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A short article in the Guardian asks Are women as funny as men? (Purposefully funny, that is….)

Well, judging by Robert Provine’s (Laughter: A Scientific Investigation) research, women certainly seem to laugh more at men’s jokes than vice versa — in 1200 cases, “females laughed 126% more than their male counterparts, meaning that women tend to do the most laughing while males tend to do the most laugh-getting.”

Men seem to be the main instigators of humor across cultures, which begins in early childhood. Think back to your high school class clown — most likely he was a male….

Given the differences in male and female laugh patterns, is laughter a factor in meeting, matching and mating? I sought an answer in the human marketplace of newspaper personal ads. In 3,745 ads placed on April 28, 1996 in eight papers from the Baltimore Sun to the San Diego Union-Tribune, females were 62% more likely to mention laughter in their ads, and women were more likely to seek out a “sense of humor” while men were more likely to offer it. Clearly, women seek men who make them laugh, and men are eager to comply with this request.

Sounds like sexual selection for an indicator of intelligence to me. I mean, you have to be smart to tell clever jokes, right? (Of course, you have to be smart enough to get the jokes, too….)

The good folks at the LaughLab took a look at “joke complexity” and the brain:

We also asked people who took part in LaughLab to answer questions that involve making various estimates, such as: How many words are there on one page of a typical paperback novel?

A) Under 500
B) 500 – 600
C) 600 – 700
D) 700 – 800
E) Over 800

Research suggests that people who are good at this type of question (the correct answer is under 500) tend to have good frontal lobe activation, whilst people who make incorrect estimates do not. Interestingly, people who tended to answer this question correctly tended to prefer relatively complex jokes, such as…

A scientist and a philosopher were being chased by a hungry lion. The scientist made some quick calculations, he said “its no good trying to outrun it, its catching up”. The philosopher kept a little ahead and replied ” I am not trying to outrun the lion, I am trying to out run you”!

Whereas people who answered incorrectly, tended to like more straightforward jokes, such as…

Which day of the week do fish hate?…….

In other words, the more intelligent you are — or, at least, the more active your frontal lobe — the more complex jokes you’re likely (and able) to enjoy. And, it seems that women are looking for men who are funny (not surprising as this probably indicates intelligence) — and men are looking for women who think they (the men) are funny:

When Karl Grammar and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt studied spontaneous conversations between mixed-sex pairs of young German adults meeting for the first time, they noted that the more a woman laughed aloud during these encounters, the greater her self-reported interest in the man she was talking to. In the same vein, men were more interested in women who laughed heartily in their presence. The personal ads and the German study complement an observation from my field studies: The laughter of the female, not the male, is the critical index of a healthy relationship.

By the way, the LaughLab folks also found differences between nations in the types of jokes that they found funny:

People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays, such as:

Patient: “Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I’ve got some cream for that.

Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:

Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”

Finally, many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked jokes that were somewhat surreal, such as:

An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote: “Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”
“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”

These European countries also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that often make us feel anxious, such as death, illness, and marriage. For example:

A patient says: “Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: “Could you please pass the butter.” But instead I said: “You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life”.

Interestingly, Germany was the exception. Germans did not express a strong preference for any type of joke – this may well explain why they came first in our league table of funniness – they do not have any strong preferences and so tend to find a wide spectrum of jokes funny.

Dr Richard Wiseman commented “These results are really interesting – it suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour.

Here are the top jokes in different countries according to the Laugh Lab.

And, for the record, my favorite (repeatable) joke:

A philosopher, a physicist and a mathematician were travelling through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
“Aha,” says the philosopher, “I see that Scottish sheep are black.”
“Hmm,” says the physicist, “You mean that some Scottish sheep are black.”
“No,” says the mathematician, “All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black.”



  1. Girls don’t like boys 
    Girls like cars and money 
    Boys will laugh at girls 
    When they’re not funny…

  2. Girls just want to have fun. Girls laugh a lot even if the jokes ain’t funny. Sometimes it’s nerves. Or just social lubricant. It feels good to laugh anyway.

  3. Sounds more like selecting a sense of humor for the sake of entertainment, not intelligence, at least if you tend to agree with (as I do) Geoffrey Miller’s argument in The Mating Mind. OTH, I suppose the ability to entertain with wit, humor, song, and the gift of gab is an indicator of verbal intelligence, which probably correlates with leadership potential, etc.

  4. Did you hear about the Navajo guard dog? 
    He was adobe.

  5. There is a saying in Ireland, relating to dating, which sums this up well: 
    “Those who laugh together, f**k together!”

  6. Can we get a funny.gnxp site please?

  7. I think in part it might be a social thing. In my middle school at least the one or two girls who were class-clownish were ignored by the boys. Goofy behavior might just go better on males. 
    It does seem though that a lot of writers for good, funny TV shows are women though. I’ve read (no time to find the link, sorry) that men are more likely to find slapstick humor and jokes that put down women funny while women like puns and more subtle humor.

  8. “Those who laugh together, f**k together 
    oh dear–that is informative. I will let my more prudent friends know, so they will more carefully monitor their laugh fests.

  9. The hypothesis is asserted that women seek men with a good sense of humor. It is also asserted that men are less interested in the humor of women. 
    I tested this hypothesis on Yahoo Personals. I searched as a woman for a man 30-35 within 5 miles of my ZIP code and as a man looking for a woman under the same contraints. 
    About twice as many men adverise on Yahoo Personals as do women. But their requirements for humor in a prospective partner are essentially identical (43.1% of men searching for a woman versus 42.9% of women searching for a man). Both sexes want a partner with a sense of humor and at about the same rate. 
    It may very well be that the women are looking for a man to tell jokes and the men are looking for a women to listen and laugh but that would take more time to measure than I now have. I think however this is probably true. 
    I suspect that telling versus laughing is important in sexual relationships not because of selection for intelligence but as a proxy for dominance/submission communications. 
    A man needs to have feedback from the woman. Will she yeild to my advances? If he can form any sort of joke or witticism he can test her. If she smiles and laughs he will be encouraged. That is to say she has communicated her willingness to accept him. 
    If the guy is inept at humor he can’t open up this communications channel and she can’t respond. Love founders.

  10. Here’s a link to a photo of Jon Stewart and his writers, after winning an Emmy last night for best writing for a variety, musical, or comedy. If you scan very carefully through the crowd, you might be able to find Waldo…or should the name be Waldene?  

  11. I think Pat has a point.

  12. “If the guy is inept at humor he can’t open up this communications channel and she can’t respond. Love founders” 
    I think its more about free entertainment. Had a boy pal in college, made me laugh, then we fought over the words “seldom/often” He keeps using the wrong one and I get confused. Afterward, his jokes became silly to me. I think its because I used to think that his silly jokes were meant to be silly, then I actually found out he’s actually silly himself. 
    Same reason why you are attracted to musicians, singers and actors. Once you marry them, its a different ballgame, especially if the money stops coming in.

  13. When a woman is interested, she’ll laugh at any stupid joke, to the point where her method seems to be: 
    1) Is he telling a joke? 
    2) If so, laugh. 
    The talent here is not the “sense of humor” but merely the “ability to recognize attempts at humor.” Sometimes they fail and laugh at non-jokes. You can play little games with girls where you trip their “humor” wire when saying something morbid. 
    When there is a falling out (and I know this from experience) no 
    joke of any quality will make that woman crack a smile.

  14. Look at the difference between ESPN and the Lifetime Channel or Oprah. Men learn from an early age the joking banter that men use to communicate. Women do not learn joking banter. There is no female version of Dick Vitale.

  15. Humor is one of the few activities, in addition to music, that require the use of multiple areas of the brain all at once.  
    The frontal lobe coordinates all this disparate activity and is quite useful in making split second observations and decisions. This is one of the reasons most funny people tend to be very quick with their humorous observations.  
    This would correlate with an ability to respond quickly to danger, hence the reason women seek this trait in men.

  16. In my country there is problem 
    And the problem is the feminists 
    They take everybody’s humor 
    and they do not give it back. 
    (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

  17. Oh yeah? 
    Most of men’s jokes is about women, blond women, redhead, japanese women, breasts, and more breasts.  
    Why would we find it funny? 
    Do you really want us to give back, probably a joke about sizes? 

  18. Humor is one of the few activities, in addition to music, that require the use of multiple areas of the brain all at once. 
    The frontal lobe coordinates all this disparate activity and is quite useful in making split second observations and decisions. This is one of the reasons most funny people tend to be very quick with their humorous observations. 
    Interesting! Thanks for the observation.

  19. ook at the difference between ESPN and the Lifetime Channel or Oprah. Men learn from an early age the joking banter that men use to communicate. Women do not learn joking banter. There is no female version of Dick Vitale” 
    is this all you know about women? Since I don’t watch that stuff, I don’t know what kind of imagery they favor but some of the funniest–intentionally–people I have ever been around have been my female friends. We joke and “banter” all the time and laugh a lot. It does often come to a halt when men are around. Don’t know why.

  20. Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 

  21. I think to some extent “being funny” is often a dick-thing, like playing rock guitar is: it’s virtuosity, going out on a limb, etc. You’re taking it out and showing it off and giving the audience a great time (while feeding off their enjoyment, of course), etc.  
    Most women don’t seem to be joke-tellers in the same way men often are. Since a lot of humor is a little aggressive and prodding, that makes a lot of sense. Male stand-up comedians are far more numerous than female stand-ups. And males outnumber females in sitcom writing by many times over.  
    Humor of this kind is compulsive, explosive, outward-projecting. Which is dick-like more than pussy-like, no?  
    I think there’s another reason why guys may be more aggressive about being funny than women are: because women demand it. Forgive the generalization, but women fall into moods. Once the hyper-exuberance (and giggliness) of extreme youth is over, they often get gloomy and anxious; they care too much and fret and can’t stop it. They get weighed down. And one of a man’s roles is to help her out of that. Part of what you do is be attentive and admiring; part of what you do is try to get her to laugh. Women bring us depth and emotionality; we bring them energy and action. They draw us further into life; we snap them out of their mood-ruts.  
    But there’s another question, which is, “What kind of humor are you talking about?” There’s in fact a lot of female humor around, it often doesn’t take the form of jokes. There are classic female theater and acting types, for instance: the ditz, the Mae West type, the lovable glamor gal. Cameron Diaz can’t tell a joke to save her life, but she can do a charming/funny “I sing so badly” karaoke scene in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” really well. Carole Lombard wasn’t a joke teller either, but you definitely wanted her starring in your comedy movie. Gracie Allen was the classic, charming, “I make no sense” daffy gal, playing off George Burns’ down-to-earth gruff-but-outclassed male. So maybe these factors should be taken into account too when attempting to measure humor. 
    Signed, Michael Blowhard (married to a daffy-yet-passionate woman who has published humor pieces and written funny plays).

  22. yeas, I mean people still watch I Love Lucy 50 yrs on, and I would not want to have grown up without loving Lucy. btw, on a Freudian note, I have read (can’t name source) that comics (guess they mean males) are especially influenced by their mothers, who were usually funny, if not famous, ladies, in private life.  
    Regarding Carol Lombard. A poet, the late Roger White, met Carol’s “dresser’ at a fete in Hollywood. The “dresser” — a flamboyant grande-dame, widened her eyes when the poet said he’d always admired Carol Lombard — “what do YOU know of Carol Lomboard? I knew Carol Lombard and there was no one more ALIVE than she.” Carol, as luminously amusing as she was beautiful, loved practical jokes and once showed up at a party in an ambulance, on a stretcher, wrapped up like a mummy and delivered into a room full of guests. Hey–it cracked up the room. She kept Clark Gable laughing.

  23. Why is it that certain groups seem to produce more and better comics than others? From my weekly watching of a few shows on Comedy Central, I would say that the best are Jews, Irish and Blacks, in that order.

  24. “From my weekly watching of a few shows on Comedy Central, I would say that the best [comedians]are Jews, Irish and Blacks, in that order.” 
    But what about all those German comics?

  25. I’ve certainly noticed the same 
    thing about comedians. I’ve wondered if it isn’t because certain groups have more of a tradition of public performance and display than the vanilla-Protestant Americanmainstream. The Irish love their congeniality and pub talk; there’s often one kid in a Jewish family who is (whether funny in fact or not) the family’s designated 
    comedian; and blacks have several different traditions of public display (sidewalks, dance, church). 
    Vanilla-Protestants have hardly any such thing. They shamble, they don’t dress well, they prefer understatement whenever they do get around to thinking about style and display … 
    A couple of similar funny things I noticed (and many other people have noticed too) from a few years when I 
    was hanging around theater people: rather few Jews are straight actors — the performer Jewish girls often go 
    into musical comedy, and the performer Jewish boys often go into standup. Rather few blacks too — a lot of black art seems to depend on hyperbole and extreme stylization, which might make it tough for people with those tastes and preferences to 
    take part in something where a lot of realism is expected.  
    The people who wind up suprisingly often as straight actors are from Catholic and fundamentalist (or at 
    least hyper-believing) Protestants backgrounds. My guess is that it’s because they’ve been trained in being hyper-reactive and hyper-suggestible, because they’ve got a lot of guilt and complexes about sexuality and self-display (and are hence interesting to watch), and because they’re in rebellion against the restrictive background — they really do have drives they feeel they need to act out. And being much less certain of who they are than many are, they’re most at ease doing 
    their acting-out in the shoes of made-up characters. 
    A lot of girls from fundie backgrounds in porn, too; guess why? As well as a lot of Jewish guys, who presumably just love showing it off.