Women aren't funny? That's a syllogistic fallacy

Comic Catie Wilkins adds her twopenn'orth to the debate

To me ‘women aren’t funny’ is just an illogical sentence. For many, many reasons, but not least because of the universal nature of comedy. You can be anyone and tell a joke, and you can be anyone and laugh at a joke, and race, gender, nationality, sexual preference and position in society can’t stop you.

Secondly, it’s an illogical statement because it can’t be proved or disproved. Even if you disregard the fact that all humour is subjective, ‘Women aren’t funny’ is a sweeping generalisation about a section of society. It does not stand up to deductive reasoning and is a syllogistic fallacy.

For example, if I said, ‘All Scottish men are alcoholics’ a counter argument might be, ‘My mate Dave is Scottish, and he’s not an alcoholic’. I am then faced with two choices: I can say ‘All Scottish men are alcoholics apart from your mate Dave’ (the conclusion of which does not follow logically from the premise). Or I can realise that my premise is incorrect and say ‘Not all Scottish men are alcoholics.’

So why are so many people so keen to spurn logic in their bid to scrap option two, despite being faced with the mounting evidence otherwise, and cling to the notion that at least women are ‘in general’ less funny than men? Why do people see the women who make them laugh as anomalies? Why do some people think they are giving me a compliment when they say that I write like a man?

A friend of mine who is a female comic was introduced to an audience in Newcastle by the compere saying ‘our next act is a girl’. The audience booed before she’d even got on stage. She still stormed it though. She is very funny.

You could deduce from that, though, if you wanted, that society is sexist. They expected her to be bad because of her gender. I wouldn’t say all of society is sexist. That would be illogical. But some audiences and some promoters, and even some reviewers are.

My first ever review in Edinburgh (in Three Weeks) started with the sentence ‘I’m not generally a fan of female comics, but…’ implying that he viewed female comics as part of some weaker, sub-category of comedy, rather than just comics, which is how I saw us.

He kindly forgave myself and the other girl in the show (the very funny Hannah George) by saying we proved that women ‘can indeed be funny when given a mic and an audience’ (which I though was odd criteria – because if you were actually going to deny women a mic and an audience, then it really wasn’t a fair contest to begin with).

But in a way I’m kind of glad, because at least we know where we’re at as a society. Comedy clubs are some of the last vestiges of freedom and freedom of speech. And that is going to include things that I don’t always want to hear, and possibly don’t agree with.

Freedom is crucial for comedy. Voltaire said I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. I wouldn’t die for the right of the people who shout sexist abuse in comedy clubs to continue to do so – I’d rather they stopped. But if that is what they think, I am glad they have the freedom to express it. That is the world that I live in, and I feel like I need to know about it, partly so that as a comic I can then go off and write some jokes about it. And if society wasn’t sexist it wouldn’t be a problem anyway.

And it is not all doom and gloom. I won a gong show at the Comedy Store in May this year, and that was by audience voting slash drunkenly shouting and screaming for who they liked the best. So not all audiences can be sexist (according to my syllogism) or if they are, the way to unite them is with jokes about Aids. Nothing can possibly go wrong with that.

And we can all do our bit in society. Next time you hear someone saying something sexist, say ‘Excuse me, but I think your comment is based on an ill-judged cultural stereotype, and it is not fair that you are propagating it as fact, and spreading that misery-causing, opportunity limiting world view’. It’s easy.

OK it’s not easy. But it is not a man’s world. I live here too and I’m funny.

Published: 13 Nov 2008

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