Why hasn’t Christopher Hitchens been fired yet?

// 3 January 2007

Sarah Silverman proving that only ugly women are funny

Women are not funny, Christopher Hitchens insists. This is a point of view that gets bandied about surprisingly often.

I have a theory about why some men and women think the female gender is somehow lacking in the chuckles department. It’s because they don’t watch female comics. If Sarah Silverman comes on TV, they turn over. Because they think female comics aren’t funny.

And the same people must have some kind of mental block. When considering whether or not women are funny, they block out all the times their female friends, partners and family members make them laugh.

What I mean is that they have internalised the myth that women aren’t funny to the point where they simply ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Generally I wouldn’t want to give a column like Hitchens’ a wider audience. I wouldn’t blog it. But Hitchens undermines his own arguments so well I can’t resist.

Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren’t like that. And the wits and comics among them are formidable beyond compare: Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz, Ellen DeGeneres.

First of all he lists funny women. This isn’t a case of “the exception proves the rule”. Hitchens knows that his argument will fail if he doesn’t mention any funny women. After all, everyone knows Ellen! But providing an exclusive but very selective list of who he thinks is funny, he just brings to mind countless other examples. Margaret Cho anyone? Daisy from that Channel 4 show?

Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three.

I hope I don’t need to explain why this is a ridiculous argument. Aside from being utterly offensive, merely repeating stereotypes about female comics without producing any actual evidence, it’s stupid. Almost every comic is an outsider in some way.

As a sidenote, this is also an example of how sexism limits men just as much as women. Male readers, are you prepared to accept that you are too stupid to be witty or discerning?

And why are women doomed to laugh but not provoke laughter? Because men are so ugly and we’re just so darned cute.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.

Hitchens goes on to cite a study thusly:

The researchers found that men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing. But they also found that some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women, and the nucleus accumbens … which is part of the mesolimbic reward center.

Ignoring the questionable nature of these gender-wars studies, doesn’t this one suggest that women’s brains are rigged to produce a better sense of humour?

Men are overawed, not to say terrified, by the ability of women to produce babies. (Asked by a lady intellectual to summarize the differences between the sexes, another bishop responded, “Madam, I cannot conceive.”) It gives women an unchallengeable authority. And one of the earliest origins of humor that we know about is its role in the mockery of authority. Irony itself has been called “the glory of slaves.” So you could argue that when men get together to be funny and do not expect women to be there, or in on the joke, they are really playing truant and implicitly conceding who is really the boss.

Why else are women innately unfunny? Because we run the world. Hitchens should do a quick survey of how much female columnists are paid compared to their male colleagues, and how often they appear in publications like Vanity Fair, for a quick lesson in why this argument is so obtuse.

If the ability to make jokes is stimulated by oppression, it is hard to see how the current world order is set up to make men the natural comics.

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