In the nascent years of humor research, scientists seemed to think so. Researchers found that men were more likely than women to enjoy jokes and cartoons presented to them, especially if the jokes were sexual or aggressive. But later reviews of these experiments found the conditions were less than ideal. Many of the jokes used in the studies were downright sexist, like this one: “Why did the woman cross the road? Never mind that, what was she doing out of the kitchen?!” So did female participants not enjoy jokes? Or was it just that they didn’t enjoy jokes at their own expense?
More recently, Rod Martin, author of The Psychology of Humor and one of the unofficial deans of humor research, looked into the question of gender and humor. He reviewed all the valid experiments, from comedy appreciation surveys to joke-telling contests to self-reported questionnaires to observational experiments, and came to a conclusion that he relayed at a recent International Society for Humor Studies conference: “I think Christopher Hitchens is wrong.” By nearly every scientific measure, men and women are far more alike than different in how they perceive, enjoy, and create humor. This goes for racy stuff, too: A 1998 review of 23 studies dealing with sexual jokes and cartoons found that women liked the dirty jokes just as much as men—so long as the jokes involved weren’t sexist.