Friday, December 21, 2007

Men and Women and Humor

BBC News (UK) reported today on the results of a study on humor differences between the sexes.

Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.

The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.

Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered.

It's hard to find a less scientific study, with a more flawed conclusion, than this one.

Research suggests men are more likely to use humour aggressively by making others the butt of the joke.

And aggression - generally considered to be a more masculine trait - has been linked by some to testosterone exposure in the womb.

That part is fine. Testosterone is linked to aggression. From there, though, Prof. Shuster takes his study to the point of absurdity.

Professor Shuster believes humour develops from aggression caused by male hormones.

He documented the reaction of over 400 individuals to his unicycling antics through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Almost half of people responded verbally - more being men. Very few of the women made comic or snide remarks, while 75% of the men attempted comedy - mostly shouting out "Lost your wheel?", for example.

This is really stupid. For starters, the good professor assumes that unicycle riding is funny, but maybe it's not as funny as he believes. He may have just looked ridiculous, prompting the men to mock him and the women (not wanting to hurt his feelings) to praise his skill.

As a general rule, men enjoy visual humor more than women do, in particular the kind of humor where other people get hurt, as in the Three Stooges. Women don't find hurting people to be funny, and they don't enjoy mocking other people as much as men do.

So Prof. Shuster was testing male humor, and when he found it, he declared men to be more humorous than women.

But an earlier study, from November of 2005, revealed some of the differences in the way men and women appreciate humor, which showed that indeed women have a sense of humor. It's just not the same as men's.

I'm a woman, and there are a lot of things I find funny, but a man riding a unicycle is probably not one of the top ones. In the mall near me, they used to have a Frederick's of Hollywood store right next door to a shop that sells maternity clothes. That's funny.

The Princess Bride is funny. The Jeep-in-the-airport-radar scene in Rat Race is funny. The restaurant scene with Felix clearing his sinuses in the Odd Couple is funny.

But a unicycle-riding man masquerading as a serious researcher is not only NOT funny, it's too stupid for words.


Charlie said...

Hey, I wouldn't expect a woman to understand, but a unicycle-riding college professor is *funny!* You can't tell me that watching a balding old guy dressed in a long professor's robe and clinging to a load of books while trying to navigate the cobblestone streets of your average English town isn't a gut-buster. Come on!

When the Coyote's Roadrunner trap blows up in his face, it's *hilarious,* but for some reason women just don't get it.

I don't think it's testosterone, though. I'm betting we're going to discover that after eons of painful child-bearing and hair-raising child-rearing, evolution discovered that women had little to laugh about and selected out their unused humor genes. You just wait.

SkyePuppy said...


The coyote and roadrunner are amusing, but not hysterical.

And you're badly mistaken that child-bearing and child-rearing give women little to laugh about. Those are the very things that are the funniest. OK, maybe not the child-bearing so much. But my officemate and I rolled over laughing about raising kids so much it was part of why they made us shut the door at my last job (see my post here).

Besides, you can't tell me that watching the tongue-pierced brother see the Jeep climbing the tower after him and shriek like a girl and land on the Jeep windshield isn't *funny*.

No, I'm betting the humor gene will NOT be found on the "Y" chromosome. You just wait.

Jacob said...

I would counter the conclusions of this study by saying that Margaret Cho is the funniest person in existence.

SkyePuppy said...


I think I've missed out on Margaret Cho. But you're completely right that the conclusion of this study is all wet.

CG said...

This is too much for me to not comment on!! As your former officemate I have a story about BOTH child-raising AND unicycles! When my son was in kindergarten his teacher gingerly approached me, prefacing her remarks with, "You know, when a five-year-old says something I never know whether to take it seriously or not, so I have to ask." I was freaking out in my mind, afraid of what dark family secrets he may have spilled, and wondering if she had already reported us or not. Then she continued, "Your son says his father rides a unicycle in the circus. Is it true?" I can't remember if I ever told you my husband's size - let's just say he is quite large. Just the thought of him on a unicycle is enough to put me into a fit of laughter. Now that was humor!!

SkyePuppy said...


Yes, I've seen your husband. That's hysterical!