even if some are more mainstream and popular than others?

Nichole Force, who combines a graduate degree in counseling with improvisational comedy experience, is the author of Humor’s Hidden Power: Weapon, Shield and Psychological Salve (2011). Excerpted on Psych Central is her take on the topic of the differences between men’s and women’s humor.

Men and women are both funny, but in different ways that the opposite gender sometimes finds unfunny. While women tend to share humorous stories and take a narrative approach, men more commonly use one-liners and engage in slapstick. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization. Comics such as Sarah Silverman and Woody Allen cross over the gender lines a great deal, as do many men and women in society at large. Research has consistently indicated, however, that these trends exist. While women tend to use puns, self-deprecating humor and wordplay, men are more inclined to use physical and active humor.

Another who has a strong interest in studying women’s humor is Gina Barreca, whose They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor should be considered a classic and has been recently updated to reflect some cultural changes.

From an interview in Forbes:

…(O)ne of the biggest differences between women’s humor 20 years ago and women’s humor now is the growing awareness that smart, capable women have always used humor effectively on stage, in books and everyday life. It’s seeing women’s humor as humor that’s changed: all those ironic, underplayed and lip-bitingly funny remarks that passed as serious can now be seen as what they really are: a commentary on the absurdity of life.

She goes on to list “the Seven Distinguishing Elements of Women’s Humor“:

  1. It doesn’t attack the powerless; it makes fun of the powerful.
  2. It doesn’t create barriers; it can often help break them down.
  3. It is cyclical, often depending on a whole story rather than just on the punch line.
  4. It often proceeds out of anger, but transforms anger into a challenge to the opponent.
  5. It can translate fear into power, or insecurity into acceptability.
  6. Women’s humor has a purpose beyond sheer entertainment. As stand-up comic Elayne Boosler explained “The best who stand up, stand up for something.”
  7. There are many jokes about shoes.