While peer reviewed research is the gold standard for results, sometimes more informal research can be pretty darn interesting. I got sent an interesting informal study this week that I thought was quite fascinating despite (or perhaps because?) it lacked typical rigor.
This study was based on humor and gender. Now, as a matter of course most gender research annoys me. Gender is the biggest subgroup you can have (3.5 billion of each, give or take) and any conclusions you draw must be taken with the knowledge that much of the data will vary wildly. This is fine if your goal is something like, oh advertising that will appeal to a larger number of women or men in specific. However, if your goal is to address something to a specific man or woman (like say therapy) gender generalizations can only give hints of paths to follow, and will rarely tell the story for one person. One of the bigger challenges couples therapists face is actually convincing clients that it doesn’t matter what most men do, it matters what your spouse does, and vice versa.
Quick example: Back in the day when it used to be a novel idea that a woman would be Secretary of State, I remember having someone tell me that women would be bad at international diplomacy because your average woman was more emotional than your average man. I had never thought about it before, but I remember retorting that I sincerely hoped that we never had an average woman in a position that high, as I was sure we had probably had never had an average man. On average, nobody should be Secretary of State.
I thought about some of this when the AVI forwarded me this Steve Sailer post about men being funnier than women. Humor is another tricky subject to study, and you put it together with gender and you can get bogged down for forever in questions and caveats. Humor is in large part a cultural construct (watch the British, German, and French versions of The Office and you’ll see what I mean), and even within humor there are always questions about who is “truly” funny. Commercially successful comedians? Indie comics? Their TV shows and movies or their stand-up days? Or are we just talking about cocktail party chatter and our friends? Also, the kind of humor you like has a lot to do with who you think is funny…puns? Situational comedy, pranks, physical comedy, LOL cats? My personal favorite comedy brand is the Comedy Central Roasts and South Park. However you answer these questions though, I think it’s important to note that your average person is not terribly funny to anyone outside their own circle.
Quick example: This is only funny for those who both appreciate farming humor and know who LMFAO is. Since I listen to the radio and grew up on a farm, it made me laugh pretty hard:
That being said, I thought the research Kyria Abrahams did was truly enlightening. She went through and found 10 unknown but rising comedians, and wrote down all the topics they made jokes about. Then she postulated that the list of mens topics was more varied and more interesting to a broader audience than the women’s list. Take a look and see if you agree:
So yes….the men’s topics are more unexpected, fresher, and more likely to be funny than the women’s. Now whether that’s because women are getting pigeonholed or what, I can’t say, but I had to appreciate this addition to the conversation. While I have seen plenty of discussion regarding men and women and who is funnier, I had never seen someone actually try to tease out what comedians were talking about when we assessed their humor. It’s an important variable, and her data suggests a big discrepancy. If women changed this would it close the gap? Who knows, but it’s an interesting thought. To act like the gender/humor question only has one moving variable (the listener’s sexism) is to reduce two extremely complex topics down to nothing. Mentioning other variables is not sexist (as Kyria was accused of in her comments section) it’s just good research.
The moral of the story? Keep average people off my TV, when I want comedy, I want exceptional.