I read an article in The Atlantic a day or so ago called: Plight of the Funny Female. It’s all about why men don’t like funny women. And, you know, something clicked. Really? Could this be the reason for all my dating disasters in my twenties? If I’d just stopped trying to be funny would I have been more desirable to men?
Staff party 1985. That’s not my real nose, by the way.

According to psychologists, the answer to that question is “yes.” In study after study, all other things being equal, men find funny women less attractive than women who are not funny. Wow. Who knew? I always thought that, other than being smart, and kind, and hard-working, being funny is the best thing you can be.

I come from a family where humour is deeply ingrained, and considered a most desirable trait. We laugh at everything. Quick, witty comebacks are our stock in trade. I still laugh at how my grandfather used to say that my uncle, who had super curly hair, looked like he combed his hair with the egg beater. I love that line. Or the night when I was ten or eleven and at the dinner table, referring to my supposed lack of knowledge, my Mum said, “I guess it’s time we had that talk about sex.” And my older brother, then nineteen, quipped, “Okay, Mum. What do you want to know?”  Ha. That line is legendary in my family. Actually, I’ve probably told you that story before.

And, you see, the women in my family are equally as funny as the men. My grandmother was just as funny as my grandfather. Even if her wit mostly took the form of sarcasm. She had a sharp tongue, my grandmother, but if you could survive the barbs, she was very funny.

My mum is funny. She doesn’t always mean to be funny, it just comes out that way. We laughed on the phone today when I talked to her about this post. She says she can’t understand why people think she’s funny. But they do.

Mum and my uncle Allie. 1945

My step-father loved Mum’s dry sense of humour. Mum and I laughed today about the time I was enlisted to cut my step-father’s hair. He sat calmly in a kitchen chair, swathed in an old towel, while I tried to figure out how to wield his home barber tools. The electric trimmer, in particular. It looked like a funny electric razor, with a flat, angled head and a little comb attachment on the end. I did okay snipping the top, and shaving his neck, but using the trimmer to kind of shingle the hair up the back was tricky. I was holding it slightly away from his head, trying to carefully catch the longer strands in the comb thingie when my mum, who was working at the cupboard, said something funny, and my step-father threw back his head and laughed. Uh oh.

The razor made contact with his scalp, and, almost with a life of its own, it zipped up the entire back of my step-dad’s head, creating a two-inch wide, shaved furrow. Like a reverse mohawk. I was horrified. My step-father was sanguine. What’s a little hair? He’d be wearing his cap most of the time anyway. “No problem. Just even ‘er up, Snooze. That’ll be fine.” And when I’d evened it up, we couldn’t stop laughing at his little shaved furrow. The dangers of having a funny wife, eh?

Some of my closest girlfriends are funny, too

That’s my friend Debbie and me, below, getting our picture taken in the photo booth at Zeller’s in grade eight. Deb and I have been friends since we started school. Back when we were in our twenties, and single, we shared an apartment, actually a few apartments. Debbie is hilarious. She always makes me laugh. She’s way more funny than I am. When we’re together, I’m always the straight man. I remember back in the early eighties, when we’d hit the Ottawa bars in our high heels and best party wear, Debbie was the queen of the one-liners. The empress of the witty “piss off” comeback to an unwanted come-on from some hapless guy. Come to think of it, no wonder some men are intimidated by funny women. They’re dangerous. Ha.

Debbie and me. Zeller’s photo booth, March 1970.
But, let’s go back to Olga Khazan’s article in The Atlantic. One of the studies she mentions says that, when quizzed on the qualities they would like in a long-term partner, men and women rate “having a sense of humour” equally high. But on closer investigation, “when asked to define “sense of humour” the sex difference became clear. Women want man who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.” Why is that, do you think?
Well, other studies have found that being funny is linked to having a higher intelligence. Statistically speaking, anyway. And according to this study, men are less attracted to women who are smarter then them, finding them “less alluring” than women who are not as smart as they are. So does that mean that men steer clear of funny women, romantically speaking, because they are afraid they are smarter than them? Or do they just fear the witty put down?
And what about the man who actually marries a funny woman?
I’m beginning to think Hubby, who confesses that asking women out used to scare the pants off him, must have been really brave to come and sit beside me in the staff room at Glebe Collegiate that fateful day back in 1984 when we first met. Or maybe I just looked not funny. Or maybe he had enough self-confidence, in areas other than asking women out, to appreciate a woman who tries to be funny. I don’t know.
I remember that after we’d chatted over lunch in the staff cafeteria, had coffee in the staff room a few times, I disappeared. Exams had started and there was no need for supply teachers. Hubby called me at home to say that the school clothing I’d ordered for  my nieces back home had arrived, so I went into the school to pick it up, and stayed for a coffee in the Phys. Ed office. We were chatting, and when I was telling him a funny story about something, I looked at him, sitting with his feet up on his desk, chair tilted back, laughing so hard his face was getting a bit red, and I thought it was the best sight ever. I love a man who laughs at my stories.
We started dating a week or so later, well after Hubby knew that I thought I was funny, that I loved to tell funny stories, loved the witty comeback. Obviously he didn’t think it made me “less alluring.” Ha.

I guess I get why men generally prefer unfunny women. But I’m glad I never knew that statistic back when I was single. So glad that I never tried to not be funny, never tried to mask my penchant for telling silly stories in order to appear more attractive. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be married to someone who doesn’t laugh at my jokes.

Well, I can imagine it, actually. And it makes me shudder and appreciate Hubby all the more.

P.S. About that first photo. When I first started teaching, one man on our small staff used to organize all our get-togethers and this one took place in the big room in the basement where the furnace was. As I recall, the head custodian would not be able to attend because he was on duty, so the organizer brought the party to him. That’s why we’re all in hard hats… health and safety rules. Ha. As for the Groucho Marx get-up… your guess is as good as mine. I do remember the Alfred Sung suit I was wearing, though. I loved that suit.

Now… how about you folks? Any thoughts? On funny women… or men… or wearing hard hats to a party… or whatever, really.


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18 thoughts on “Funny Women”

  1. This is a funny story,your step father was great-so nice that he and your mother (so beautiful,happy and positive in the photo) have found each other
    Life without funny moments would be very empty and arid
    I love funny people,both men and women and admire those who are always ready to react with the joke,especially wordplay. I would adore to be word ready like this
    My sense of humour is on the sarcasm side,I don't like it every time (as you said-I don't want to be sarcastic,it just comes out that way) and try to suppress it and keep silent,not to be more attractive ,but because it can hurt people who take it too serious (and I don't like hurting people's feelings,either by other people or myself)
    I didn't read the article yet,but agree with the premise,my experience too. But,it is boring to be silent and only laugh at (bad) jokes
    Interesting-looking on your first photo-it is always much funnier to be a funny person,than a beauty, in a masquerade,no?
    Hope that the shingles are gone by now

    1. Hubby and I were just wondering, while I was researching this post, what couples who don't have funny stories and travel mishap stories find to talk about. Must be boring conversation after thirty years.
      Shingles are not gone, but I'm on pain medication for the nerve pain and it's really helping. Thanks for asking:)

  2. Lordy, leaning in an open door with me on this one. I too was brought up in a family where you had to be quick or you might go under and it was a noisy place, full of people laughing and teasing. I did not find, in later life, that this was a very popular approach with some men (some, not all) and they could get very irritated by a woman who talked back, did it quickly and who made people laugh at the same time. I will admit, on occasion, to doing it deliberately when I felt threatened or patronised by a man. Fortunately I met and married a very funny, quick and clever man which means this house can be full of jokes and teases and laughter. We brought the children up the same way. There are two things that make my hackles rise: firstly, women who men describe as having 'a great sense of humour' when all they are really doing is laughing at everything they say and secondly, men who say to me 'I suppose you think that is funny'. Of course, you dullard. Right up there with my all-time fave male comment: you swear a lot, for a woman. Funny women are the best company of all and, thank the Maker, all my friends are quick, clever, amusing and given to laughing. Humour or looks? No contest. I shall now step down from the soap box. Good post.

    1. I'm not leaning in the door, I've come right in and put the kettle on. Ha. Swearing a lot for a woman. That one made me laugh out loud.

  3. As always, Sue, a greatly entertaining and thought-provoking piece of work here.
    My survey of one says that men DO find funny women attractive! Hubs and I laugh through each and every day and we totally get each other's humour.
    And your timing is opportune – I discussed my humour with the grandkiddies a few days ago. They were confused by my joking. They didn't laugh. I told them that an old boyfriend used to say that my jokes weren't jokes, they were lies. And my jokey poolside banter with the grandkiddies was, stripped bare, a lie. So granddaughter told me that it would help them get my "jokes" if I gave a hint of jokiness in my voice. And there you have, out if the mouths of babes – I find out 70 years on that my execution of the joke was the reason I struggled to get a laugh from them!
    Hugs, x.

    1. I see you have the droll delivery down pat, Mary. I do know people who are really funny but sometimes it's hard to tell; I have to look twice because I think they're serious.

  4. Gosh, your mom … what a beauty! And by the way, I don’t think you realize how beautiful you are.

    Re funny girls, there are happy people, to whom I think most of us are drawn. There are also witty people who help us see life from a more interesting, entertaining perspective.

    And then there are people who try really hard to be amusing — so hard that it comes across as desperation, trying too hard, attention-seeking or even cruel.

    Perhaps we’re using a short, familiar word (funny) to describe a lot of quite different things — some attractive and some not.

    Ann in Missouri

    1. Ann's comment resonates with me — there's nothing like a really good belly laugh for endorphin release, but there can also (too often!) be an uncomfortable edge to humour. I can't help think of Hannah Gadsby's decision — as brilliantly revealed in Nanette — to leave comedy because of its cost. A fascinating topic, Sue.

    2. Ah, thanks Ann. On behalf of my mum, and me:) I totally agree about the cutting , hurtful side of humour. A lot of so-called comedies on TV are so shouty, and mean that I cannot watch them. Give me dry British humour any day. Although there were times that I found Absolutely Fabulous too cruel and had to shut it off. But perfectly timed witty comment is the best. My husband is quite a serious guy, but when he's funny it's always extra funny being unexpected.
      I had to look up Nanette, Frances; I haven't seen it.

    3. Oh, watch Nanette (It's available on Netfix for now) — brilliant and powerful and funny and poignant — and so thought-provoking and illuminating.

  5. An interesting topic to be sure! Humour is certainly open to interpretation and can either fall on deaf ears or be the cause of non-stop giggling. My husband and I share many laughs and seem to lean more towards the dry, British sense of humour that I was raised with. Never thought about humour as a turn-off when dating…guess I was lucky enough to date guys that were confident enough to laugh at things I thought were funny. You were so lucky that your parents and family enjoyed a good laugh and didn't take everything too seriously…beautiful photos! Humour to me has to be funny to all individuals present…if someone isn't laughing then it perhaps isn't funny and borders on being hurtful. Students used to think they were funny when mocking someone and that was always my advice…if everyone isn't laughing it isn't funny. Women who are confident in their humour are a joy to be around…as long as it isn't at the expense of others. Cheers, Alayne

    1. That's a wonderful way to explain it to kids…or to anyone, really, Alayne. Laughing at someone else's expense is so hurtful. I had a few colleagues over the years who were like that with other staff members. Used to make my blood boil.

  6. Great piece and very good comments. My thoughts on the survey or study is that all the real men didn't sign up for it so weren't part of it. The real men were out dating funny, wonderful, witty women. Love your story about meeting your husband. I could just picture him sitting at his desk and laughing. Jean

    1. Ha. Good point. Or maybe it's that these tests are done with volunteers, usually university students. Maybe age and experience will make the subjects in these studies less threatened by funny women.

  7. I feel that there is a huge difference between the quick and humorous comeback and the witty put down. One is funny and the other is often mean. Kindness should come before wit.
    The number one reason I read your blog is because I love your sense of humor, especially when relating your family stories and your travel misadventures.

    1. I agree, Jo. As I mentioned above, I've worked with a few colleagues over the years who laughed at the expense of other staff members. There's gentle teasing of someone you know so well that they know it comes from a kind heart. And then there's the other thing. Glad you appreciate the family and travel stories. They're the best part of writing a blog, for me.

  8. This is one thing I have loved about Silicon Valley, hyper-intelligent geeky kind of people love to banter. Gender no matter, it's the caliber of the quips:).

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