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December 31, 2006

That's not funny! (Reprise)

Probably the oldest question in the relationship between men and women is whether men are funnier than women.

But after centuries of efforts to prove that they are, it turns out, much like Euclid's parallel postulate, to be incapable of proof within our logical system. It just is.

So why is it that otherwise intelligent human beings feel the need to continue trying to prove this point? Are they, in doing so, simply engaging in some kind of atavistic chest-thumping, as if to say, "Look at me! As a man, I have the kind of chest you actually can thump."? Are they responding to a perceived societal denigration of maleness, typified by the feminist motto "That's not funny."?

I, for one, don't claim to have the answer, but I see this altogether too often.

The latest intelligent human being to try to prove this postulate is Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair. When Hitchens writes about politics, he's actually quite witty, even if I don't happen to agree with him. But there really isn't anything funny about analyzing what makes things funny and why only men can really be funny. (Shorter Hitchens: Women aren't funny, because they face horrible pain and risk death through childbirth, whereas men risk death through, uh, I don't know, dancing on the hood of a car while their friend is driving it at 60 MPH.)

But maybe Hitchens's real purpose in writing was precisely to bring out the "that's not funny" crowd, as if to prove his point. (Question: Can an argument be correct not because it proves what it sets out to but rather because it elicits a response that proves the point?)

In today's Washington Post magazine, Gene Weingarten opens up his column to the supposedly humorous responses to the Hitchens article from various women he knows. After reading it, all I can say about the Hitchens essay is "QED."

The sad fact is that the women quoted in the Weingarten column just aren't funny. A few of them have clever retorts, but those retorts are only insults, not humor. There's a big difference. Here's one response, an insult that doesn't even rate as clever:

This is obviously a man who does not know women to any real depth. If you see what I am saying.

-- Rachel Manteuffel
Here's another:
The argument that he is making, persuasively, is not that women aren't funny -- it's that we aren't stupid. Because we discriminate and do not laugh at everything this trifling little man finds funny, he concludes that we have no sense of humor. This is like concluding that women hate the outdoors because we don't like to watch bass fishing on TV.

Also, he mentions that he has undergone a sigmoidoscope procedure. Someone should tell him he may have a lawsuit, because part of that thing is obviously still lodged up there.

-- Tamara Jones
As I said, one or two responses in fact were clever, but they were still insults, not humor:
Hitchens has written what is perhaps the most forward-thinking essay of 1918.

-- Mandy Stadtmiller

Two observations:

1) Hitchens has a point he wants to make, but he can't pitch it; i.e., he throws like a girl.

2) There's not one funny line in the whole essay. Ergo, following his own logic, he also writes like a girl.

What we have here is a woman trapped in a man's body. Until he recognizes the need for surgery, he is doomed to self-loathing diatribes such as this, poor thing.

-- Jennifer Hart
By the way, I can't quite figure out why Weingarten lent his column to these folks. Maybe he was busy this week? Because it didn't help him raise his funny average. (I've often said that humor writing is extremely difficult. Even a great humor writer, like Dave Barry, is funny about 30% of the time. As in baseball, batting .300 in humor is the sign of a star. Gene Weingarten, on the other hand, is sometimes funny, but he seems to me to hover well below the Mendoza Line.)

I've tried to put myself in the shoes of the women who responded to Hitchens, and the first problem is that I don't look good in high-heeled pumps. Even when I stood barefoot, I was able to surmise that the women felt disrespected by Hitchens's essay. I can't really blame them, but they shouldn't feel bad about it. It's men who determine what's funny, as in "The Three Stooges are funny." We just do. It's an ineluctable modality of life. So women can play in a man's ballpark, but it's still his home field.

The consolation for women in all of this is that they still determine whether what's funny isn't funny at all. As Rachel Manteuffel might say, "If you see what I am saying."