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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Comedy IQ

Germaine Greer observes on women & comedy:
The greater visibility of male comedians reflects a greater investment of intellectual energy by men of all walks of life in keeping each other amused. It is now a truism that men never talk to each other about things that matter. Most of what takes place when men are together is phatic communication, intended to build fellowship rather than intimacy. This kind of communication is sometimes derided by women as meaningless, but it is actually functional, because it draws the group together. Men who drink, play and joke together are boon companions, who hang together for fun. He laughs loudest who laughs last; one joke kicks off another. The man who cannot hold his own in repartee will even learn other men's jokes off by heart, so that he can fill a void in the general banter. Women famously cannot learn jokes. If they try, they invariably bugger up the punchline. The male teller of jokes is driving towards his reward, the laughter of his mates. The woman who messes up the same joke does so because her concentration is not sharpened by that need. She is not less intelligent, simply less concerned.
Though sense of humor is innate, boys, well before they become men, work on creating and polishing jokes - making up situations, delivering them with a certain flair, one-line quips and sometimes even slapstick. Not generating laughs could be taken as a failure of one's execution, which is why men assess the humor level of the audience in a party before they delve into their lines. When they find someone else on a roll they just don't barge into the joke-fest, but instead play a wait & watch game starting with a few 'accompanying lines' that acknowledge the other person's quality of humor. If a joke doesn't click on live performances, stand-up comedians make fun of those bad jokes and ridicule themselves as a form of saying sorry.

I've met some funny women and they all were naturals. They weren't keenly bent on making me laugh, but it was just the way they spoke that carried us into a funny situation. Germaine affirms my belief that women aren't as funny as men because they simply don't care much about the success of their jokes. Just like any art, humor is improved through practice. And men practice. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view: men with a good sense of humor are perceived to be socially adept by women, which in a twisted way translates into the man's ability to make a living and hence a stable relationship. This is one area where emotional investment from a man is generally greater than that of a woman.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is possible that men aren't exposed to the kind of humor that women relish...also what humor *is* is conditioned by the way of thinking one is oriented to...we need to see what sample population was analyzed before the conclusion mentioned by the author was reached...
hey, the "evolution-sexual-social stuff" and the "hunter-gatherer" have been the most cited explanations for anything from a predilection to a color or drop of a hat :-)

Cheers
Varaha

Prasad Venkataramana said...

Varaha,
All I'm saying is that the comedy quotient of a joke lies in its presentation and men work harder than women on it. The broader point is that most of the men take their ability to make others laugh pretty seriously than most of the women. I don't think the writer of that article had any research/survey to back up her inferences. It must be based on her personal experiences.

Suggesting that men haven't been exposed to women's humor (they crack jokes in closed women-only circles?) and questioning the essential ingredients of humor are of academic interest.