James Burns

James Burns

What makes women laugh?


Men inherently know the answer to this question because, even in the absence of good looks, making a woman laugh is a passport to the bedroom!  The way to a woman’s heart is a ‘GSOH’ and continues to score higher than looks in all the surveys.

So why were we in a church hall in Bath on a Sunday evening asking this question?  I was taking part in a lively panel discussion organised by Women on the Make as part of the Bath Comedy Festival this weekend.  The subtext turned out to be ‘are women funny?’ and 'how do women go about creating comedy in what is still arguably a male domain, and against the background of sexual politics?'

Flanked by Harry Venning, cartoonist and creator of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Clare in the Community’, and accomplished script writer, Hattie Naylor who has recently adapted ‘The Diaries Of Samuel Pepys’ for BBC Radio 4, we were admirably chaired by author and broadcaster Jenni Mills, as we bravely attempted to answer the question!

Hattie felt that men get more laughs than women because they often ‘look funny’ and she also commented that ‘round people’ are more likely to be chuckle inducing.  I’m not sure I totally agree but there are incidences of comedians losing weight and with it a loss of comedic effect.

My favourite point of the evening was made by a lovely jumper clad man (not my husband) who said that he believes women engage with comedy on an emotional level.  It’s true that women feel very comfortable with men who are not frightened to expose their feminine side and will laugh more readily at their jokes.  This extends from full on gayness, to the biggest butchest man attempting a delicate chore, such as hanging up his wife’s smalls on the washing line!  We women enjoy vulnerability, empathy, and, it seems, FILTH!

The filth factor bears out my own cultural findings about what women talk about when they are together with a few drinks inside them and the HABs (husbands and boyfriends) are safely out of the way.  From chatter amongst the curry in Asian kitchens, to the classic British ‘hen party’ in a town centre near you on a Saturday night, the talk is guaranteed to be X-rated! 

Girly comedy reflects this – as our gig on Friday night demonstrated.  Our guest host and booker, Katherine Ryan, commented to me about the performance of one of her fellow acts that she’d found out more intimate facts about her life (and we do mean Intimate!) in 10 minutes than she had in the two years she’d known her!  There’s a new bravado amongst the fairer sex now that we’re getting the gigs, and women’s humour can be eye-wateringly shocking!

Harry admitted that when he gets to writing the bits where Clare has to confide in her female contemporaries, he and writing partner Dave, often flounder.  ‘I don’t understand what women talk about when they are together,” Harry confesses. “And if you heard me on a boys’ night out, it’s all very dull.’  Men default to familiar and superficial topics like sport, cars, and technology rather than explore what cut of trouser they should wear or the need to colour their greying hair!

Let’s face it – look at what we have to endure!  Periods, childbirth, menopause, hidden genitals, wobbly breasts…. If we didn’t laugh about all this, we wouldn’t survive.  We also laugh at men because they don’t have all these complicated bodily functions and bits to deal with, but they still get themselves into a fix!  Most of this is affectionate when directed at male partners and relatives, but what was apparent from Sunday night’s discussion, most of this is unintelligible to men!  Those who do get in ‘on the joke’ have hit upon the holy grail of women’s humour. 

My nice jumper man also made a very good point upon which to end:  he said that women’s comedy is where feminism was about 10 years ago – it’s still taking itself too seriously and the earnestness is a put off for men.  I agree and never set out to create the 'vegan' version of comedy – female comedy comes in many different shapes and forms and the more men we can encourage to come to see our shows, the sooner they’ll find out what makes women laugh!

Lynne Parker 

Pictures from Vanity Fair – no men were harmed in the process of taking these pictures!

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