“Speaking of women’s comedy…”: An Analysis of Linguistic Traits by Male and Female Standup Comedians

Samuel Alsup, Eden Moyal, Jinwen (Wiwi) Shi, Yitian (Riley) Shi

The question of whether women can be funny is long outdated and has, thankfully, been answered in the affirmative. This project investigates how funny people – namely, stand-up comedians – perform (or don’t perform) their womanhood in speech. Studies conducted by 20th-century scholars highlighted multiple facets of language that are characteristic of women’s conversation, such as tag questions, hedges, and excessively specific use of color terms. This study attempts to answer the question: do 20th-century conclusions regarding “women’s language” in conversation hold up in the context of contemporary stand-up comedy (Lakoff 1998)? Transcriptions of live stand-up acts by White North American men and women indicated that certain features associated with women are indeed more salient in women’s standup, while others seem to be equally used by men and women. This points to a decreased divide over recent decades in what is traditionally seen as acceptable ways of being a man or a woman, and a trend toward accepting the vast spectra of gender identity and gender performance.

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