Features Published 11 March 2014

Funny Men

The first in an occasional series on comedy by writer and performer Chris Bennion, sometime podcaster and fan of Todd Carty.
Chris Bennion

The evidence is overwhelming.

Women are funnier than men.

Seriously, look at it. The current Foster’s Comedy Award champ is Bridget Christie, a woman (her husband does stand-up too but, by his own admission, isn’t funny). The Oscars, traditionally helmed by a wise-cracking chuckle merchant, was this year hosted by Ellen Degeneres, also a woman. The hottest comedy ticket in town at the moment is Miranda Hart’s first tour. Think about your dad, he’s not funny is he?

It’s no great secret, men just aren’t as funny as women. And many believe the reason is genetic – men have simply never needed to be funny to attract a mate. One major factor is that men have never really found the time to be funny. Prehistoric man was too busy hunting mammoths and slaying sabre tooth tigers to perfect his Tight Five, while prehistoric woman had loads of time sitting around the campfire, roasting berries or something, polishing her shaggy dog stories and pithy one liners.

Later in history, men were rulers. Kings, emperors, warlords – these chaps had no time to ponder why chickens crossed roads or the relative pungency of nasally incapacitated canines. Women, on the other hand, were either queens, serving wenches or layabouts – all possessing ample time to road-test their material, unburdened as they were with matters of state.

Henry the VIII famously divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she had begun to ‘rely on old material’. While Anne Boleyn constantly had him in stitches with her famous impression of a leper. Once that grew thin, Henry’s eye was naturally caught by Jane Seymour, a young English character comedienne famous for her deadpan delivery and knob gags. And today is no different. In the cut and thrust world of high finance some women feel the necessity to ‘joke their way to the top’.

Even in the 21st many ladies in office across Britain (secretaries and the type) complain they can’t be left alone in a room with a male colleague without him suggesting she ‘tells him that one about the Malaysian Women’s Rugby League Team’. However, in recent years studies have suggested that the reason for women being funnier than men is actually less to do with genetics and more to do with societal pressures. For instance, a group of men put together in a pub will naturally talk about sport, Castrol GTX and sport. A group of women (in the same pub), if they believe they are not being observed, will participate in fiercely competitive ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ ad-lib games, with the least funny having to get the next round in.

But! I hear you say. But what about all those funny men out there? What about John Bishop? What about Andy Parsons? What about Iain Lee? What about Iain Lee, for Christ’s sake!? And I hear you. But these men, even Iain Lee, are exceptions that prove the rule, and many of them only made it into comedy once stand-up clubs were forced into having at least one man on the bill each night.

The issue has raised its head again of late, with TV channels including the BBC announcing the end of ‘all-female panel shows’. These shows, such as Loose Women and the weather, have traditionally been the stronghold of funny women but TV execs are now under pressure to include at least one man per episode. This move has proved controversial, with some leading female comedians calling it ‘political correctness gone man’ and concerns have been raised whether a male comedian would be able to impose themselves on the cut and thrust of almost entirely scripted TV shows.

The general opinion seems to be that ‘male comedians can be funny’ with the problem being that ‘they only seem to make jokes about man stuff like sport or Castrol GTX’, thus alienating female audience members. For many men it can be difficult getting through the tough early years on the open mic circuit, with many fledgling male comedians subject to sexist abuse and derision. Cries of ‘get your prostate out’ or ‘shouldn’t you be in the garage, mate, fixing a car or something?’ are regularly heard at comedy clubs up and down the nation and, for many, this intimidating atmosphere can prove too much.

In fact, some claim that the live comedy circuit is ‘institutionally sexist’. Evidence of this can be found in the annual Funny Women Award – a comedy competition that men are banned from taking part in. There is no male equivalent. However, through strained efforts the balance is beginning to be redressed.

For instance, a quick glance at Timeout’s ‘Top 10 Comedy Shows for March’ sees just one female act listed. I understand that a great number of men reading this will no doubt be offended but the facts are stark – I’ve been to weddings, I’ve heard Best Man speeches. I’ve been to pubs. I’ve been to urinals. Men, face it, you’re just not that funny.

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Chris Bennion

Chris is from Wales but you wouldn’t believe it. He is a writer of sorts but not really. He writes bits and bobs about television for the Mirror Online and likes to think of himself as a playwright, despite little or no evidence to back this up. He has also written and performed stand-up comedy, once winning the 1995-96 Women’s South London Darts League trophy for his efforts.

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