Consumer Insights: VH1’s Finding Funny

by Michael Desmarais, Market Research, VH1

With a new wave of funny female-fronted movies and TV shows finding wide success recently, VH1 mined the humor landscape of its female Adultster (Millennials, ages 25+) audience to determine whether the new faces of female humor, from Mindy Kaling and Zooey Deschanel to Amy Schumer, represent a more fundamental shift in the female humor experience. In “Finding Funny,” VH1 examined the role and benefit of humor to female Adultsters, what humor captivates them, and their primary sources for funny content. In addition, it charted differences in how male and female Adultsters define humor.

Key Findings

The female humor palate seems to be broadening, as women increasingly embrace traditionally male styles of humor.

  • Put-down/humiliation (think: Inside Amy Schumer).
  • Cringe/gross-out (think: Bridesmaids).
  • Pantomime/physical (think: New Girl).
  • Sex (think: Sex and the City).

Despite this closing gap, there are still key differences in humor between the sexes.    

  • Women see humor as a well-told story, while men view it as a well-defined craft.
  • Women may determine that something is funny based on whether they were entertained more broadly, while men base it on whether or not they laughed.
  • Women appreciate drama balanced with humor, while men prefer “just the jokes.”
  • Since women don’t draw as strict a line between comedy and entertainment, they therefore find a more varied palate of content funny; women apply “funny” more liberally to content that entertains them.

The rise of reality TV and the speed of technology have been game changers in the female humor experience.

Reality: While there are no jokes and no punch lines per se, humor comes through the drama and antics of the characters, whether laughing at or laughing with them

  • 63% agree that they watch reality TV to laugh at the characters.
  • 55% agree that they watch reality to see people acting crazy.

Pace: The Internet has sped up the pace of humor. “Liking” and “RTing” are second nature, and women share what they love and check out what their friends love.

  • Nearly half of women devote 50% or more of time spent online to watching funny content.
  • 60% consider social media sites their top source for content.

Snarkiness: Women are showing an increasing distaste for meanness for its own sake, and may start to draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to snarky humor.

  • 92% believe that humor can cross the line and no longer be funny and 72% believe that making fun of someone at their lowest is not funny.

Whether they’re simply bored or looking to de-stress, there are six need-states driving Adultster women’s humor consumption.

  • Relax and reboot me: 86% agree that they watch funny content to relieve stress or relax.
  • Shock and entertain me: 67% agree that they watch reality TV because it’s often funny.
  • Keep me in the know: 41% agree that they watch funny content to stay up to date on pop culture.
  • Fill gaps when I’m bored: 66% agree that they watch funny content to fill time when they’re bored.
  • Let me see how the other half lives: 52% agree that they watch reality TV to see how other people live.

Help me escape and make sense of it all: 74% agree that they watch funny content to feel happy.

Engaging with humor requires a mix of traditional and non-traditional media. Women look to the following sources for funny content:

  • TV shows (76%)
  • Social media sites (60%)
  • Movies (55%)
  • Friends/family (47%)
  • Word of mouth (21%)


Humorous advertisements are memorable, with 9 in 10 women agreeing that they are more likely to remember funny ads. Brands and marketers hoping to connect with females can tap into this distinctive sensibility by understanding the following takeaways:

  • Funny isn’t just about laughing – women want to be entertained.
  • They find relief in imperfection.
  • While snarky is appreciated, there’s distaste for meanness.
  • Women have boundaries, and marketers should stay in-bounds.

The Methodology:

VH1 conducted an extensive literature review, expert interviews and a roundtable discussion with Adultster female comedians. With consumers, the study included online bulletin boards, in-home friendship groups and conflict groups pitting men against women. Quantitatively, an online survey was conducted among respondents 18-39.

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