March 13, 2009

Are there more lesbian than gay stand-up comics?

I don't watch much TV these days, so I'm not up to date on the latest trends, but it seems like a higher percentage of famous female stand-up comics ("famous" being defined as famous enough for even me to hear about them) are lesbians than famous male stand-up comics are gay.

There have been plenty of witty gays from Oscar Wilde on down, but perhaps modern American stand-up comedy requires a different personality type: more aggressive and depressive, less gay in the old sense of the word.

Maybe if you are a funny gay guy like, say, that star of stage and screen ... oh, wait I don't think he's out of the closet (but it's pretty obvious), so let's change my example to someone who is ... Harvey Fierstein, you are more inclined to go into theater than into stand-up, so you can receive affectionate applause as well as laughs.

Stand-up is a tough life, unless you're a tireless superman like Jay Leno or Bob Hope. You spend years working to get on the Tonight Show, then your reward is that you get to travel alone around the country until people decide you aren't funny anymore. (Or, if you are really lucky, you get to make a sitcom, which is a very nice life, but how often does that lightning strike these days?)

I remember seeing about 1986 at the airport the then-hot comedian Emo. ("My sister just found out that the pastor who married her and her husband was an impostor, so her marriage isn't valid. Yes, it's so sad. Now she'll have to lose all that weight.") He was sitting all alone changing planes for the 100th time in Chicago. He looked as depressed as he made me feel.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I think you're on to something. Wanda Sykes, Carol Leifer, Jane Lynch, Lily Tomlin . . . the list goes on.

I think it's because humor, for whatever reason, is inherently male in some way. Masculinized women would have a (hairy) leg up in that case.

Rob Sherwood said...

Yeah, gay guys seem to prefer self parody these days, a la "Will and Grace". Once you've seen one episode, you've seen them all, and it's not as funny. Somehow I don't feel like the jokes are really "for" me.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece some months ago making this same point. Although he threw Jews in there too.

Anonymous said...

Judy Gold, Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone (identifies as asexual).

Anonymous said...

I could imagine the gay male % of stand up comedians being the same 4-5% as the general male population.

But perhaps 50% of famous female stand-ups seem to be lesbians v. about 2% of the general population. Most female stand ups come off as very masculine, and a high percentage of masculine women are lesbians. You can add to Pancho's list Sandra Bernhard, Margaret Cho, Ellen, and Rosie O'Donnell.

Gay males did better in the comedy world when verbal intelligence and subtle wit were more important that brashness and vulgarity. Compare Paul Lynde and Eddie Izzard with Richard Pryor and Andrew Clay.

Anonymous said...

There is also, of course, Ellen - and I suppose you can throw in the unfunny comedian Rosie O. The odd thing is that feminists are by reputation devoid of a good sense of humor (so lesbians .ne. feminists).

Recall: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

Ans: That's not funny.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, Derbyshire mentioned you in his latest piece in Taki's mag and how it was the 10th anniversary of the founding of the HBD institute.

Is it true that Paul Krugman was a member of the HBD institute?

Anonymous said...

Based on what I know of Women's Studies Departments (motto: "That's Not Funny!!" in latin), "lesbian" and "funny" are not two words I usually associate with one another.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Whoa, didn't know Nathan Lane was gay, although I guess it doesn't surprise me.

m said...

good call steve...i did some lower level stand up but quit when a guy I opened for was the single funniest person I ever saw in my life got paid eighty bucks and had to drive to dc from philly and pay his own way....he stayed in my basement... that guy's name? mitch kumstein my old roommate.....but seriously it was very sad that a funny guy like that couldn't make a living and bill maher is allowed to breathe the same air as me....i will get maher and olberman...and stewart for that matter one day...that's a gd promise....i already did get stewart kind of....he opened for spade and dennis miller in 1994 at warner theatre in dc and there came a point in his set where he asked the audience if anyone was from one answered so he moved on.... later in the set he said the same thing and again no one answered...he was desperate to get into his england material so he became flustered.. so I stood up amongst the thousands of people in the audience and said 'I'll be from England'.... he was broken ...if only Cramer had my wit.. anyway neither lesbians or male gays are very funny imo... you are funny though should do some open mic sure your act will go over big on ventura blvd...God bless

Anonymous said... Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Vowell count as comedians?

I didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting topic, the sort of thing that only Steve would notice or make a point of.

Off the top of my head, if asked what Big Five traits lesbians and Jews have in common that would be relevant to stand up comedy, I would say high Introversion and Neuroticism, combined with extremely low Agreeableness. In fact, in certain lesbian Jewesses (I am thinking now of Sandra Bernhard, who recently threatened Sarah Palin with gang rape by "her strong black brothers"), one can posit a degree zero of Agreeableness, comparable to the absolute zero of physics.

Regarding Neuroticism, Aristotle famously noted that "of all others Melancholy men were the most witty".

Of course, the great misunderstood engine of almost all stand up comedy is aggression. Making someone laugh is a way of controlling them, and making someone laugh against their will is aggression. Aggression would be another mean term between lesbians and Jews that would explain their overrepresentation in stand up comedy.

Anonymous said...

"Making someone laugh is a way of controlling them, and making someone laugh against their will is aggression."

Most people who watch comedians want to laugh.

Leave it to wintermute to make Jewish prominence in comedy into something sinister.

Anonymous said...

Steve, by "Emo" I assume you mean Emo Phillips. A very funny man and an original.

I recall a radio interview with him from aeons ago in which the interviewer asked him how he liked New York.

Emo: You know, New York is one of those places where you either really, really love it or you really, really hate it.

Interviewer: So what do you think of it?

Emo (after a long pause, whinily): It's okay.

Anonymous said...

When the stage version of 'The Producers' played in London in 2004, British reporter Toby Young was assigned by Vanity Fair magazine to interview Nathan Lane, the star of the show.

Young opened the interview by asking Lane whether he was Jewish. After a long pause, Lane snapped, "Yes, yes, what of it?" Encouraged by the answer, the reporter's next question was, "Are you gay?"

Lane responded by getting up and walking out of the interview.

When Young returned to his office, he was confronted by his irascible editor, Graydon Carter, who had already gotten an earful on the incident.

"What were you thinking?" stormed Carter. "You can't ask celebrities whether they're Jewish or gay. In the future, just assume they're all Jewish and all gay, OK?"

Steve Sailer said...

Nathan Lane is extremely Irish-looking. Checking Wikipedia ... yes, he's Irish.

michael farris said...

If Lane walked out it's because the reporter was underprepared and/or stupid (that is if the whole story isn't made up). Lane has officially been out since the 90's (and anyone who couldn't tell long before wasn't paying attention).

Steve Sailer said...

Being underprepared is the reporter's strong suit.

FourSistersGroove said...

Don't you think it's more about the homophobia that exists in the current comedy club circuit, which is a "straight" male dominated area? I would compare it to straight porn: it's okay to throw in a lesbian scene but not a gay one.

Shining Wit said...

"Being underprepared is the reporter's strong suit."

That's a nice epigram Steve. Maybe you should retire to your manor and publish a Rochefoucauldian book of epigrams related to your interests.

Anonymous said...

There is a documentary (Comedian) about Jerry Seinfeld's return to the stand-up circuit.

It illustrates just how hard the life is. Seinfeld is already famous at this point (so the audience is predisposed to enjoy his set), but he is still scrabbling for each laugh, still scrabbling for his fifteen minutes in small comedy clubs.

Anonymous said...

I tried to quantify the number of lesbian stand-up comedians here:

I found that 7-8% of female comedians good enough to make it onto wikipedia's list of female comedians are gay.

Anonymous said...

Gay comedians. What about Louie Anderson...Oh wait,we're talking about COMEDIANS!! Never mind. What part does looks play in comedy?Female comedians,going back to my childhood,have always been homely and played on their lack of sex appeal. Joan Rivers,Totie(hop-along)Fields, and Phyllis Diller being the most obvious examples.(I actually recall feeling the tiniest sliver of prepubescent attraction for Joan Rivers--a feeling that time of course has utterly annihilated)Any comediennes that are, as George Costanza might say,"do-able"?? None as far as I can recall--tho Sarah Silverman currently is respectable.(I believe her affair with Jimmy Kimmel ended because he basically wants to pursue younger sexier girls--tho i could be wrong.)her bizarre,race-oriented and mean sense of humor is way beyond most girl comics. The idea that the maleness of lesbians makes them more able to do comedy SOUNDS reasonable,but their lack of humor,their hostility and resentment towards men and (at least male)sexuality suggests that their rep as "humorless' is well deserved. Pretty girls(i.e. straight) dont do much comedy.Maybe the lifestyle and the vulnerability of being on the road with so many feakish men keeps them out of the field.So maybe a big part of it os that only the ugly,not so hot,survive;and lesbians would be overrepresented among them,thats for sure.(Tina Fey is clearly straight,tho not attractive--for some reason the media tries to make her over into a pretty woman??. Her sarah palin and much of her "30 Rock" show are extremely funny,she is that rare woman who is actually funny!!And Oscar Wilde did do a highly succesful early form of stand up on his American speaking tour,tho something tells me lines like "I can resist anything-but temptation" would be met with more stoney silence than an Obama appointee criticizing the Israel Lobby. To Jokah MacPherson:yes,Nathan Lane is gay. Also Michelle Obama is black!

Anonymous said...

I can't remember who it was, but someone said that the secret of successful stand up comedy is to intimidate the men and seduce the women.

In the UK at least, we have had a few successful homosexual stand ups, but they have tended to be of the camp/sodomy/sex obsessed variety.

Eddie Izzard is successful, but although he dresses as a lady, he isn't a homosexual.

Anonymous said...

I guess Nathan Lane is like Michael Richards (i.e. "Kramer"). A Catholic guy who hung around a lot of Jewish comedians and now thinks he's a Jew. Kind of like how Eminem thinks he's black.

craig said...

Lesbians have the advantage of the double victim card. They get to call angry screeds "comedy" and no one will call them untalented. (E. g. Margaret Cho).

Remember Andrew Dice Clay? He was crucified for his bigoted rants. Cho and Bernhart are celibrated for theirs.

Anonymous said...

He was sitting all alone changing planes for the 100th time in Chicago. He looked as depressed as he made me feel.

And you didn't go over and say hi?

The near-mythological Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot used to take the bus and subway to his local gym in Toronto (after environmentalist David Suzuki made him feel guilty about driving). He once mentioned in an interview that "Nobody bothered me (on the TTC [subway]) but sometimes I got so lonely I wished they would."

There are major stars who are also really nice people; Lightfoot's one of them--several musician friends of mine have bumped into him at the hospital where they work, and had extended chats with him--and I'd guess that Emo is another. (I saw him twice in Winnipeg years ago--he actually remembered me and my sister the second time around.)

"I was in the bar the other day, hopping from stool to stool, hoping to get lucky ... but there wasn't gum under any of them."

Anonymous said...

Margaret Cho, for all her indentification with the gay community (smart marketing-- who else has the time and disposable income and lack of kids to go to comedy clubs all the time), is actually a married heterosexual who's been romantically linked in the past to everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Chris Isaak. Being funny lets you punch above your weight class in the dating pool if you're a woman, too.

Anonymous said...

"Bob said...

Gay males did better in the comedy world when verbal intelligence and subtle wit were more important that brashness and vulgarity. Compare Paul Lynde and Eddie Izzard with Richard Pryor and Andrew Clay."

I believe that Eddie Izzard has said that he is straight, but that he just likes to get up in frocks. Not that there's anything wrong with that! His routines are somewhat funny - not side-splittingly so - but he is a damned good actor. I thought he was great playing Charlie Chaplin in "The Cat's Meow".

"Anonymous said...

Margaret Cho, for all her indentification with the gay community....Being funny lets you punch above your weight class in the dating pool if you're a woman, too."

Is Margaret Cho supposed to be funny? I did not know that.

Anonymous said...

"Remember Andrew Dice Clay? He was crucified for his bigoted rants."

I think this was part of his act though.

I later found out that Andrew Dice Clay is actually a Jewish guy who developed the persona of a blue collar, racist Italian guy.

Anonymous said...

I think Bob is exaggerating just a tad - gay males are probably more like 1% of the total population. That said, humor is masculine or male, at least "stand-up". As far as Hitchens making the same point, he (and I can hear the screeching already) should have mentioned the incredible ethnic cronyism that is behind Jews being over-represented in stand-up (usually supported by a phalanx of writers unlike many of their counterparts). Scream all you want. I've worked in network television for over almost 30 years and know the drill for entertainment (and a good bit of "the news') quite well.

Anonymous said...

Something inherently masculine about humor? Surely you jest. one of the funniest skits I have ever seen was Kathy Griffin's dead on description of Barbara Striesand (whose voice Griffin adores), exuding full awareness of her own extreme importance, meeting a cancer-striken but elated fan. Ms. Striesand apparently could not conceal a latent fear that cancer was contagious. The take was replete with expressions and body language. A devilishly funny and true skewer of egotism and fake god/goddess syndrome.

Stand up humor is quite a bold sort, like the court jesters of old who, rumor had it, could lose their heads if their soverigns did not laugh. Nowadays they must face the crowds and not seem to care about responses while eliciting them in stacatto succession. So yeah. Stand up comedians and keystone cop comedy is predominantly male.
But I have never been in funnier company than any number of females I've come into contact with over the years. However, it's not soundbite humour. It's more whimsical, ironic, commenting or reacting to the ridiculousness of a situation or people,stiuations, etc.; but it wouldn't translate to a stage for the most part. In fact, it wouldn't translate out of context.
One of the least universally similar human traits is the sense of humor, which differs drastically from country to country even among related peoples (Germans/English, French/European Americans, Koreans/Japanese). When a famous French comedic director was brought in to take charge of a Marx Brothers film, he simply didn't get their humor. This is funny?, he asked with a gaulic shrug. He soon left and the Marx bros. found an american director.

Anonymous said...

For a woman who wants to get married, it doesn't pay to be funny.

My spinster aunt is, bar none, the single wittiest, funniest person I know. In a family of male wisecrackers, she puts them all to shame.

Great sense of timing, plus the rare ability to not just get a single joke off, but to artfully extend it and deftly re-introduce variation on the theme at unexpected intervals throughout the day.

Despite being arguably prettier than her sister, (my mother,) she never made it to the altar.

She gives the impression that she rather regrets this.

But men really, really don't like being comedically one-upped by their girlfriends.

In private, you can get away with it; in public, you can feel a man shrink down in his seat a little if you are making his friends laugh too much.

(especially if the jokes are not of the soft, self-deprecatingly feminine variety.)

Maybe lesbians are just freer to engage in public displays of funny than straight women are.

Anonymous said...

Female stand up comedians - collectively - are pretty lame though. Most of them just get laughs by saying shocking, non-lady like things to a middle class audience. They talk about objects that they stick inside themselves and what their turds look like.

Female humor and male humor are different. Females like the kind of mild, simpleton humor you get on Friends. That's the kind of jokes they like in the work place too. Most of you guys wouldn't know that because you work in your all male nerd jobs and don't interact with many females. If you try the same kind of humor around dudes, you get a reputation as a bad joke teller. Guys like humor with a bit more cutting edge.

Anonymous said...

Recall: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

Ans: Because it just does, OK?

Anonymous said...