In 1998, comedian and actor Jerry Lewis said, “I don’t like any female comedians … a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it.” In 2007, Christopher Hitchens went so far as to write an entire essay titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” These instances reflect the general, widespread and untrue stereotype that female comedians are somehow inherently less funny than their male counterparts. The Huffington Post has attempted to address this issue with a weekly series called “The Funniest Tweets From Women This Week.” The articles regularly publish tweets from popular female writers and comedians such as Lena Dunham and Cosmopolitan’s editor, Amy Odell. This series of articles is not doing women any favors in terms of equality, however. In fact, these pieces are a disservice to women.
On a superficial level, it may seem that these tweets will help dispel the belief that women are not funny, but this simply is not the case. The most glaring problem with the articles is that there would never be a series called “The Funniest Tweets From Men This Week.” There is no reason at all to specify the tweets with the qualifier “women” as anyone who thinks women are not funny is unlikely to choose to read tweets that have been explicitly designated to be by women. The only people who would naturally read the article are people who already appreciate women comedians, but those people are not the ones perpetuating the stereotype. Also, by assigning a gender to the tweets, there is an implication that the tweets are somehow only relevant to women. This only further alienates a male reader who, despite thinking women are funny, will think that the jokes are not relevant to him.
Furthermore, the article is published under the Women section of the site, not under the Comedy section. This, coupled with the unnecessary gender assignment in the title, serves to only further obfuscate funny women and does nothing to confront or ameliorate troubling stereotypes.
The only way to achieve equality on a large scale is to first model that equality. Instead of the current articles, the Huffington Post should instead publish an article called, “The Funniest Tweets of the Week” and publish it to the comedy section of the site. The article does not have to have men featured in it, but having men and women’s jokes appear side-by-side would provide a necessary role model for equality. By separating male and female humor, the Huffington Post has done the exact opposite of its intended goal. Instead of fighting the stereotype that women are less funny than men, they have perpetuated it.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 5 print edition. Email Adnan Zarif at [email protected]