Who`s the funny one? Men or women?

Stand up comic and screen writer Anuvab Pal and journalist, Shashi Baliga slug it out

This subject is so vast in its scope of gender stereotyping, that it is equivalent to saying all black people are good at sport, all Asians train in martial arts or all upper middle-class Delhites are brand conscious. I’ve met as many funny women, as I have men; proportionately, I’ve met funnier women than men.

There are several reasons for this. Women actually listen: a critical faculty in comedy, rather than trying to correct or improve your one-liner with their one-liner (annoying). They are observant and curious, which is at the heart of writing anything, funny or otherwise, whereas men often talk to impress ignoring the sort of person they are with. I’m not just saying that to win brownie points from women (of course, I am). Which just proves that again, like a man, I did not listen to the question posed (are women less funny?) and did my own thing, to impress. Another thing I’ve just done in expressing this opinion, is create a stereotype as generic as the subject.

There’s actually no way out of this. Essentially because under the question lurks the certainty, the urban legend, that women are not as funny as men. People get this notion from the fact that the business of humour, is almost all men. The subtle difference, of course, is that people in the business of comedy are not necessarily funny people. It sounds ironic, but some of the greatest stand -up comics in the world are pedantic business-minded people just like everyone else. Their work (a very funny 30 min show, a 2 hour movie etc.), is different from the individual. I’ve met farmers, mechanics, surgeons, and yes, women, from all walks who are hilarious. My grandmother, who died at 93, was wickedly hilarious, but didn’t have the opportunity to, or care to, make a business out of her one-liners.

Today, women like Tina Fey (30 Rock), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Mindy Kaling (The Office) and Lena Dunham (Girls) are as powerful a comic force as Seinfeld or Will Ferell.

So no, men aren’t funnier. They may earn more from the comedy business; but imagine a life of gruelling travel, hectic shoot and show schedules, constant entertaining and competing, in a physically exhausting life, whereas your wife/girlfriend/love interest could easily do what you do, but chooses to relax instead, spending what you make.

I don’t know who is funnier but I can tell who is having the last laugh.
— Anuvab Pal

Do you know a woman who can take or make a joke about her butt? Her boobs? Farting? Wife beating? Next question: Do you know a man who can joke about his butt? His penis? Farting, peeing? Wife beating? You know the answers. I rest my case.

Men will joke about anything. Especially women. Whether they like it or not. As one of my Facebook friends (a Modern Man) recently declared, when a woman accused him of being sexist, “Yaar, if jokes have to be clean and politically correct, there will be no humour left.” What riled the woman? A Youtube video about a ‘Manslater’, a device that “translates women’s language into simple man words.”

The problem is, women, burdened with a sense of justice borne of centuries of suffering injustices, stop to think: ‘Hey, is anyone going to be offended by this joke?’ And that kills it right there. Women don’t like to upset the sisterhood, friends, men, children, colleagues, bosses, the milkman, the grocer… and above all, their own sensibilities about basic bodily functions. So what’s left? Precious little besides sex, money and mothers-in-law. But men, who, generally have less to complain about on all three scores, have cornered the market there as well.

If a woman wants to beat men at that game, she’s got to let it all hang out. And what happens then? She’s counted as “one of the boys”. Look at America’s top female comedians: Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa McCarthy, Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers. When Christopher Hitchens set off a huge debate some years ago with a Vanity Fair piece on Why Women Aren’t Funny, Rivers swatted him away in her rasping voice: “Oh please! Funny is funny. People want to laugh; they don’t care if you’ve got a vagina.” That’s telling the boys off. And that’s exactly what many men can’t handle. Including legendary funnyman Jerry Lewis who told the press at Cannes he didn’t have a favourite female comedian. Why? “I cannot sit and watch a lady diminish her qualities to the lowest common denominator.”

Two years ago, scientists inferred that there was a mere 0.11 point difference (out of a score of 5.0), between the sexes when it came to humour. India doesn’t have such studies, but Johnny Lever’s daughter Jamie J recently made her TV debut. Is she funnier than her father? As the current funniest guy on TV might say, the nation wants to know.

—Shashi Baliga