No laughing matter

“In 1995, each cast at The Second City (world famous comedy club) was made up of four men and two women. When it was suggested that they switch one of the companies to three men and three women, the producers and directors had the same panicked reaction. ‘You can’t do that. There won’t be enough parts to go around. There won’t be enough for the girls.’ This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury. We weren’t doing ‘Death of a Salesman.’ We were making up the show ourselves. How could there not be enough parts? If everyone had something to contribute, there would be enough. The insulting implication, of course, was that the women wouldn’t have any ideas.”

Tina Fey, one of the funniest comedians I can think of, wrote that in her 2011 New York Times best-selling book “Bossypants.” The book is a humorous account of Fey’s life – how she came to be part of the cast of Saturday Night Live, create the hit NBC comedy series “30 Rock,” and propel herself to the top of the American comedian list.

Fey makes me laugh hard. Even when she’s not trying to be funny, she’s funny. Her caricature of Republican politician, Sarah Palin, kills me. The screenplay she wrote for the movie “Mean Girls” is witty and spot-on. Her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon, cracks me up.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of you reading this are like, “What? Tina Fey? Funny?” And that’s totally normal. That’s the thing about comedy. What tickles my funny bone might just seem strange or juvenile to you (scratch that, I guarantee it does).

But I’m confident about one thing when it comes to comedy: if we all compiled a top 10 favourite comedians lists, I bet there’d be less females than males on each one.

Why is that? It’s something one of my fellow Patricia Players and I discussed recently. Neither of us could put our finger on it, so while I’m in full rehearsal mode (our Break-Up show is April 25 and 26. It’s gonna be hilarious. This isn’t a show plug, I swear), and I have comedy on the brain, I started really thinking about it.

Are women actually less funny than men? Gasp!

The short answer is no.

There are just less women actually in comedy. The reasons behind that are complex and probably different for everyone, but likely linked to the fact that comedy is one of those fields that doesn’t quite jive with women’s traditional roles. Comedians don’t have great job security, they’re often on the road working evenings and weekends, and it’s not very conducive to rearing children.

But it’s something engrained in us well before we reach adulthood. Traditionally, young girls are socialized to be ladylike, act polite and quiet, and avoid the spotlight. According to a 1976 study by psychologist Paul McGhee, boys and girls make the same number of jokes until age six. That’s when girls start making fewer jokes than boys. So even if the jokes are there, girls suppress them as they get older.

Think back to the class clown in your elementary and high school days. The kid who made an obnoxious fart noise when the teacher sat at his desk was a boy, wasn’t it? Most of the girls giggled, but likely didn’t initiate the humour. Women who decide to walk down the comedian path later on in life have a lot of catching up to do. Their male counterparts have years’ worth of experience on them.

Finally, funny women are deemed to be un-sexy. I know, I can’t believe it either!

A number of studies – including one by Dr. Rod Martin, author of “The Psychology of Humour” – show that the average heterosexual male prefers a woman who is receptive to humour (laughs at his jokes) and most heterosexual women appreciate men who produce humour (tell jokes).

Don’t worry, I don’t think of you all as a bunch of statistics. I know some of you guys out there love a woman who can make you laugh. But it’s interesting, nevertheless.

So, hold onto your popcorn ladies and gents. Women are just as funny, we just don’t get as many chances, and have to work much harder, to prove it.

Lindsay Briscoe

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