Vanity Fair raconteur, Iraq war cheerleader and writer of always-comprehensible essays Christopher Hitchens knows what women's mouths are for, and it ain't for telling jokes. In a just-released essay from the January issue, Hitch writes self-importantly (or, since we're dealing with Christopher Hitchens, "writes") about why women aren't funny in an essay unambiguously titled "Why Women Aren't Funny." I confess, as one who writes often on comedy and feminism and the intersection thereof, to have being somewhat apoplectic when I saw it, seeing as I and my dad find me hilarious (Hide the Salmi? Anyone?), so much so that I had to wait until I calmed down. Which actually turned out to be moot, because far from being outraged by Hitchens' essay, I was merely...bored. Actually, not merely bored, colossally bored. It's hard to even want to bother trying to eviscerate asinine sentences like "As every father knows, the placenta is made up of brain cells, which migrate southward during pregnancy and take the sense of humor along with them" (not even worth the time it would take to rebut) when so many other sentences start with things like this: "The ancient annual festivities of Saturnalia..." Oh, my God there were so many words, and all of them were boneheaded. If you doubt it, consider that the entire scientific basis for what he declared as incontrovertible fact was rooted in a poem. Even Larry Summers was smart enough to throw in some facts.
So despite being all fired up to tear Hitch a new one (with a new and improved version of a reach-around), it's sort of rendered moot by the total lack of credibility he has with this piece. Any time I recruit a new writer for HuffPo I tell them I don't care what their opinion is as long as they give readers enough information to disagree with them intelligently. Sure, I can disagree intelligently with Hitchens but that would only make one of us. In addition to providing not one iota of support for any of his sweeping statements, his conclusion from the Stanford study (cited in his piece) didn't follow, since it found that a basic sense of humor was common to both women and men but women tended to enjoy punchlines more, prefer verbal wordplay, and were more discriminating about what they found funny. He also makes up statistics, especially ones which totally contradict his basic theory, like so: "There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians." Er, Hitch, if men are funnier both biologically and sociologically, then there are probably a LOT more male comedians; and, since by your argument all guys seem to think they're funny (and by Stanford's argument women are more discriminating about realizing what will and will not get a laugh, and thus more likely to self-censor), it then follows incontrovertibly that there MUST be more terrible male comedians than terrible female comedians.
I could go on, as others have (the female of the species and all that), but it would take too long because every line of the piece is ripe for effortless evisceration, and not because I'm particularly funny, either, but because the essay is particularly terrible (and boring. I think I mentioned that). All that I learned from the piece is that Hitch thinks Woody Allen is masculine — but otherwise no facts, which means he forgot (or doesn't know) the first rule of comedy, which is that the funniest material is rooted in actual truth. Even the dykiest female standup knows that.
If Hitch wants to bone up on the subject, I can recommend a few books to him, starting with "Truth In Comedy" by Del Close and Charna Halperin, or anything by Nora Ephron written over the course of her always-funny life. I've noted in the past that there is great writing and there is humor and there is great writing about humor. This is neither, but if you are looking for something that hits on both try New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee's interview with his editor, Robert Mankoff , currently on HuffPo (two words: Pudding). In it, they discuss, inter alia, the role of New Yorker editor David Remnick. Editing? Hmm. Graydon, you might want to try it.
NB: This post appeared earlier on Eat The Press. Go there now to see other stuff written by an unfunny woman!
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