A sense of humor and timing is developed over many years, but I believe most people are inclined to be funny or not from an early age. As kids we generally act a certain way to either gain attention (or to not be noticed — but that’s a notion I simply can’t imagine).
One can do this by appearing intelligent and highly applied, sweet and attractive, athletic or humorous. Stereotypically, girls tend to fall into the first two subdued categories while boisterous boys are expected to fill the latter roles. Maybe it’s this trend that accounts for the high man-to-woman ratio on any comedy club calendar.
Like many traits, humor likely starts in the home, and I certainly come from a family that values the funny. We’ve memorized many a movie line to quote at the perfect moment and we pick on each other lovingly.
My parents had weird rules about what I was allowed to watch on television: no MTV until I was nearly in high school, yet I had my Linda Richman “Coffee Talk” impression down to a science by age 5. I’ve been exposed to comedy — humorous men and comedic women — as far back as I can remember, and dubbed the funny kid just as long.
Throughout my tween years (though the term hadn’t been invented yet) if I sought attention from someone, I wasn’t confident enough to offer homework help, cute enough to simply bat my eyes or sporty enough to talk college basketball.
Instead, I’d quote Dumb and Dumber. Or impersonate our nearly senile science teacher. It usually got me more stern talking-tos than dates, but attention nonetheless.
And while during my insecure younger years I might have preferred an image-based superlative, I loved to make people laugh and I wanted to be good at it. I recognized early on that my goofy nature set me apart from most kids, but I never felt like it was something that made me different from other girls — just different in general.
It’s this backstory that makes me so invested in the question of women being funny — and not just the ridiculous debate itself, but the very notion that women are supposedly engaging in conversations about whether or not we have basic abilities. Yes, some women are funny. Just like some women can carry a tune, some can drive a car and some don’t really care for cabbage. Some men are funny, too, but for whatever reason the masses don’t respond to a lackluster dude comic by questioning humor in the entire male population.
If some current popular columnist wrote about how women make perfectly capable doctors, some might be inclined to question, “Are there people who didn’t already know this?” And because more people have greater access to media online, there will always be people crawling out of the woodwork to provide an opposition, creating a dispute where we didn’t need one.
The same goes for funny femmes. At the risk of tokenizing these women, one would think between Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller and the inaugural cast of women on Saturday Night Live, this case should have been closed for years. Yet today, we still read about Kristen Wiig/Tina Fey/whichever funny woman du jour “ending this question once and for all.” To many, this might seem like a positive sign. Sadly, though, the mere acknowledgement of this ludicrous faux debate leads me to believe that the “proof” of funny women will still be documented for years to come.
As a general rule, increased discourse about any important topic is ultimately positive. But do we (as women, as humor lovers, as humans) need to make a platform for every topic that exists? It almost seems like making blanket statements intended to be empowering just end up providing space for some idiot to create a conflicting view.
So, please, stop asking whether women can do things we already know they can. Don’t affirm what is already obvious. Yes, women can be funny (or any number of adjectives), but not all of them are.
And that’s OK, because while I never got really hot or athletic, I can still drop a movie quote like a boss and I will always seek attention.
CONTACT JAC KERN: firstname.lastname@example.org