My friend Christi Chiello, one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, recently posted a screenshot of a comment she’d received on an Instagram post: “I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where people are blind and clearly not intelligent enough to understand that women are scientifically less funny than men.” I don’t know if he (of course it was a he) meant for that comment to be funny, but it did make me laugh. You can count on a man on the Internet to weaponize the word “scientifically” and use it in a very unscientific way.
As a woman comic, it’s something I hear over and over again: women aren’t funny or at least not as funny as men, their jokes aren’t relatable, women who are truly funny (i.e. funny to men) are rare, and the horrifyingly common remark that “Usually chicks aren’t funny but you’re hilarious.” Men who want to talk stand-up comedy with me usually A: do not do stand-up, and B: consider themselves experts in the field due to their having watched the entire comedic oeuvre of Bill Burr. There is something about a man who claims to love comedy but can’t name a single female comic that activates my inner troll. “Bill Burr?” I say. “Hmmm. Never heard of him. Is he good?” But as fun as it is to pretend never to have heard of a man’s favorite comics, it is infinitely more amusing to say, very sweetly, “I just don’t think men are funny.”
The histrionics! The angry, confused, sputtering apoplexy that ensues! “How can you say that?” demands a man who literally told me two minutes earlier that women aren’t funny, that women comics are all too vulgar, that he doesn’t want to hear about periods and vaginas and other niche topics that half the world’s population relates to on a personal level.
“I dunno,” I shrug. “Women are just funnier, I think.”
If he’s smart, he’ll know I’m trolling him. If he’s not, he’s gotten a taste of his own medicine and found it bitter indeed. I don’t entertain grand ideas that I can single handedly convince a sexist man to appreciate a woman’s comedic offering, but maybe, just maybe he’ll think twice before trying to mansplain comedy to a lady comic. Regardless, the memory of his foaming indignation will warm the cockles of my humorless lady heart for years to come.
I think a lot about the Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” When you’re a woman afflicted with the desire to do stand-up comedy, you learn to navigate this intense fear that men have of being the butt of a woman’s joke. I once sent a photo of me performing to a man I was dating. “Very cute,” he said. “You better not have been talking about me up there!”
I absolutely had been talking about him up there. When you’re a 35-year-old childless comic dating a grandfather, you can’t be expected to ignore the goldmine that Bumble has bestowed upon you (a young grandfather, but still!). In the exact moment the photo was taken, I was telling my audience that he was a decorated war hero. “Which war? I dunno… the second one?”
“I only have nice things to say about you,” I told him, which was true, and also not what he was looking for, which was reassurance that I’d never, ever joke about him. He ghosted me not long after that, at least I assume he ghosted me. Perhaps he had another heart attack and nobody told me because I wasn’t their “real grandma.”
There’s a power dynamic that comes into play with humor, the ability to command attention, to challenge the status quo. In a culture that still favors men when it comes to power, I suppose it’s only natural that so many folks are made profoundly uncomfortable by a woman who can make a room full of people laugh, or even just a woman who has the audacity to try. Cracking a joke when you’ve been socialized to be polite and demure and quiet is a radically subversive act. Don’t argue with me in the comments, ok? Scientifically, I’m right.
Andrea Staats is teaching the upcoming 49 Writers class, Experiments in Comedic Writing. She is a Florida theatre artist, educator, and comic, originally from Anchorage, AK. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was awarded the Lipkin Prize for excellence in playwriting. She was selected for the September 2022 cohort of the St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency, where she plans to work on a new solo show, Rowdy Trish’s Alternative Mormon Experience. Career highlights include bursting into tears while performing stand-up at a skate park in Foley, AL, and becoming TikTok famous for finding a lizard in her pants.