"The Daily Show" and Perceptions of Female Humor

Is Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" sexist, as a recent post from Jezebel's Irin Carmon suggests? A collection of female staffers from the program have publicly disagreed, and Slate's Emily Gould has written that Carmon's post might have just been an attempt to "gin up page views." Big Think blogger Lindsay Beyerstein, meanwhile, thinks that "the fact that 'The Daily Show' hasn't hired a permanent female correspondent in seven years should give us pause."

But perhaps the dearth of women on the show is related in some way to our perceptions of female humor. Last year, Big Think interviewed Lizz Winstead, the founding executive producer of "The Daily Show," who responded to Christopher Hitchens' suggestion that women are simply less funny than men, saying that the premise of the question was specious.

"If you've never seen a woman be funny, then you're just a sexist asshole," said Winstead. "If one woman has made you laugh ever in the history of your life that means women are funny." Winstead said that if people like Hitchens aren't open to hearing what women have to say, then they're "probably threatened by women who can command attention in a room."

New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff, however, thinks that men and women tend to use humor differently: women use it to share something about themselves, and men use it to hide something about themselves.

"Women’s humor is much more what’s called affiliative which is 'I want to make you feel good. I want to reveal something about myself,'" says Mankoff. "You rarely find men through humor revealing something about themselves. Women often use the ambiguity of humor to probe and to find out about the other person, and they tend to like 'The Three Stooges' a lot less than men."

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