Humor, Sex and Verbal Jousting

Coors holds a very special place in my heart. I loved working there because the beer business is fun and they treated their people very well. However, I quickly learned that being an executive for a beer company meant being able to take humor like a man.

I have not been in a mens locker room but traveling with an otherwise all male management team might be similar to what it is like. Their idea of entertainment was a stream of jokes taken at someone else’s expense.

South Park 3 Boys Humor N

Good wit is attractive to women and important in male hierarchical play.

One reason I fell in love with my husband was that I loved his way with words. I admire Ray’s humor because he is able to be very funny without resorting to being gross, vulgar or hurtful. I consider that evidence of his intelligence.

Apparently, I am not alone in being attracted to a man’s wit.

Whenever you look at on-line dating sites, you will see many references regarding good sense of humor (GSOH). But that doesn’t mean that men and women are looking for the same thing.

Women want a man who is a humor “generator,” while men seek a humor “appreciator.” (Eric Bressler, a psychologist at McMaster University in Canada)*

Geoffrey Miller theorizes that men learned to use humor and wit to attract a mate and perhaps to outsmart other men.*

Men and Women use humor differently

Jonny Goldstein replied to my April 8th post saying, “‘the arch enemy’ statement was definitely written twit in cheek!” Jonny, I was using your words to make my point about male competitive spirit, not to express hurt feelings. I very much appreciated the reminder that I wanted to write this post about gender differences and humor. Many thanks also to Tim who left an inspirational comment here on April 30th about verbal jousting.

Anything said when comparing men and women usually includes sweeping generalizations and certainly there are individual, cultural and demographic differences. But looking at some expert opinions, it would be worth considering:

“Men taunt other men with clever nicknames and insults. That isn’t something that women do. They don’t tend to play practical jokes, or engage in humor that humiliates or puts somebody down.” (John Morreal, a professor of religion at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, who has studied humor for 25 years.)*

“For women the primary goal of conversation is intimacy and, for men, the goal is positive self-presentation. Women’s humor supports a goal of greater intimacy by being supportive and healing, while mens humor reinforces performance goals of competition, the establishment of hierarchical relationships and self-aggrandizement.” (from Mary Crawford’s book, Talking Difference on Gender and Language)

Many men can feel threatened by a woman with a sharp wit. However, men who do appreciate their female partner’s humor are usually more secure, mature and educated than average. (Don Nilsen, a linguistics professor and expert on humor)* I would add the same holds true for male appreciation of intelligent, successful women.

*Thanks to William Lawson who sourced the experts for an article in Psychology Today.

There are fewer successful female stand-up comics

I know a lot of very funny female writers of books, columns, blogs etc and there are some great comedians but in general the number of men investing their time in being humorous, particularly stand-up is simply larger.

I think it could be explained by the two common goals of being funny: to joust with other men and to attract women.

Christopher Hitchens explains why he thinks women aren’t funny in a Vanity Fair article. I am not saying I agree with all his points but I thought it was worth including.

Jokes about the difference between men and women

No discussion about the gender differences in humor would be complete without at least one humorous reference to stereotypical differences between men and women. There are so many, here is one cute list and a sample:

If Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose.
If Mike, Charlie, Bob and John go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Godzilla, Peanut-Head and Scrappy

Generational Differences in Humor

Do male teenagers use particularly aggressive humor? I should ask my friend, Vanessa Van Petten, author of Teens Today but I did pick up this amusing recent experiment.

As reported by the BBC, Sam Shuster observed hundreds of people while unicycling around Newcastle upon Tyne. He discovered that men made more jokes at him than women. He said the majority of male jokers were aggressive and mocking, while most women at most teased him with a smile. He found teenage boys to be particularly aggressive in their humor.

Is the Way Men and Women Use Humor Changing?

Political correctness and the evolution of the place in society of women and minorities may have affected how we use humor. As women become integrated into previously male domains, is the gender related use of humor changing? What have you noticed in your life?

About Linda Sherman

International, multicultural marketing pro, Linda brings a distinguished background of international subsidiary CEO/CMO to her Social Marketing expertise. These include CEO Club Med Japan, Barilla Japan and CMO Wal-Mart Japan. Managing Editor, Boomer Tech Talk, she is passionate about senior services including senior health care and housing. Linda Sherman has been featured and quoted in Forbes, The New York Times, Christian Monitor and other leading publications. She devised and implemented an innovative guerrilla-marketing plan for ZIMA in Japan that produced a lasting, profitable success. Linda has hands-on technical skills in building and search optimizing WordPress websites and an influential on-line presence. Her company, The Courage Group, provides personal and start-up branding, digital film; social marketing strategy and training.

Connect with Linda Sherman on Twitter and Instagram @LindaSherman.


  1. I enjoyed this very much thanks. Great examples of men’s use of humor to solidify their status, and women to build connection. This status-connection thing is the foundation of our differences! And of course, even that comes from our biological differences!

  2. Great topic!
    When I used to host a stand-up comedy show, I got to see a lot of male and female comics. Based on those observations, Christopher Hitchens (who has to be one of the unfunniest people on the planet), is wrong, yet again. He’s on a roll (note his idiotic support for invading Iraq). Lot’s of funny females out there. But the ratio was about four male stand-ups for every female.

    My wife is one of the funniest people I know. I guess that makes me one of the “More secure, mature and educated than average,” guys Don Nilson cites. Note the self aggrandizement in that last sentence.

    The fact is, most folks aren’t that funny, male or female. It is possible to learn to be funny though, if anyone really cares to invest the time. Buy a book about joke writing and start practicing. It worked for Drew Carey.

    My life experience jibes with this statement: “Good wit is attractive to women and important in male hierarchical play.” I remember a guy I grew up with who was hilarious, and his sense of humor helped him cement his position in the social snake pit we called high school. I don’t recall any girls riding the horse of comedy to the top of the social hierarchy in high school.

    Often times, oppression is fertile ground for humor. People from oppressed groups can use humor as a coping mechanism, and for some sweet verbal revenge on the oppressor. This would militate toward having a surplus of female comics though, right? Or maybe women aren’t so oppressed? Hmmm…

    Obviously, women can be hilarious (Lucille Ball, Roseann Barr, Sarah Silverman). But I don’t think society appreciates funny women as much as funny men. And that is not funny.

  3. back almost 20 years ago when i was putting together my ideas of my ideal mate (having spent all the time before plunging into relationships with not-so-ideal ones), the right sense of humour was on top of my list.

    fortunately, i got what i was looking for and i appreciate his sense of humour very loudly – AND we generate humour together.

    i honestly think that this is part of our equal relationship. there is no “who laughs at whom and why” hierarchy, and i observe that that was quite different in my parents’ relationship. my mother wasn’t supposed to be creative, and she wasn’t supposed to be funny. both my parents at least sometimes tried to get her there but culturally, there was no model, very little support. so my mother admired my father’s creativity and wit (both of which were truly stunning [hm, i just realized that if i had a cold, that word would be “studding”. coincidence???]).

    lots of interesting stuff you bring up here. great blog!

  4. I think good manners and good taste is always appropriate.

    I don’t buy the line that vulgarity is bonding or acceptable in some situation.

    So I don’t go out of my way to treat men/women or other designations of people in different way.. rather, I try to communicate with that INDIVIDUAL

    Needless to say, gender, age, background, are a big factor in what makes an individual who they are.

    It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be accused of treating people too well.. except by a few vulgar idiots.

  5. Thanks for the article. Back in the day, when single, I did a class at our singles retreats that our church had. I thought we did a good job, but your talk about humor would have really added to it.

    If my wife and I ever choose to do the same talk I promise I will borrow from this info.
    Thanks Rick @hearthealthguy

  6. As a stand-up comedian, over the years I shared the stage with many accomplished and aspiring comics.

    Most were funny. Alas, some were not.

    The ratio of males to females on stage ran about 10 to 1… I am happy to report that all of the women were in the funny camp.

    In my experience, being truly funny is not something you can learn… it is an innate reaction to life’s inherent weirdness… most funny people are keen observers, gutsy risk-takers, and often have life experiences that provide loads of material.

    It is extremely difficult to teach the widely divergent skills of observation, attention to detail, courage, and thinking on one’s feet… not to mention having the intestinal fortitude to stand up in front of strangers and be willing to fail… an inevitable (and unfortunately all too regular) occurrence in the funny business.

    Of course, people can write funny things and tell funny jokes without being funny themselves. (As evidenced nowadays by the obligatory first moments of a typical executive’s speech.) You can learn to do a better job of communicating funny stories, actions, etc., by improving your timing, topical relevancy, use of props and gestures.

  7. Ultimately, humor is still communication, though it’s more specifically about spotting patterns. People who see patterns in unlikely places can then pass along observations as Seinfeld does, and people who have experiences in both domains will immediately say, “Oh yeah… how come I never noticed that?” Lewis Black, in contrast, also spots patterns, but appeals to people with experience in slightly different domains. It’s still communication, but with a narrowly directed purpose.

    Female comedians, in my experience, are exceptionally good at noting patterns between male/female communication and other funny situations. Note Elayne Boosler’s joke about Moses and the Israelites:

    “Of course they’re going to wander around for 40 years. Who’s leading them? A man. Is a man going to stop and ask for directions?”

    With regard to Ray Gordon’s comment, there is definitely a difference between the observation of a pattern, and being able to deliver that observation in a way that creates the most impact. In an interview several years ago, Seinfeld compared the delivery of a joke to “jumping a canyon, and taking the audience along with you.” More detail can be found here:

    Interestingly, being funny is something that can be analyzed to a very great degree. It can be honed and practiced, just as playing a musical instrument can. However, the real question that you seem to be asking, is how men and women use humor differently.

    And in that regard, you can compare this to all communication. My comment here isn’t particularly funny, but am I commenting to create social intimacy (which you seem to be describing as a “feminine” approach), or am I commenting to somehow make myself look smarter, or promote myself in comparison to others (the “masculine” approach)?

  8. As a follow-up, I would point out to Warren that most of the humor in Shakespeare was considered vulgar and profane in his day. Vulgarity is a matter of social norms and expectations of behavior.

    When my father began a sermon years ago talking about his dog, and commented that he was “the cutest little son of a bitch you’ve ever seen,” the congregation was horrified. Dad pointed out to them that they had read into Dad’s words what they chose to, bringing their own meaning along with them, because the terms he had used were in fact accurate.

    Whether they use vulgarity or not, men, as a rule, tend to create artificially competitive environments in all sorts of situations. I can call the people who bond this way “ruffians” or “uncouth” or “vulgar idiots,” but doesn’t doing so engage in that very same sort of jousting (even if it’s not designed to create a bond, but to prevent one)? Isn’t the point of calling them “vulgar idiots” to show that I am, in some way, superior to them? – Tim

  9. @Jane I love that we are in the same city and that this post allowed us to connect. Thank you so much for linking from your great blog.
    @Jonny Excellent comments. Thank you. The only point I hesitated on was being able to learn to be funny. Ray Gordon replied for me on that.
    @Isabella Great to have a psychotherapist from Vancouver weigh in. Happy that we could connect here.
    @Warren Thanks for starting the discussion with Tim about vulgarity.
    @Rick @hearthealthguy on Twitter. Glad to meet you!
    @Ray first comment from my wonderful husband on my blog. I love it.
    @Tim Your thoughts are much appreciated as usual.

  10. JustLindaSTL says

    (I know I’m posting on old posts – I expect that’s OK with you??  I always love it when people read and get interested in my old posts!)As a humor blogger, this was an interesting topic to me.  I know that I never want my humor to hurt anyone.  There are things I think up in my head which are hysterical (to me) but I can’t blog about because I know people will get their feelings hurt.  And I don’t mean bad things, really, just things that people are sensitive about.  My mom is a champion question-asker.  She will ask you questions about anything until you lose the will to live.  I could poke fun of this on my blog, but my mom reads it so I won’t.  I am limited by that.  I watch and read other comedians and it’s true that men often boldly plow through those barriers, but I think women do much more these days than before, albeit more subtly. 
    I would love to do stand-up once.  It’s on my bucket list. 

    •  @JustLindaSTL I am delighted to have you post on old posts. I am especially delighted to have a female humorist read this, not to mention someone who has also actually been through it working with guys in the beer biz. 
      My husband did stand-up while we lived in Japan. Actually, I got him involved in it. There was an open mike at the Tokyo British Club and I said casually, my husband is funny… Well, he lived through that and went on to create some great routines about living in Japan. So I know what it is to prepare for a stand-up routine from being around it. I know you love public speaking, I can tell you this would be another valuable tool supporting your on stage persona.


  1. […] who has studied humor for 25 years.)* …Laconic Reply –|||Humor, Sex and Verbal JoustingI very much appreciated the reminder that I wanted to write this post about gender differences and […]

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