Comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
In last month’s Playboy, comedian Gilbert Gottfried wondered why women say they “want a guy with a sense of humour” and yet are rarely interested in having sex with Gilbert Gottfried. “Ask them what they’re looking for in a man, and more often than not they’ll tell you, ‘Somebody who makes me laugh.’ But I’m here to tell you, as a man who has made his living in comedy for more than three decades, that women are full of shit. Being funny (and I have occasionally been funny) has never gotten me laid in my life.”
Comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, who regularly sing about the ladies don't love them back.
Why aren’t ladies spreading their legs at every quack of the Aflac duck? Perhaps it is because we disagree with Gottfried on the definition of “occasionally,” or because Gottfried has been married since 2007, or because he publicly complains that women fail to spontaneously shed their panties whenever he makes a funny. Who knows! There are endless justifications for not having sex with Gilbert Gottfried.
But Gottfried’s broader question—if humor is so important to scoring, why do some comedians strike out?—is a question that interests to me. In a recent New York Times article, Oxford experimental psychologist Gordon Claridge shares new research that speaks to one theory: The very same qualities that make standups beloved on the stage could compromise their appeal as a date.
Compared to the layperson, comedians display a “tendency towards impulsive or anti-social behavior,” a “tendency to avoid intimacy,” and a “reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure,” Claridge found in a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Claridge asked 523 comedians to “complete an online questionnaire designed to measure psychotic traits in healthy people,” and determined that "the creative elements needed to produce humor” are “strikingly similar” to those of low-level psychosis.
The study found that comedians are even more psychotic than actors.
This is itself a stale joke—you gotta be crazy to go up there in front of a tough crowd, night after night—but it also speaks to the unique terribleness of the LA dating scene, where every other dude is a [whatever]-slash-standup-comedian. Witty repartee between two parties is sexy. A dude performing his routine over dinner is not.
A shared sense of humor can foster intimacy between two people, but jokes can also be wielded as a tool to avoid getting too close. It doesn’t help that the comedy world is extremely male-dominated (four-fifths of Claridge’s subjects were men), that the old shtick that women are not funny is still in rotation, and that female comedians who try to enter that world are, as LA-based comic Gaby Dunn has written, often framed assexual conquests instead of peers.
None of these dynamics are ideal for fostering chemistry between men and women. For many of us, the attraction of laughter still hinges on equality and respect. It's the difference between seeing humor as a social pleasure instead of as a way for Gilbert Gottfried to get off.