Heard the one about the comedienne who tried to lure a man with her best gags? Well, they fell rather flat, because most men find funny women a turn-off.
Research to be published this week in a leading academic journal confirms what many female comics - and funny women - have long suspected: men are frightened by their brand of humour. While men might chuckle at the odd gag, when it comes to finding a long-term companion they do not want a partner who will fire a stream of witty repartee at them, according to the study carried out by academics at some of the world's top universities.
"Men see being funny as a male thing," explained Dr Rod Martin, who led the project. The findings are published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behaviour this week.
Hundreds of men and women in their twenties were questioned. Asked if they found a sense of humour to be attractive in women, most men said yes. But when they were asked if they would want to be with a woman who cracked jokes herself, the answer was a resounding no.
"When forced to choose between humour production and humour appreciation in potential partners, women valued humour production, whereas men valued receptivity to their own humour," said Dr Martin.
More than half the men who took part in the survey revealed that a witty woman was not what they were looking for in a partner. Dr Martin said the findings suggested that men see themselves as the ones who should be delivering the lines and feel threatened by humorous women.
The revelations came as no shock to some of Britain's funniest females. Meera Syal, who co-wrote and starred in the BBC comedy show Goodness Gracious Me, said: "The idea that men are more interested in having an audience rather than sharing banter doesn't really surprise me.
"Women see men with a sense of humour as dangerous and sexy, while men see it as threatening. Basically, what it comes down to is that humour is a mark of intelligence. Many men don't really want to be the recipient of a cutting remark in public that will make them look small or stupid."
Ms Syal, who has also written novels and screenplays, added: "When we were touring with Goodness Gracious Me, we had a troupe of two men and two women, and there were always loads of girls at the stage door wanting the autographs of the men, but never any boys wanting ours.
"That said, I am with somebody who really, really likes the fact that I have a sense of humour. It depends on the bloke and if he wants an equal and the sexiness of banter, which is essentially a form of foreplay. I might have toned down my humour with men I fancied when I was younger, but not now."
Dr Martin, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, says the research may shed light on the failure of female stand-ups who struggle to impress some male audiences.
"One of the reasons why men don't like female comedians may be that humour is seen as a masculine thing," he said.
In the 25 years that the Perrier Award for new comedy has been contested at the Edinburgh Festival, only two women have won it. Laura Solon took the prize last year. "It is a difficult industry to work in and there are a lot more men than women," she told The Independent on Sunday yesterday. But her award-winning wit had not wrecked her personal life, she added.
The research project, which also involved academics from the University of Massachusetts and McMaster University, Ontario, showed that while men were not so interested in "humour-producing women" in long-term relationships, they showed a preference for such types when it came to short-term relationships and one-night stands.
Lucy Porter, of BBC1's The Stand Up Show and Five's The Comedy Store, said that the people who did chat her up probably did so because "they think that if you are outrageous on stage, then you are going to be really dirty in bed."
Most female comics admit that their wit is far less potent than that of males when it comes to seduction. Oriane Messina, of Radio 4's Bearded Ladies, said: "I can't say I've laughed a man into bed, whereas I know plenty of men who have laughed a woman into bed. I temper my humour for certain situations, which might include when I meet a man I find attractive. I think some men find funny women intimidating.
"I went speed dating last year, and was considering lying about what I do, but in the end I told the truth. If they are going to be put off, then they are not for me."
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"I do recognise this type of man. They think that because you're being funny you are entering their domain. Men like this see women doing comedy as operating outside the bounds of what they should be doing. They are the kind of man who assumes that a woman who cracks a joke must be a lesbian. But certain people are like that. Some backward types are threatened by funny women. It's mad. After all, I wouldn't be threatened by a man who can cook."
Susan Murray: Star of the stand-up circuit
"My parents are from Glasgow, which means they are incredibly hard, but I was never smacked as a child. Well, maybe one or two grams just to get me to sleep at night"
"I'd like to meet one. But not a spousaphobe. And not one who scratches himself in public"
Ronni Ancona: Star of 'The Big Impression'
"I used the Cabbage Soup Diet, You can shift 8 or 9lb, but I wouldn't recommend it. You fart like a trooper. You lose more friends than weight"
"My breasts come up a lot. I wish they wouldn't, to be honest, because I'm terribly body-conscious"
Lucy Porter: Star of Five's 'Comedy Store'
"My parents had a typical Catholic wedding. My father was a repressed homosexual and my mother was sedated"
"They think that if you are outrageous on stage, then you are going to be really dirty in bed"
Jo Brand: Star of 'Through The Cakehole'
"How do you know if it's time to wash the dishes and clean your house? Look inside your pants. If you find a penis in there, it's not time"
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