Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?

This line is from this Vanity Fair article by Christopher Hitchens, and is based, in part, on this Stanford Uni study

What the study basically showed is that in an experiment measuring men and women's responses to various cartoons, men seemed to "expect" a cartoon to be funny from the start, while women were more cautious, waiting until the punchline.

Hitchens then supposes that in society, men have learned to be funny as a way to impress women.

Is this plausible, or even likely? Would anyone be able to provide further information?

If that is the case, that men tend to "learn" to be funny would it then stand to reason that a greater number of men will be considered funny than women, because they have an incentive for being so?

Related Question: Do women prefer men with a sense of humor?

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    The claim from Hitchens and the experiment from Stanford Uni seem miles apart to me. The study was about differences in the brain during the consumption of one type of humour, where the article was about the production of humour.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 18, 2011 at 11:30
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    @Oddthinking not sure the edit was appropriate? I limited it to western countries since other countries may have different standards of humor. The claim from Hitchens is based on the results of the Stanford study, in that he supposes men are funny to exploit the way women possibly process humor, exploiting the reward center. Nov 18, 2011 at 11:42
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    How exactly does a funnieometer work? Nov 18, 2011 at 15:18
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    Men look funnier than women...
    – Flimzy
    Nov 18, 2011 at 16:46
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    @Sonny: And the result you get is bound up in the social matrix of the performers, the audience and (if your not careful enough) the experimenters. And your going to try to state some kind of absolute result from that mess? Really? You can keep it. Nov 19, 2011 at 3:00

2 Answers 2


The linked question, Do women prefer men with a sense of humor? along with the Stanford university study linked in the question show evidence of differences in how humor is processed and that humor likely evolved as a sexual selection trait.

If that is the case it would make sense that men would tend to be funnier than women. Men would be actively competing to be funnier than each other, which would not be as true for women.

As to whether or not men are objectively funnier than women, this New York Times article about a study at the University of California, San Diego which measured the perceived of how funny each gender was in a blind test.

A selected excerpt:

How to determine something so subjective as what makes one person giggle and another give a dismissive shrug? To create a blind test, 32 undergraduate men and women were asked to perform a variation on the New Yorker cartoon caption contest. Each was instructed to be as funny as possible coming up with 20 captions for 20 cartoons in — think fast — 45 minutes. The researchers then asked 34 undergraduate men and 47 undergraduate women to rate the funnier captions in pairs, without knowing the sex of the authors, assigning scores to the writers depending on how they fared.

While men were deemed ever so slightly funnier (0.11 points out of a theoretical possible score of 5.0), they were mostly considered funnier by other men. There goes the peacock theory. Other differences? Men tended to use profanity and sexual humor slightly more often than women (only slightly, thank you, Melissa McCarthy), though neither sex necessarily considered those types of jokes funnier.

A link to the study.

I find it odd that blind as opposed to double-blind tests were performed, as this is a subject area rife with bias.

Even so, the findings of at least one study show that men perceive themselves and other men to be funnier than they are and that men are considered funnier than women, although only marginally.

It's hard to say anything for sure at this stage beyond speculation, as only a single study has been performed.

  • Too bad we couldn't produce an experiment where a male and female comic deliver the same material with the same body movements, voice inflection, cadence, and timing, to the same crowd in the same setting, with the crowd having no recollection of either performance ever being performed before seeing the other. Which would generate the best reaction? Oct 29, 2012 at 20:10
  • @jdstankosky: not such a bad idea. Animated stick figures, written text (removing voice from the equation), large sample of randomly assigned people from the same population...
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 29, 2012 at 22:35
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    Good answer, but this phrase is strange: men perceive themselves and other men to be funnier than they are. It seems better as just men perceive themselves and other men to be funnier, since "funniness" is subjective, and funnier than they are implies that there's some objective funniness that men perceive incorrectly.. Oct 30, 2012 at 16:37
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    @BrendanLong funniness is subjective unless you give it an objective measure, like the score in the test above. Dec 27, 2016 at 14:08

I was asking myself the same question and found this experiment about how the ability to produce humor is correlated with the ability to mate.

The way humor is measured here is again something with cartoons: people are asking to complete as much cartoon as possible and then all those cartoons are rated by judges. For each participant the best cartoon gives the score.

One of the conclusions of this study is that males participants clearly shows a better ability to produce humor, as shown in table 3.

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