Women's History Month Blog Series: Women aren’t Funny
By: Sydney Kovach
Here’s a brief history of the fool-proof scientific evidence:
1695: In Concerning Humor in Comedy Playwright William Congreve noted, “I must confess I have never made an Observation of what I Apprehend to be true Humour in Women…Perhaps Passions are too powerful in that Sex to let Humour have its course; or maybe by reason of their Natural Coldness, Humour cannot Exert itself to that extravagant Degree, which is does in the Male Sex.” Congreve was one of the first to carve out a career by generalizing women – something Fox News followed in the centuries to come.
1884: Richard Grant White, a notable 19th century cultural critic, wrote that a sense of humor is “the rarest of qualities in a woman.” White’s remarks sparked controversy that prompted two separate counter-essays in 1884 by critic Alice Wellington Rollins and The Wit of Women, the first-ever publication of a collection of women’s humorous works (if we can even call them humorous, because women aren’t funny.)
1975: Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts wrote in Yael Kohen’s We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy that John Belushi regularly asked for the women on SNL to be fired, “Fire the girls!” In an interview with Oprah in 2011, Jane Curtin also claimed that Belushi would attempt to sabotage skits written by female writers during rehearsals, so they would never make it to air.
1998: During the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, comedian Jerry Lewis said “I don’t like any female comedians…a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.”
2007: In the infamous essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” Christopher Hitchens answered the question, “Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?” with a brilliant, open-minded “Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be.” (In order to seduce women, of course).
2011: The highly cited peer-reviewed journals Askmen.com and PsychologyToday.com both conducted “research” that “proved” that due to biological factors related to evolution, men are funnier than women. According to their “scientific” studies, women are “choosier” mates than their male counterparts, which forces potential male partners to boast their “desirable” traits (which include intelligence and a sense of humor). I mean, who doesn’t want an arrogant and condescending partner?
2012: Demonstrating his infinite wisdom, Adam Carolla told the New York Post, “The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.” Not long after, Joseph Gordon-Levitt said in a publicity appearance that “most pretty girls aren’t funny,” which he later took back after backlash on social media. Gosh, how come women are so sensitive?
Women failing in their comedic endeavors is just another example of why men are naturally superior to women. In everything. Always. And when men acknowledge this universal truth, women-aren’t-funny comments have faced backlash because women are emotional – not funny.
Below are some examples of female comedians that definitely never get any laughs:
Whitney Cummings is an American stand-up comedian, actress, writer, director, producer and podcaster. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Whitney intended to become a journalist while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Her career took a different path, however. After beginning stand up in 2004, Whitney became a regular guest on Chelsea Lately. She later created, produced, and starred in NBC's Whitney, a sitcom in which she played a partially-fictionalized version of herself. During that time, Whitney also created 2 Broke Girls, a CBS sitcom that ran for six years.
Whitney released Money Shot, her first hour-long special in 2010 on Comedy Central, which she followed up with a second special entitled I Love You. She released her third special, I’m Your Girlfriend, in 2016 on HBO. Her fourth special, Can I Touch It?, premiered in 2019 on Netflix.
Wanda Sykes is an American actress, stand-up comedian, and writer. She was first recognized with a Primetime Emmy Award in 1999 for her work as a writer on The Chris Rock Show. Five years later, Entertainment Weekly named Wanda one of the 25 funniest people in America.
Wanda is also well-known for her roles on CBS' The New Adventures of Old Christine, HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and ABC's Black-ish. She also stars in the Netflix original series The Upshaws, has appeared on the HBO Max comedy series The Other Two, and has been featured on Paramount's acclaimed The Good Fight.
In addition to television, Wanda has a career in film, appearing in Monster-in-Law, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evan Almighty, and License to Wed. She has also voiced characters in animated films, including Over the Hedge, Barnyard, Brother Bear 2, Rio, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and UglyDolls.
Ali Wong is an American comedian, actress, and writer, most famous for her Netflix stand up specials, Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. Ali is also known for her leading role in Always Be My Maybe, a 2019 film which she produced and co-wrote. She was a cast member of the ABC television show American Housewife and appeared on Are You There, Chelsea?, Inside Amy Schumer, and Black Box. Additionally, Ali was a writer during the first three seasons of the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Ali is also a voice actor, voicing Roberta “Bertie” Songthrush on the animated series Tuca & Bertie and new student "Ali" on Big Mouth. She was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
Tina Fey is an American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and playwright. She is most known for her work on Saturday Night Live and for creating 30 Rock, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In addition to television, Tina is also known for her work in film, including Mean Girls, Baby Mama, Date Night, Megamind, Muppets Most Wanted, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Wine Country, and Soul.
Tina broke into the comedic sphere as a featured player in The Second City, a Chicago-based improvisational comedy group. She later joined SNL as a writer, eventually becoming the head writer, performer, and co-anchor in the Weekend Update segment. She also made guest appearances as a satirical portrayal of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In 2004, she co-starred in and wrote Mean Girls. After departing SNL in 2006, Fey created the sitcom 30 Rock; released her memoir, Bossypants, which topped The New York Times Best Seller list for five weeks and earned her an Emmy nomination; co-created the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and created the musical adaptation of Mean Girls.
Throughout her robust career, Tina has received numerous awards, including: nine Primetime Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and seven Writers Guild of America Awards. Tina also received the AP Entertainer of the Year award for her Sarah Palin impression on SNL and became the youngest recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Amy Poehler is an American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and director. After improving at Chicago's Second City and ImprovOlympic, Amy co-founded Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational-comedy group that eventually became a half-hour sketch-comedy series on Comedy Central. Amy then joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, where she became co-anchor of the Weekend Update. In 2008, she left SNL to star as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. Amy has also performed as a voice actor in Shrek the Third, Horton Hears a Who!, Free Birds, Inside Out, and The Mighty B!. In addition to her acting career, Amy is also an executive producer on the television shows Welcome to Sweden, Broad City, Difficult People, Duncanville, Three Busy Debras, and Russian Doll.
Amy has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to Television, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Musical or Comedy Series, and a Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Amy and Tina Fey both won the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for co-hosting Saturday Night Live.
Leslie Jones is an American Comedian and actress. She was a cast member and writer on Saturday Night Live and currently hosts Supermarket Sweep. Leslie has been a featured performer at numerous festivals, including Laughs Festival in Montreal and the Aspen Comedy Festival. She also starred in the 2016 rendition of Ghostbusters. In 2017 and 2018, Leslie received nominations for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on Saturday Night Live. She has a whooping 1.6 million followers on her Instagram account (@lesdogggg) and had hilarious live commentary during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2017.
Sarah Silverman is an American comedian, actress, and writer who specializes in comedy that addresses social taboos and controversial topics, including racism, sexism, homophobia, politics, and religion. Sarah has appeared on numerous television shows, including Mr. Show and V.I.P. and starred in films, including Who's the Caboose?, School of Rock, Wreck-It Ralph, A Million Ways to Die in the West and Ralph Breaks the Internet. She also hosted the Hulu talk-show I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman from 2017 through 2018.
Sarah became deeply involved in the 2016 presidential election. She originally supported Bernie Sanders, but later campaigned for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
In 2015, she starred in I Smile Back, for which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. Sarah was a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live and starred and produced the The Sarah Silverman Program for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She has received two Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on television.
Tiffany Haddish is an American stand-up comedian, actress and author. She gained prominence for her leading role on the comedy film Girls Trip, in which she earned nominations for two Critics’ Choice Awards and was included on The New Yorker’s list of best film performances of the 21st century. Tiffany starred in the TBS series The Last O.G. and was an executive producer and voice actor for Tuca on Tuca & Bertie.
She released the album Black Mitzvah in 2019, which won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. Tiffany also received a Primetime Emmy Award for hosting a Saturday Night Live episode. Time magazine named Tiffany one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018 and the Hollywood Reporter listed her among the 100 most powerful people in entertainment in 2018 and 2019.
Nicole Byer is an American comedian, actress, television host, podcaster, and author. She is mostly known for hosting the Netflix comedic reality bake-off series Nailed It!, for which she was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.
In 2013, Nicole was recognized for her work in Girl Code, a commentary series. She also starred in Loosely Exactly Nicole, a MTV/Facebook Watch comedy series. Nicole has made numerous guest appearances on 30 Rock, Family Guy, and The Simpsons and has appeared in films such as Other People, All About Nina, Bad Hair, and Valley Girl. She currently co-hosts Wipeout with John Cena and hosts the podcasts Why Won't You Date Me?, Best Friends, and the Headgum podcast Newcomers.
And I know this article is probably not funny, because I, a woman, wrote it. I suppose we should leave it to the men to make us laugh, because Tina Fey or Leslie Jones could never.
In all seriousness, the idea that women aren’t funny represents a microcosm of a broader societal perception of female inferiority. The seemingly harmless assertion reaffirms gendered stereotypes that prevent women from breaking into traditionally male-dominated spaces.
In order to break down this line of thinking, we should encourage young women to join improv groups, study STEM, play sports, engage in politics, and much more. Barriers need to be acknowledged so we can break down the systemic problems that hinder girls and women from pursuing and excelling in “male dominated fields.” Women are funny and women can be whatever they want to be, so long as we create space for them in these Y-chromosome crowded careers. How are you supporting efforts that empower the next generation of women to break gender stereotypes? We hope it’s by laughing, one silly, little lady joke at a time.