This week has seen a near unanimous chorus of disgust and anger at Seth MacFarlane’s woeful performance as host of the Oscars. It should really have come as no surprise though: men simply aren’t very funny. It is a simple unassailable genetic fact that for men humour is simply a tool – a blunt brutal tool most often used to assert their own superiority. It is learned in the playground. An insult, followed by the inevitable laughter of simpering acolytes, is often better than a punch for the bully asserting his school-yard status. As the male of the species transition from boyz to men, this early violent impulse becomes the defining feature of masculine laughter. The primary means with which men make each other laugh is insulting each other; the words may take the form of a joke but the only purpose is to demean, to assert power, to bring down the other.
Most of the time this sublimated bullying is called “banter”. Anyone who objects is told that they cannot handle the banter, that they don’t have a sense of humour. This dynamic is replicated – for money – in comedy venues all over the world. Countless male comedians unable, or sometimes unwilling, to make an audience laugh through jokes or stories will resort to bullying audience members. The so-called comedian will pick out an item of clothing, or some other facet of the other person’s being, and use this to assert their dominance over them. The audience will laugh, not because they are actually enjoying the experience but because they don’t want to be the next victim. The audience is reduced to being the sycophantic courtiers of a capricious tyrant.
Occasionally, a man who fancies himself a little smarter than the average – a Ricky Gervais or Al Murray perhaps – will claims that their banter is ironic. They will argue that they themselves are the butt of the joke, that we are laughing at them not with them. This is pure bluff. Intention counts for nothing when the majority of the audience are missing the point. Indeed, “banter” has become the dominant voice in British television comedy, witness Mock the Week and it’s runty spawn in which gangs of boy-men fight to assert their superiority by bludgeoning one another with semi-satirical barbs. Then there are the likes of The Inbetweeners, Peep Show and The Thick Of It where we are invited to laugh at men verbally brutalise one anyone that crosses their path. Again, it could be argued that we are invited to laugh at – rather than with – the characters. But when a “clunge” or “bus wanker” slips from the lips of a skinny chino’d “lad” it is clear that intentionality is but a fig-leaf. A great deal of the audience are having their own odious world view reinforced, their prejudices confirmed.
Yes, you might argue, this but a mere facet of male comedy, men have raised laughs down the years without attempting to assert their alpha-male credentials. Haven’t the likes of Woody Allen, Bill Hicks and Christopher Hitchens forgone the crude insults that typifies male comedy and used more intelligent methods to induce laughter? Yes, but even this is often merely reasserting power by other means: if a man knows that physically he isn’t the match of his peers he will brandish his intellect as a weapon. Like a rutting stag with antlers made of longs words and bad metaphors he will still attempt to make himself head of the herd.
Valerie Solanas once said “to be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.” Watching – or at least reading reports by those who had watched – Seth MacFarlane attempt to elicit mirth with degradation it wasn’t hard to agree with her assessment – at least when it comes to men’s humour. Men’s humour is deficient, men’s humour is emotionally limited, men’s humour is the bleat of the emotional cripple that doesn’t want to become the butt of someone else joke.