A recent study conducted by researchers from Aberystwyth University and the University of North Carolina came to a controversial conclusion that confirmed an age-old stereotype: Men are funnier than women.
After analyzing the humor of around 5,000 people, the study's results showed that 63 percent of men were deemed funnier than the average woman.
Those results were published last month, sending comedians of all genders into an uproar and causing them to question the validity of the claim. A group of Charleston comedians are contributing to the rebuttal with an all-woman show called "Excess Boxes: A Comedy Show from the Gals" that will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Tin Roof in West Ashley.
The group includes Maari Suorsa, half of wife-and-husband sketch comedy duo Nameless Numberhead; Camille Lowman of women improv comedy troupe Mary Kay Has a Posse; Lily Stanton and Meredith Kidd of gal pal comedy duo Ratio Girls; Linsday Collins of Effin B Radio; Alexandra Bennett and Kate Ritchie.
Not an exact science
For the study, participating subjects were asked to write funny captions for a particular picture, which were then rated by judges who did not know the author’s gender.
But the numbers failed to reflect something important, according to lead researcher Dr. Gil Greengross. Women have long been at a social disadvantage when it comes to being funny. That's because, traditionally, men are encouraged to make jokes and induce laughs. Women? Not so much.
That's partly because humor plays a "major role in mating," Greengross says.
Evidence suggests that a sense of humor is strongly correlated with intelligence, and that women seek it in a partner, Greengross says.
"Men, on the other hand, prefer women who laugh at their humor," he says.
Maybe that's why many men are intimidated by funny women, because men's primal instincts tell them that they need to be the funny one.
"If you think about a class clown, like, think about who that person is chiming in, doing armpit farts," Suorsa says. "It's usually a guy, because they're allowed to, I guess. But then, you go into the bathroom and it's like, who's got the best insults that cut you to your core? Girls, who are sitting there observing everything."
The gender gap in comedy
The Jerry Seinfelds and Dave Chappelles of the world still outnumber the Ellen DeGenereses and Tina Feys. Though more and more women are entering the profession, and more and more of the world's most famous funny people are women, it took them a lot longer than men to be socially accepted as comedians.
The disproportionately male comedy landscape still reflects that.
In January of 2018, stand-up comedian and producer Meredith Kachel tabulated the demographics of 19 different Chicago comedy shows and determined that almost all of the shows were majority male, regardless of the producer's gender. The exception was her own all-women comedy show.
"It's important to surround yourself with people who aren’t like you," Kachel says. "Everyone benefits from that. Even white men. They'll stand out more."
Suorsa, who will be performing in the upcoming local all-woman comedy show, lived in Chicago and was a part of the comedy scene there. She confirms that white males performing stand-up on any given night far outnumbered women or people of color.
"That's like the Chicago joke, like, it's a bunch of white dudes with beards and flannels doing stand-up," Suorsa says.
Camille Lowman of Mary Kay Has a Posse toured the Midwest and East Coast with Charleston-based comedy troupe The Have Nots! when she first started improvising.
"I was always the only woman," Lowman says. "If anything, being the only chick on the road with a bunch of dude comics was empowering. I was empowered to find my own voice in comedy and to come out swinging."
Female college students often would approach her after a show, she says. They didn't ask her how to change the current imbalance of performers or how to avoid being typecast as a helpless damsel or over-sexualized woman, two stereotypes that still hold. Lowman says they just wanted to get up on stage — and that was particularly encouraging.
Suorsa offers that the underdog is "always going to be funnier."
"When comedy comes from discomfort or things that would be 'embarrassing,' it's funnier," she says. "And what's more mortifying than, like, being a woman in any situation?"
Why women are funnier
Lily Stanton of Ratio Girls suggests that stereotypes of women in comedy reflect broader prejudices:
"That we do less and we do it worse, and that our brain cells are all jacked up on period hormones," she says. "I believe that the more chances women have to show up, the less room there is for that bulls---."
Lowman says that more opportunities in the arts generally will result in more chances for women to shine. She says that, given the amount of visitors and press attention Charleston receives, there should be a higher level of investment in the talented people who live here.
"We should have a thriving art scene," she says. "If an all-chick sketch show raises awareness of what alternative scenes exist in the city, and the solid work that is being done, then it's super important."
Stanton also thinks that showcasing the alternative scene is important, especially in the South.
"The South has such a specific expectation for what women should be," she says. "I don’t fit most of that expectation: I’m not married. I’m not a sweet, sweet mommy. I think Lilly Pulitzer is ridiculous. I’m not even a gracious hostess."
She doesn't think any of those things are bad (except Lilly Pulitzer; "I mean can we NOT with that?"), but that it's unfair to women when that's the only acceptable option. She says this comedy show is just one way to show that being a woman in the South can look a lot of different ways.
"I just think women are funnier," Suorsa says. "I think you're going to get something smarter and more consistent more often."