Is It Misogynistic to Not Find Women Funny? – Psychology Today

The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
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Posted September 14, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
There’s been a recent uproar in response to Pints With Aquinas podcast host Matt Fradd’s statement that female comedians don’t make him laugh as much as male comedians. In angry comments, emails, and social media posts, men and women have opined that such a statement proves Fradd is a misogynist.
Whether women comedians are as funny as male comedians isn’t a new question; researchers have been studying it for decades. But is concluding that women comedians aren’t as funny as males a display of misogyny? This post is a closer look at what misogyny entails, whether being able to laugh (or not) at jokes made by women is an example of it, and what the research says.
Misogyny is a hatred of or prejudice against women. It shouldn’t be confused with sexism, which signifies discrimination based on sex. Misogyny, therefore, encompasses negative attitudes or biases against women–not necessarily discriminatory behavior.
There are many reasons a comedy fan might not find a female comedian funny, including the individual’s humor style and tastes—which vary with age, nationality, political and religious affiliation, and gender—as well as the female comedian’s humor style, stage presence, and the quality of their material.
Research tells us that women tend to produce and enjoy more positive humor styles (like telling amusing stories or maintaining a humorous perspective on life’s challenges) while men tend to produce and enjoy more negative styles (think: sarcasm, teasing, and self-deprecation). Women have also been found to prefer neutral or absurd humor, while men have been found to prefer sexual or aggressive humor. Thus, women’s humor may not be as funny to men, while men’s humor may not be as funny to women. Rather than being a reflection of misogyny or misandry, dislike of one gender’s typical humor style could simply reflect a preference for the style more common to one’s own gender.
Joke content alone isn’t always enough to make us laugh. A comedian’s delivery and their confidence, stage presence, attractiveness, and performance ability also help determine whether we find a joke funny.
Confidence strongly affects whether a comedian will be perceived as funny and how well they’ll perform. Under-confident individuals are perceived as less competent and of lower status—two factors influencing a comedian’s success in entertaining a crowd. In sports, less-confident athletes perform more poorly compared to more-confident competitors. Research suggests that, in general, men are more likely to be over-confident while women are more likely to be under-confident. Female comedians’ experience of under-confidence could, therefore, impair audiences’ ability to laugh at their jokes.
Confidence also influences stage presence, a crucial factor in performer success described by researchers as the quality of having “prestige or authority” coupled with an ability to command others’ attention and be convincing. Performers’ confidence, command, and authority help determine the trust audience members must have in performers to find them entertaining—particularly to enjoy stand-up comedy.
Unfortunately, attractive women are judged to be less trustworthy. So the more attractive a female comedian is, the less trust she may inspire in audience members and, therefore, the less likely those audience members may be to be entertained by her jokes. Historically speaking, women have also had fewer opportunities to assume authority than men, so female comedians may be at a disadvantage in terms of having enough practice embodying the authority required to make others laugh (or having enough female role models who embody such authority): In 1970, around two percent of stand-up comics were women. Around 2014, that number was still estimated to be about 35 percent.
A performer’s anxiety can also tremendously affect their ability to engage, cultivate trust with, and ultimately entertain audience members. Anxiety has been found to impair the rhythm and pacing of a performance and to suppress “communicative behaviors” critical to a good performance, like facial expressions, the inflection of one’s voice, and gestures of the hands and arms. Women tend to experience greater stage performance anxiety than men (“presumably due to their tendency toward higher trait anxiety and their greater emotional investment in the activity,” according to one study), so this can also explain why, generally speaking, women may be perceived as less funny than men.
What’s more, workplace studies find that women who display stereotypical male characteristics (especially assertiveness and dominance) are rated as less likable by both male and female employees. Yet these qualities are integral to a good comedic performance. Workplace studies also show that women who use humor at work are considered “more disruptive” than men. Female comedians who display these male-typical characteristics may risk appearing less likable to audience members and therefore judged as less entertaining.
Ample research suggests many reasons people may not find women as funny as men and that bias against female comedians is quite prevalent. But not being able to find women as funny as men doesn’t mean someone dislikes or is biased against women in general. Someone can dislike the humor, content, and style of female comedians yet still deeply respect women as a class or group and firmly believe they share equal dignity with men.
Those who believe Fradd (or anyone else) is “misogynistic” based solely on his expressed preference for male versus female comedians, without consideration of his opinions about women in non-comedic contexts, may be jumping to broad conclusions without ample evidence. The outrage towards Fradd typifies the knee-jerk accusatory fervor characteristic of Internet discourse in general, a microcosmic iteration of our growing intolerance for nuance, digesting complex realities, or civilly respecting the opinions of others when such opinions don’t perfectly align with our own. I encourage readers to look at the Pints With Aquinas excerpt.
Katherine (Schreiber) Cullen, MFA, LMSW, co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration, is a psychotherapist and writer based in New York City.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.

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