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Can men be funny?

It’s a question some people think shouldn’t even be asked. But today we put political correctness aside and have the courage to say openly: are men funny?

Let’s look at the facts.

- Very few men get to become famous comedians. Is that because it’s just too hard for them? Would they be better off going into a different field altogether, such as, I don’t know, football management or beer tasting?

- Abbot and Costello, Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson… Of course it’s unfair to give specific examples and use them as evidence, but still, look at them. Could a gender that produced these people really rise to the heights of comic genius?

Men can certainly laugh. But can they cause it in others?

- Are men disadvantaged when it comes to humour? Through the ages they’ve been seen as the serious sex: hunting, gathering, breadwinning, governing, all these are weighty pursuits. Meanwhile, women have been able to develop their comic muscles through the boredom that comes of being stuck at home with the washing up. They’ve gossiped with other women, perfecting their comic timing and character creation skills, while men exchanged the odd grunted monosyllable as they roamed the plains together looking for things to kill. Clearly there are sound evolutionary reasons for a difference between the sexes in term of joke-making. What would men even have had to joke about, apart from the odd funny-looking mammoth?

- And, of course, it has traditionally been the case that women do the majority of childcare: an excellent source of humour, partly because it allows for a lot of time to think while performing menial tasks, partly because babies and toddlers can be an endless source of amusement, and partly because the stress of bringing up children helps one to develop a robust sense of fun as a defence mechanism. By being on the whole less involved, men miss out on a lot of material for amusing anecdotes.

- It’s not a criticism, and I’m certainly not being sexist here, but perhaps men do rely a bit too much on male gender stereotypes for their humour. Is it necessary to go on so much about being bad at housework and how much women nag? It all starts coming across as a bit woman-hating, to tell the truth. Men should branch out, perhaps explore the areas that women have tended to cover such as physical comedy (like Miranda Hart) or observational humour (like Victoria Wood). Although it’s not really fair to compare, I suppose: because everyone knows women are actually funnier, there’s unfair pressure on men to compete. Often their stand-up gigs have an air of desperation about them.

- Of course, it’s true that other men might find men funny, but that’s a very niche market since a lot of men don’t really watch comedy in the same way that many men don’t read literary novels – they have a preference for, let’s say, less nuanced forms of entertainment such as rugby and fighting. Or whatever it is that men do for fun. I don’t really know. Anyway, like it or not, women control the comedy market, so that’s probably why women do so well as comedians.

Now, I’m bound to get wild accusations of being a man-hater from all this, so let me be perfectly clear: there are plenty of funny men. Like Stephen Fry and Julian Clary. But some heterosexual ones too: Lee Mack, for example, is often very amusing in his own way, and that cute smile of his doesn’t hurt either.

So don’t twist my words to say that I’m dismissing all men as unfunny out of hand. There will always be honourable exceptions. And given time – and perhaps, if I’m allowed to say it, a bit more effort – men may well be able to rise to the heights of Lucille Ball, Sandi Toksvig, Tina Fey and the other mistresses of the craft. We must be patient with our male wannabe comics. They’ll get there.


Women watch comedy more than men. Probably. I haven't actually checked the research.


(If you want to know why this post was made, please google for “can women be funny”)