Now Who’s Laughing?

I doubt that Sigmund Freud was ever the funniest guy at the dinner party.

He famously claimed that women don’t need a sense of humour because they have fewer strong feelings to repress. Then, a few years ago, British writer and notorious chain yanker, Christopher Hitchens, got a lot of us ‘sisters’ riled when he wrote in Vanity Fair that ‘women just aren’t funny’.

Uh, excuse me. Tina Faye is not hilarious funny?

A surprising amount has been researched and written on the subject and I recently went to a presentation on the psychology of humour and the gender.

Apparently, women comedians don’t get as many laughs as their male counterparts. Even in comedy, it seems, we do have greater hurdles to success.

I was also surprised to hear that the most laughter comes from male comedians with a female audience. The next highest on the laughter meter is a male comedian with a male audience, and third in line is a female comedian with a female audience. Finally, a woman comedian with male audience gets the fewest laughs. Why is this?

The theory is that men are trained to interrupt and be the center of attention, so they are more comfortable pouring out their stories than passively waiting for others to tell them. In other words, men are socialized to dominate conversation, while women are raised to be good listeners.

Now This is Funny

I just saw the movie, “Bridesmaids,” and I did LOL along with the rest of the packed movie theatre. The bridesmaids in this story indulging in antics typically reserved for men. The men in the audience were there laughing (or squirming) right along side the women.

It is a watershed movie and is busting down the barriers between the genders. And, it is proof women are funny…hilarious in fact. Take that Sigmund Freud!

Freud’s claim that women aren’t funny is consistent with an article in the New Yorker which said, “Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy than experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if the woman drinks, or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.”

I am happy to say that the laughter, coming from the guys sitting next to me at the “Bridesmaids,” proves them wrong. It demonstrates that women do things beyond shopping and even do things that are usually considered men’s territory.

Laughs related to bodily functions have historically been considered the domain of men. However, in the “Bridesmaids,” these women eliminate from all orifices in a snobby bridal establishment after eating in a questionable restaurant. (I admit that bathroom humour tickles me.)

Our dirty little secrets have been thrust into the light of day and, once again, the guys next to me didn’t reject women doing “male things.” Instead, they loved it!

These guys weren’t an isolated minority – The Globe and Mail reported that 33 percent of the opening weekend box office was men. Since then, word of mouth has kept its showings sold out.

Movies are a social mirror of our times. And, “Bridesmaids” shows us we are evolving. It breaks down stereo-types revealing that men and women have an ability to cross-over into one another’s territories and we can laugh together at one another’s predicaments when we do so.

Laughter Works

Making a joke has always been the first step for the human race to find acceptance of a situation. Laughter wipes away shame or stigma.

This is good news for all of us, but particularly for women. Humour has always been my secret weapon to relieve stress, to gain acceptance, and to divert attention from a potential argument.

When I was working in the corporate world, I relied on humour as a way to provide perspective to an issue. Every time I was faced with a catastrophe, I would reassure myself by repeating one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “It will make for a good story later,” she used to say.

Women are funny, they understand humour. It is not an unassailable male asset.

Women in the workplace should not be offended if they are the target of a good humoured joke – it is part of being part of the group.

Once you are part of the group, the easiest target is yourself. Self-deprecating humour works best. As women, we know that, when we fight aggressively, we may win the battle but most often lose the war. Humour can lighten our load and build support even from the toughest crowds.

After a highly successful career in business, including 26 years with PotashCorp where she was Senior Vice-President, Betty-Ann retired in 2007, the same year that she was named to Canada‘s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Hall of Fame™. She now works as a speaker, author and mentor and is committed to using her personal and professional experiences to inspire and empower other women.  A firm believer in the value women bring to organizations, Betty-Ann explores changing perceptions of male and female roles including candid observations about what she calls “Good Gender Physics” on her blog at She helps both men and women understand the primary energy of their gender but also accept and appreciate the strengths of their opposite.
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