November 10, 2005

Why women don't like The Three Stooges.

That men love The Three Stooges and women don't is one of the classic old topics in the unending discussion of the differences between men and women. Without researching the conventional theories on the subject, I'm going to assume that people are following the rule I say scientists follow when they report research on the differences between men and women: Portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior. So it would go that men are simple-minded and love violence, while women appreciate complexity and abhor violence. (I'm eschewing this digression right now.)

I was talking about The Three Stooges on Audible Althouse #19, last night, tracking the blog post of mine about that Stanford study and, as is the Audible Althouse way, digressing:
When I was a kid, there was a real tomgirl in the neighborhood who just loved The Three Stooges, loved them so much -- really thought Moe was funny. Most of the girls just thought Curly was kind of sweet and liked Curly a lot but found Moe really a little too frightening, a little too disturbing. And Larry was just ... uh ... Larry was ... kinda ugly.
This prompted Steve Donahue, in the comments here, to defend Larry Fine:
Larry is indisputably the funniest of the Stooges. Much like the Zippo you defend, Larry is reliable and funny in an understated way. If you ever get a chance to watch another Stooges Short, do nothing but watch Larry. His reactions to the physical comedy are excellent; it's easy to forget when you watch him that they're not really smacking the hell out of each other.
I respond to Steve over there in the comments:
Steve: That was a vague memory of what young girls (other than the tomgirl) thought of the 3 Stooges in the late 50s/early 60s. I think we were distracted by Moe and Curly, who called more attention to themselves. I'm willing to believe what you say about Larry is true. In fact, I'd rather completely concede it than watch the 3 Stooges. I do think guys who love the 3 Stooges and comment on the fact that women don't are failing to take adequate account of how physically ugly these men were.
So, yeah, I wanted to front-page this point. Maybe if The Three Stooges were physically attractive -- at least to The Marx Brothers level -- women might be willing to watch them. The assumption is that women want more language-based humor, while men are more visual, but maybe a big part of the problem is that the humor is visual and the men are ugly.

Think about it! Which comediennes do men respond to? (Sorry for being so heteronormative here!) Who are the comediennes men don't like so much? There's a physical attraction element here!

And you know how women are always saying the number one thing they want in a man is a sense of humor? You know they aren't picturing Larry Fine coming into their lives.

UPDATE: "You know they are picturing Larry Fine" was a typo, now corrected. And believe me, it wasn't a Freudian slip. I am not longing for Larry!


Ron said...

You mean Phyllis Diller didn't build an entire career on not being attractive? or Roseanne? I think men find them just as funny as women do. I often wonder if women want their female comedians attractive, as the most negative reactions I've seen to Roseanne or Diller have come from women.

I find the Stooges so-so funny; no where near as funny as The Marx Brothers. (Why don't we have comedy teams anymore? Why are we just limited to stand-up people?)

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: Did men like Phyllis Diller that much? Did men like Joan Rivers, who did much the same thing before she went in for all that plastic surgery? Weren't men disgusted by Roseanne? Meanwhile, everybody loved Lucy. And Mary Tyler Moore. And the actresses on "Friends." Etc., etc. I agree that women also prefer to look at physically attractive women. My post point is that men don't mind looking at ugly male comedians.

As to why there aren't comedy teams anymore, maybe it's that people aren't starting out in stage shows anymore. There are still these improv groups and SNL, but once someone is good enough for movies, they are put forward in a solo mode. I think some of the great comedy teams -- Laurel and Hardy? -- were put together by the studios.

Noumenon said...

I respond to Rita Rudner -- which fits your theory.

KCFleming said...

Funny women?
Dorothy Parker
Fran Lebowitz
Rita Rudner
Catherine O'Hara (SCTV)
Merrill Markoe
Andrea Martin (aka Edith Prickley and Perini Scleroso)
Lynda Barry ("Marlys" cartoonist)
Roz Chast (cartoonist)

Unintentionally funny women?
Mary Mapes
Courtney Love

Steve Donohue said...

That is an interesting observation. But I must admit that I'm having a difficult time thinking of really good and attrative male comics. Of course that may just fit your point perfectly, if the women around here are able to rattle off a few names that I haven't thought of.

If the ratio of unattractive men to attractive men is high, goes that mean that the consumers of this kind of comedy is mostly male? And if this is true, does this mean that the article is right, and women have a more discerning taste in comedy, passing over much that is a lower quality?

KCFleming said...

In her prime, Phyllis Diller was enormously successful. Men and women enjoyed her acerbic wit. Johnny Carson thought she was quite funny, to be sure.

As she said, "Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight."

The Mojician said...

When did "front-page" become a verb? Are you becoming like Mike Tice who has turned "gameplan" into a verb?

KCFleming said...

Merrill Markoe on looks and comedy:
"I think people figure out early in their lives what currency they can work in," she says. "Some people know that they are so adorable looking, all they have to do is smile and dress up and they get plenty from that. Then there are some of us who, early on, see that that doesn't work. So we joke about it."

P_J said...

I just want to make it clear that I have never liked, much less loved, Lucy.

Did men like Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Roseanne?

Well, I didn't especially, but mainly because 1) Diller was too self-deprecating, almost neurotic, and 2) Rivers and Roseanne were just too abrasive and irritating.

I don't know that it has much to do with their looks. As Pogo pointed out, it may be a kind of humor that develops in response to perceived unattractiveness. Anyway, I enjoyed neither Friends (except Kudrow) nor Marty Feldman, so I'm not sure beauty is the causal factor.

Troy said...

Three cheers here for Madeline Kahn -- the funniest and the bright spot in a couple of Mel Brooks duds (History of the World is spotty on repeat viewing -- high-larious when I was 13.) Cloris Leachman too -- especially as Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety and Phyllis in the MTM show, not the horrid spinoff. And of course Carol Burnett and Burnett show Vicki Lawrence and not her horrid spinoff Mama

CS said...

Obvious questions: Do men find The Stooges funny because they're disposed to enjoy violence against unattractive omega-males as a means to assert their status, to themselves and the group watching? Is cartoon-violent heirarchical conflict a more easily distanced form of real heirarchical anxiety, thus a cause for distancing male laughter? (I said obvious...)

How about other slapstick? How do the women in this discussion (is it jumping the seasonal gun to joke about "heteronormativity scenes"?) find Sennett, Keaton, Chaplin, the Marxes? Is it the difference between clownlike and actually ugly? Or is it the overt, direct abuse that's the issue?

Ann, how did you and your gradeschool set feel about It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?

Is Seinfeld attractive or clownlike? Larry David? Carlin? Are there other forms of otherness theses days that supplant physical appearance (neurosis, hipness)?

Thanks, I'll be here all week, don't forget to tip your waitress.

bill said...

CS, among others ask why men find violence funny. As I never found the Stooges (except for Iggy) to be funny I'm not sure I can answer. However, I can provide two quotes men are more likely to repeat than women:

1. It's always funny when friends get hurt.

2. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt...and then it's just fun.

And I can't believe no one has mentioned Imogene Coca, so I will.

Allah said...

Which comediennes do men respond to?

Sarah Silverman. Janeane Garofalo, once upon a time.

I like Kathy Griffin too, although I'm probably in the minority of straight guys on that.

Bruce Hayden said...

This is back to my previous post on this subject. I think that the appeal here is that men like to look down on those less competent than they are themselves. That appeals to our hierarchical nature. So, the sort of humor that makes someone look totally stupid appeals to us.

Women, on the other hand are more empathetic and relational. And I would suspect are more likely to feel sorry for them than to look down on them, as guys tend to.

On the other hand, Phyllis Diller was joking about trying to combat the ravages of age. This is something that most women can identify with (and those who don't, like my girlfriend, are, IMHO, self-delusional). It was self-deprecating, which women seem to appreciate much more than men do. I don't know any guys who liked Diller. I thought she was atrocious, as I did Rivers. Just could never get why anyone thought either was funny.

As an aside, last night I was watching a Steve Martin appreciation show, and some of his stuff, to a guy, was hilarious. One great one was a scene of him as a totally obnoxious waiter who was getting things out of order, but was still super-confident, etc. The woman was horrified by his actions (which were worthy of that), but her date reassured her that the restaraunt had gotten great recomendations. This was from back before Martin's hair went white. No doubt that this too was thought funnier by the guys than the gals.

My usual caveat. I am talking averages here. Plenty of women like male humor, and I am probably too empathetic to really like some things most guys like.

Sean E said...

I don't know. I think Ann is conflating comediennes with actresses who do comedy roles (Lucy excepted). Most actresses tend to be atractive, as do most actors.

If you look at male comedians who moved on to bigger things, most don't tend to be all that great looking - Ray Romano, Kevin James, Larry David - and I don't think their audiences skew heavily male.

There are fewer female comics so it's harder to make a comparison. I didn't care much for Rosanne, but I think it was her persona more than her appearance. I liked Ellen, who is not attractive, but maybe I was an exception among men. Sarah Silverman, who is funny and hot, has only had moderate mainstream success.

Appearance probably plays a role (doesn't it always?) but I still think it's more a matter of comedic tastes. If Adam Sandler looked like Tom Selleck my wife might be more willing to sit through his movies, but I doubt she's be laughing any harder.

Ron said...

I wonder if, for men, good looks work against them being comedians, especially stand-up comedians? Cary Grant being the exception, of course.

I'm also curious about, in the heyday of Diller and Rivers, how many women went to comedy or nightclubs by themselves? This wouldn't be true today, but weren't most of the women then taken there as dates by the men? Are the men picking comedians they think the women will like?

Back to comedy teams -- The Marxes surely not put together by a studio! Maybe the Stooges were? I'll bet most teams were not, because they came from vaudeville.

P. K. Scott said...

Just for the record, my wife is a total girlie girl but she loves the Three Stooges more than me. There is not a tomboy bone in her body. Also, her favorite stooge is Shemp.

Joan said...

What the heck is a 'tomgirl'? I was a tomboy as a kid: a girl who wasn't into girlie things. I don't think I've ever heard the expression 'tomgirl' before, and I hope I never hear it again.

PatCA said...

I also dispute the study findings.

My sisters and I growing up in WI used to watch the Three Stooges and laugh our heads off. Later, we enjoyed Blazing Saddles together. I guess we are not the most advanced of the gender.

I do think the Midwest and East Coast Catholics in those days did not value prissy humor; we only had one tomboy in five girls and still laughed. Heck, they were just funny, and we didn't have 100 TV stations to choose from. And I can't stand Lucy--I want to reach into the screen and stop her from doing all the dumb stuff that launch her predicaments.

Wade Garrett said...

Sarah Silverman's good looks really work for her; her comedy is so vulgar, and yet men have a hard time being grossed out by someone so cute. To look outside of stand-up at comedic actress, I'd say it helps to be pretty, but not glamorous or threatening. On the sitcoms I grew up watching, Helen Hunt, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and Shelly Long were all very pretty, but not beautiful, and not in an especially elegant or sophisticated way. You could relate to them, and that's important. Portia DiRossi, of Arrested Development, is more of a traditionally glamorous actress, I don't know what effect that's had on her career.

Ann: "Physically attractive, at least to the Marx brothers level" is a difficult sentence to unpack!

Gerry said...

I always found Gilda Radner to be flat-out hysterical. And I really did not find myself wishing I could be Gene Wilder for a day, if you know what I mean.

Ditto Carol Burnette, and Madeline Kahn. Lily Tomlin! And I loved Mary Tyler Moore who was fairly attractive, but it wasn't like she inspired lust.

And then there is Bette Midler, but with her it depended on the role.

Gerry said...

Troy-- good call on Cloris Leachman.

I also used to enjoy Betty White, who was entirely too old for me to look at in any sort of sexual way.

Gerry said...

How could I forget Tracey Ullman!

Beth said...

PatCa, count me as an exception, too. And I don't think we're all that exceptional. I loved the Stooges as a child, and I continue to laugh at damn near everything. Beavis and Butthead hold a special place in my heart.

Dogtown said...

The first-ever post I've read on this topic. What a gift!

Looks in a comic are, to me (I'm a 44-y.o. male), of little relevance. If anything, bad looks are a plus, because then I can focus on the humor, and the comic gains some subconscious sympathy as well. Rodney Dangerfield is the classic male verson, and Phyllis Diller is the female counterpart. She is, and has always been, hilarious. (My favorite joke of hers: "I wore a peek-a-boo nighty for my husband. He peeked, then booed".)

I have an older brother and sister, and we used to watch the Stooges after school some days. My brother and I laughed like hell, and my sister rolled her eyes. I still don't understand why the different reactions, but I have always believed that it somehow speaks to innte differences between men and women, and then left it at that.

The nice thing about living in Los Angeles is being able to go to this every year after Thanksgiving, where family members of the Stooges come to mingle with the crowd.

James said...

I think there are tons of female actresses and performers who are funny -- all the women on "Arrested Development", Tina Fey even if SNL itseslf is bad right now, Lucy, the and millions of others in certain roles past and present. Being funny in a role is mostly funny, regardless of gender.

But I can't ever recall really thinking a female stand-up was all that funny. (Sarah Silverman, by the way, is very one-dimensional in her humor and almost seems to pride herself on making the audience dislike her personally. Plus, she seems to think Jimmy Kimmel is funny or something.)

This is not to say I find a lot of male stand-ups funny, either. Watching those Comedy Central show,s for instance, can be an absolute parade of disasters at times. I think, though, that part of that problem is that male comics can have any number of angles or personas, but women comics either present themselves as women-comics, or their audiences only look at them in that way.

Getting back to the post, I think a simple reason we're missing is that, in general, more men like The Three Stooges and women don't is because there are almost never women involved in their skits, and the focus is on three men, zero women.
Just like ESPN has more male viewers (with some female viewers) because it's a "man" channel with airtime devoted almost exclusively to men, and Lifetime has some male viewers, but certainly many more female viewers because it's a "woman" channel with airtime dedicated toward women.

Harkonnendog said...

Reading the list of female comics I realize I've never found an ugly (to me)woman funny. Gilda Radner- not attractive, nor funny at all to me. Madeline Kahn- hysterical. Was she really so much funnier? I doubt it. And down the line that held true. Those I found pleasant to look at I liked, those I didn't I didn't. The only possible exception might be Molly Shannon- I find her barely attractive and frickin' hysterical.

Ann you are really onto something here.

Gordon Freece said...

Rachel Dratch is not attractive, but she's paralyzingly funny. Do women think she's funny too?

Gordon Freece said...

"Do women generally think she's funny", that should have been. Perfect unanimity seems unlikely.

Allah said...

Speak of the devil.

Chris O'Brien said...

Julia-Louis Dreyfus is the funniest comedic actress of the last 15 years. Anyone who doesn't believe that 100% is objectively wrong.

You're THROUGH Soup Nazi! NEXT!

Dogtown said...

I can't wait to see Silverman's new flick. She is surprisingly funny, and she stole the show in "The Aristocrats", an uproariously vulgar and funny movie from earlier this year.

If anyone's seen Sarah's movie, I'd like to know your take on it.

Ken Begg said...

I have actually--this is a sad admission--explored this question with woman acquaintances over the years. One complaint that I have often gotten from them after watching slapstick comedy (primarily the Stooges, but also Laurel & Hardy, etc.) is that “It’s so predictable.” I have received that exact comment from numerous women over the course of many years.

What I find interesting about it is that predictability is the heart of slapstick comedy. While us guys take great pleasure in Moe accidentally smacking Curly in the head with a pickaxe, the real laugh comes when Moe demands, “Hand me the tools.” That’s what I call the “Bad Idea” moment.

This is why my favorite Stooge moment occurs in Dizzy Pilots, after Moe falls into a tub of liquefied rubber. He comes out coated in the stuff, and to remove it, he suggests “Inflate it with that hydrogen tank; it will pull away from my body, and then you can cut it off in strips.” The following results are hilarious, but for me the biggest laugh is hearing that suggestion and thinking, “Oh, that’s a bad idea.”

Oddly, horror works the same way. We all like to see the zombies munching on people, but it’s the moment when some knucklehead says, “Let’s read this demon incantation!” that really packs the punch.

Felice Luftschein said...

Imogene Coca was pretty ugly, but she was well loved at the time....If you haven't read Phyllis Diller's autobiography, get it and read it asap...hilarious and informative.

A friend's mom was Larry Fine's girlfriend for a while. The pointless part about this fact is I've never talked to her about it, so I have no idea what the relationship was about, but friend's mom was a terrible alcoholic...

Eli Blake said...

The three stooges were essentially cartoons. Flesh and blood, yes, but still cartoons (which means it is no wonder their characters transferred so easily to Scooby Doo cartoons.)

vbspurs said...

Think about it! Which comediennes do men respond to? (Sorry for being so heteronormative here!) Who are the comediennes men don't like so much? There's a physical attraction element here!

I echo Nick Carter's reference to Imogene Coca.

In fact, back in the day, all ugly girls could do in vaudeville, and later the pictures and telly, WAS comedy.

Fanny Brice, Martha Raye, Imogene Coca, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers.

Funny ladies, very funny. But butt-ugleee.

(That's why I love screwball comedies -- but the premise of those are that the situations are unintentionally comical)

After Lucy Ball broke the glass ceiling for prettyish women, then we've had at least a balance.

Fran Drescher and Debra Messing owe a lot to Lucy.


vbspurs said...

Oddly, horror works the same way. We all like to see the zombies munching on people, but it’s the moment when some knucklehead says, “Let’s read this demon incantation!” that really packs the punch.

What an excellent observation.

BTW, the Three Stooges are not the only comedic team around the world, with that physically aggressive comedy, which women tend not to like (yes, I find it too predictable, as well).

Other cultures have their own 3 Stooges.

In Brazil, Os Trapalhões (trans: The Clutzes) had a Sunday night show which was adored by boys and men, and hated by women -- for precisely those reasons.

And before the 3 Stooges, "Laurel and Hardy" filled that void.

I much prefer L&H though. They're masculine, but original.


amba said...

In my experience men -- especially men who've been exposed to it a lot, beaten by their fathers and/or beaten and beating in schoolyard fights, but most men have been exposed to it to one degree or another -- find violence funny. It's probably a defense against anxiety and a kind of schadenfreude -- it's funny to watch somebody else getting it, and laughing is a kind of toughness. Men have to deal with a certain amount of violence, and they're supposed to toughen up and learn how to dish it out as well as take it.

Violence between men isn't funny to most women because they themselves are overmatched in most encounters with men. (Women might find a hair-pulling bitch-slapping catfight funny.) Violence directed towards themselves is no joke, not a test, and rarely ends in mutual respect, friendship and camaraderie.

Anonymous said...

I miss the Ritz Brothers. And Hellzapoppin', for that matter. Non-sequitur comedy is so great.

Zen Wizard said...

You make some really good points vis-a-vis the attractiveness factor: I am not sure but I would speculate that the female comedians that men don't like are very "Stooge like," i.e., Roseanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell.

I recently purchased a compendium of Stooge films, and regarding the underrated contribution of Larry, I would agree.

Parenthetically, the films featuring Shemp don't seem to play as well as other Stooge films, I would theorize because he is too similar to Moe, and it's too much of a "good thing."

But part of it could be the subconscious resentment we always feel for "replacement characters"--like the second Darren on "Bewitched" or "replacement Jan" on "The Brady Bunch." (To cite just a couple examples.)

Anonymous said...

Ok...this is a few years late on this post...but I just found it. I have to say that I loved the 3 stooges and I'm a woman. Not that it matters...but a straight woman.(Just didn't want to hear any comments speculating on that) And, not much of a tom-boy...I liked Barbie's,dolls, stuffed animals as well as my chemistry set, and playing with frogs/toads. (I thought they were cute)

I didn't like Moe much because he was so mean. And, Larry was pretty weird looking and ugly. I loved Curly though and thought he was adorable! But, I thought together, they were hilarious. I knew they weren't really hurt so it was just funny the way they slapped each other and fell down a lot.

I loved Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello too! Also, how about John Ritter on Threes Company? He always was falling down or getting smacked or something physical. He was extremely funny and good

I liked Roseanne when she first came out and was so new and cute that she would giggle at her own jokes with the crowd. Later she was just rude and crude and I didn't like her at all. I never like Joan Rivers...her humor has always been just mean. I LOVE Carol Burnett...she is my favorite comedian of all. I loved watching her show when I was a kid.

So I guess as a woman...I'm in the minority here. But, I loved the Three Stooges!


*Black Rose* said...

Like the last poster, I'm a few years late as well. But, I just wanted to put out there that I'm a woman, and have always LOVED the Stooges!! I watched them with my father when I was little, then with my husband (now ex) and now with my Son. They never fail to amuse me!

Oddly enough, my current husband absolutely hates the Stooges. Guess that blows the theory of "men like 'em and women don't". ;-)

Noel Lynne Figart said...

My mother, who is far more classically feminine than I am, loves the Stooges. I can take 'em or leave 'em. My son? Adores 'em.

Sandy said...

As a kid, I loved the Three Stooges. I'm not sure I love them as much today as a woman pushing 60 but they were classic. Their timing was impeccable and many comedians that followed learned from their skills. Slapstick is about timing and they had it down!

jim g said...

wake up. carol burnett!!