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Last Laugh

Who says women can't be funny? It's just that there are differences in what men and women make jokes about. And how they do it. INSET: What's so damn funny?


There's positive humor and there's negative humor. And the latter, contends philosopher John Morreall, Ph.D., is a mostly male phenomenon.

To produce humor in conversation is to take the power role. And where negative humor-all those mother-in-law put-downs-once supported male power, women's more active role in life, and especially business life, is symbolized by "the blossoming of women's humor."

When, for example, Rita Rudner says "My boyfriend and I broke up. He wanted to get married, and I didn't want him to," she is not offering herself as a doormat. "She is showing her cleverness."

The kind of humor emerging today from women is just what everyone needs, says Morreall, professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and creator of Humorworks business seminars. The last laugh is that it's also coming from "an encouraging number of men."


Attitude: competitive cooperative

Source: distrust, hostility, caring concern

envy, jealousy

M.O.: singles out victims brings people


Effect: makes some people feel let's everyone

good at the expense of feel good


Tone: negative positive

Type: sarcasm kidding

Focus. what one of us did what any of us

might do

Goal: rhetorical one-upsmanship spotlighting

issues in

their lives

Target: the weak the powerful

PHOTO: Rita Rudner, exemplar of the new women's humor: "I love to sleep. Do you? Isn't it great? It really is the best of both world's. You get to be alive and unconcious." (DARREN MICHEALS/RETNA)


Andrew Dice Clay has built a lucrative career on woman-bashing. Sexist jokes, like racist jokes, are staples of male humor, negative, victimizing, and promoting white male solidarity.

Joan Rivers broke the male monopoly on humor, but with jokes that keep women--notably herself--as the butt: "I have no sex appeal. My body is falling so fast that my gynecologist wears a hard hat."

After Joan Rivers's self-mockery came Roseanne's "let's get hostile ourselves" negative comedy: "People come up to me all the time and say 'You're not very feminine.' I say, 'Well, suck my d**k."

Lily Tomlin personifies today's women's humor, sympathetic and full of insight on the human condition: "How come when you talk to God you're praying, but when God talks to you you're schizophrenic."

PHOTO: Andrew Dice Clay

PHOTO: Joan Rivers

PHOTO: Roseanne Arnold

PHOTO: Lily Tomlin