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Why do unfunny men never stop going on about unfunny women?
This time, it was the former TV chat show host Michael Parkinson. Disagreeing about men finding it difficult to express their emotions, he said that most men he knew were sensitive and funny: "It’s a very contentious statement, but they’re much better than women in their sense of humour."
He went on to grumble about his comments getting him into trouble. You can’t say anything these days, can you? Especially when it’s demonstrable codswallop.
Let’s deal with this in the fragrant ladylike way that women are really good at. Parkinson is entitled to conclude that one sex is "much better" at humour. It’s his business — and no reflection at all on his archaic attitudes — if he managed to sit in front of innumerable female guests and find none of them particularly amusing. Nor is it Parky’s fault if he’s unable to recall the countless delusional male bores gassing away on his show, because, let’s face it, not all of them were Muhammad Ali.
However, this isn’t really about Parkinson. "Women aren’t funny" is a cultural stink bomb that goes off every few years. The routine goes like this. Step one: a bloke denounces female comedians and/or all womankind as unfunny. Sometimes, they put superior male humour down to mating rituals, because, hey, that’s just science!
Step two: people like myself exhaust and demean ourselves arguing back, painstakingly listing funny, gifted women. Cue earnest musing on the comparative differences of male/female humour and how people have been conditioned to accept "masculine" comedy as the gold standard, thereby ensuring that women need to be much funnier to succeed.
Vicious harridans like myself may shrilly observe that women sometimes protect fragile male egos by laughing along with their unfunny drivel, which men rarely reciprocate. And so on. Forever.
This time, I’m not biting. I refuse on the grounds that it’s unfair for women to be goaded into these periodic displays of defensiveness. When did a man ever feel obliged to produce a list of "amusing male comedians" to counter an absurd generalised accusation that "men"(all of them) aren’t funny?
Let’s turn the focus away from the non-issue of "unfunny women", and on to those saying it. It tends to be a certain type, doesn’t it? As in, not the bright, witty guys, who are comfortable around women. And not the erudite male comedians, who’d be unlikely to feel threatened by women killing it in their field.
In fact, irritating as the unfunny women line is, it is useful in one regard. Any man who comes out with it is instantly exposed as a tragic, chauvinist, insecure blowhard. We need to stop complaining and start thanking them for the heads-up. — Guardian News and Media
- Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist.