Q. My partner says that males are funnier than females. Is he right?

A. There does seem to be a difference between males and females in terms of what they find humorous. First, several categories of humor have been identified including:

  • Cognitive humor - a fairly sophisticated type including off-the-wall humor (e.g., Larson’s The Far Side cartoons). When you get the joke a sensation comes over you from the sudden mental integration of incongruous ideas, attitudes, or situations.
  • Conative humor - involves other people’s misfortune including slapstick humor and the vagaries of life. It can produce a smug feeling of superiority such as when we laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel.
  • Affective humor - involves racial, cultural, ethnic, and so-called smutty jokes.
  • Orectic humor - combines conative and affective types of humor. Studies show that men and extroverted women are the most likely to appreciate orectic jokes.

Studies have indicated that females tend to find jokes less funny overall and may chuckle rather than laugh outright. (Does this contribute to a higher incidence of depression?) They tend to be less amused by what they perceive as poor jokes but tend to rate jokes defined as very funny even higher than do males. In general, males give most jokes a higher rating, tend to find them funnier, and are more likely to laugh harder at them.

Males may be funnier because they may try harder to be funny. Some studies have indicated males may actually be five times funnier (as compared to females). Perhaps this is why more stand-up comics are male. There have been some very funny females (e.g., Lucille Ball), but I tend to think of her more as a situation comic versus a stand-up comic.