February 2000, comedian Jerry Lewis told the world, "I don't
like any female comedians." "A woman doing comedy doesn't
offend me," Lewis clarified, "but it does set me back a bit.
I, as a viewer, have trouble with it." While Lewis was roundly
criticized in the press, his sentiments may be unfortunately
common, as revealed
by Provine's data. Simply put, Provine found
men get more laughs than women do, and women laugh more often
than men do. Since Provine also concluded that laughter and
humor are only loosely linked, the notion that men are simply
funnier or make more jokes can't explain this laugh-getting
and laugh-giving gender gap.
get about twice as many laughs as women do
the women of the ImprovAsylum get plenty of laughs, they know
they are held to a different standard than their male colleagues.
feedback we get is that the women here are really funny,"
says Lisa Schurga. "On the one hand it's nice, but on the
other hand it's unfortunate that it stands out."
too, the idea of a funny woman is met with incredulity.
I tell people I work at the ImprovAsylum, I get 'Oh you take
tickets there?'" says Amy Roeder, a performer at the theatre
since it's inception two and half years ago.
the performers suggest there's a cultural component to the
gender bias, Provine looked at similar "laugh gaps" around
the world and saw a pattern. In a 1960 case study, sociologist
Rose Coser noted a relationship between status and laughter
among the employees in a psychiatric hospital. While senior
staffers often made junior staffers the target of humor, junior
staffers never returned the barbs. Instead junior staffers
teased someone of the same or lesser social status, such as
patients or paramedics.
most non-actors, it is nearly impossible to laugh on command.
in southern India, men of lower castes are expected to giggle
in deference when addressing men of higher social status.
These examples of what Coser called "downward humor" illustrate
how laughter can be interpreted as a "vocal display of compliance,
subordination or solidarity with a more dominant group member,"
writes Provine. That men seem to withhold laughter from women
performers might indicate the lower status of women in American
"As a male," writes Provine, "Rodney Dangerfield gets more
respect than he claims."
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