Are women funny?
Blogger Alias Clio is a muse for the number-cruncher, as she so often proclaims but rarely offers evidence, and she is so stubborn in her beliefs that merely pointing out how crazy they are is insufficient. *
In a post at Roissy's, the topic of sex differences in funny-ness came up, she arguing that women are more humorous than men, who are so preoccupied with farting and fucking jokes that they don't get to develop the wry, ironic style that true humor consists of. Really?
Always eager to gather some data to prove how crazy other people are, I first offered Comedy Central's list of 100 Greatest Stand-up Comedians -- 8 of 100 are female (8%). Ah, but that's just those raunchy, low-brow stand-up comedians!
All right, consider the Pulitzer Prize winners for Editorial Cartooning, a genre whose style is dry, ironic, and so on -- 2 of 82 are female (2.4%). I admit that this has a strong male bias just due to visuospatial skills, which guys are better at, but still, it's not Michelangelo-level drawing, so it would be really hard to say that it would be near 50% if only it were entirely verbal. So let's go to humorous writers and performers.
Wikipedia has a "list of notable humorists" -- 8 of 97 are female (8.2%).
Wikipedia also has a "list of satirists and satires", which is grouped by time period:
Early -- 0 of 9 (probably 0 of 10, if males wrote The 1001 Nights).
Medieval - 18th C. -- 0 of 21 (probably 0 of 22, if unknown author called "Martin Marprelate" is male).
Born 1800 - 1900 -- 0 of 28.
Born 1900 - 1960 -- 4 of 65 (6.2%).
Born 1960 - present -- 6 of 62 (9.7%).
20th C altogether -- 10 of 127 (7.9%).
Admittedly, these are not lists of prize-winners or of something measurable, but they reflect the consensus of experts, so it's surely a random, representative sample.
In none of these areas do females approach 50%, even when the medium is verbal (which women tend to be better at), and even when we look just at those whose careers began after women's liberation. The numbers are very similar for both high-brow and low-brow humor -- about 10% -- suggesting that this distinction does not matter either.
Crucially, humor almost always has to do with oneself, other people, and the social ties that unfortunately bind us; and it is always interactive with other people, whether a live audience, a readership, or what-have-you. Therefore, there is no argument to be made to the effect of "Well, women can do it, they just don't like doing it." The personnel psychology literature is unambiguous that women prefer jobs that involve people, especially socially interacting with them -- if anything, being a humorist or comedian is right up their alley. **
This is the extent of my interest in this rather obvious question, but if readers know of other lists -- preferably a list of winners of a prestigious humorist award -- feel free to crunch the numbers and leave a comment. If the ball gets rolling, I'll move them into an addendum here. I know that Clio is going to claim that these lists don't really capture what it is to be a humorist, that there are scores of unseen female humorists (who would have to be far more numerous than unseen male humorists), or that there's an Anglo-American bias. All right -- find me a dataset that shows the females are near 50%, and then I'll believe it.
Now, why funny people are predominantly male is an entirely different question. This post is just to demonstrate that they are.
* I kid because I love.
** Where females have the requisite ability and suitable motivation, they make up half or more of the field. For example, here is Steven Pinker on women in his field:
I work in a scientific field — the study of language acquisition in children — that is in fact dominated by women. Seventy-five percent of the members the main professional association are female, as are a majority of the keynote speakers at our main conference. I'm here to tell you that it's not because men like me have been discriminated against.
Addendum: Here is a running list of more stats from other sources (see comments section for detail).
YouTube's 100 most subscribed comedians of all time -- 7 or 8 of 100 (7-8%).