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"SF, loves to laugh, seeks SM with sense of humor."

Women advertise themselves as eager to laugh, while men repeatedly declare themselves funny

But maybe it's not just a matter of gender inequality. Provine also looked at 3,745 heterosexual personal ads in 8 major metropolitan newspapers from the Boston Globe to the San Diego Union-Tribune. About one eighth of advertisers mentioned laughter or related behavior in some form. When Provine sorted the ads by those who sought laughter versus those who offered laughter, he stumbled into another gender gap.

Photo of man and woman laughing
Laughter may be an essential step in the human mating dance  

Over and over, women advertise themselves as eager to laugh, loving to laugh, looking for men to make them laugh. Conversely, men repeatedly declare themselves funny or in possession of a good sense of humor.

"The evidence is clear," writes Provine, "Women seek men who make them laugh, and men are anxious to comply with this request." PICT: couple.PICT

In this light, the "laugh gap" looks like just another strategy in the dating game. But Provine proposes that the notion of laughter as a mating cue and the idea of laughter as a social badge are inextricably related. Do women seek men with enough social status to poke fun at their colleagues, like the senior staffers in Coser's psychiatric hospital? Are men seeking women anxious to affirm their elevated status with a noisy vocal display? It wouldn't come as a surprise to performer Lisa Schurga.

Says cast member Amy Roeder, "When I tell people I work at the ImprovAsylum, I get 'Oh you take tickets there?"

When she first meets a prospective boyfriend, Schurga feels compelled to keep her profession somewhat under wraps.

"If I go out with a guy," she says, "I'm not gonna show him this!"

"It's not perceived as feminine to make people laugh," Gotcsik agrees.

Schurga also notes men from the audience rarely ask the female performers out after a show. Her colleague and ImprovAsylum co-founder Chet Harding comments the male performers don't get many invitations either.

"But you're not cute like us!" Schurga retorts.


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