Until recently I was teaching English to the director of a multinational in Barcelona, and just before I left for England I went to visit him to congratulate him on the birth of his daughter.
When the two of us were alone he mournfully conceded that the best his daughter could hope for was to be born a man in a future life. I was quite horrified, so I took him to task over what he said, to which he replied that every single man holds within him a sexist opinion.
I thought about it long and hard, and then it hit me whilst watching a Shazia Mirza comedy set: female comedians just don’t make me laugh. I genuinely don’t believe I’ve ever really laughed – I mean laughed out loud, laughed so much that it hurt, laughed so much that a bit of wee came out, laughed so much I’ve turned to the person next to me in order to guarantee what has just come to pass – for a female comedian, and I feel as though I’m not alone.
It’s not to say that women are any less funny than men, or any less intelligent for that matter. Watching the set I could really appreciate the complexity and depth of her material, and the originality of her ideas, but I just couldn’t laugh.
It’s not just obscure female Muslim comedians I’m talking about either. Take Joan Rivers for example. As a lover of comedy I can appreciate that she’s a peerless pioneer, not only because she is a woman who carved out a career for herself in such a male dominated industry, but also for her often cited brand of self deprecation. She just doesn’t make me laugh.
Sarah Silverman: dynamic, bold, fantastic audience interaction – still nothing.
Rather than label myself a sexist I’ve come up with a paper-thin theory, which might just be tenuous enough to explain my condition. Indulge me if you will.
For primitive humans the origin of the smile wasn’t so much connected with humor, but more so with submissiveness. It was a way of showing weakness, and moreover a demonstrative gesture to a dominant male that you weren’t a threat. Evidence of this can perhaps be seen by the way that monkeys smile when they are agitated.
Now, with comedy essentially you have a dominant male on a stage with a microphone whose status has been elevated to that of a talisman. When this male is telling you his jokes, he is essentially challenging you to a) understand his jokes, and b) show your appreciation for fear of a reprisal. It’s basically the reason why we always awkwardly laugh at our dad’s crap jokes.
I feel that with female comedians we can appreciate her material, yet we don’t feel the same visceral pressure to laugh. That’s not to say she isn’t funny.