Last week, I went to see Flight of the Conchords live and I had a little epiphany. Afterwards, I found myself saying over and over again- in slightly shocked tones- “They’re…they’re really attractive.” “Yes,” said my female (and a few male) friends. “They are.” Possibly I’m just late to the party on this one- after all, guys with guitars have always been attractive and these are two guys with guitars – but I’d never really bought into their perceived sex appeal. One live show and I’m under the spell of those Kiwi charms: it’s that deadpan lack of charisma, the way they kind of can’t be bothered to speak. Except apply those qualities to any actual person, and I’d run a mile.
The other day, I jokingly (read ‘tipsily’) announced to a crowd of friends a long-held secret belief of mine: that I was going to marry comedian, columnist, writer, actor and ubiquitous panel show personality David Mitchell. “What,” said one of them frowning and holding up a picture of him on his iPhone, “him? Really?” Yes, I declared staunchly. He is erudite, laconic and has nice eyes. However, he is also apparently full of self-loathing, has a fairly nasal voice and, let’s face it, is not exactly an Adonis. Again, put him in the real world and I probably wouldn’t look twice.
So why are these three men so attractive? Well, there’s one fairly obvious factor I’ve yet to mention- the funny. It’s common knowledge that women like funny men: often the first thing women say they look for in a partner is the ability to make them laugh. But this is getting silly- I know women who have admitted to crushes on Hugh Laurie (think Blackadder not House), Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, Chris Morris, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey. Bill Bailey looks like your mad uncle. Chris Morris resembles the kind of teacher who stood a little too close to you in the corridor. And yet fancy them we do, in droves.
I don’t claim to speak for womankind on this matter but I’m certainly not alone in it. I suspect there are several explanations. First: intellect. There’s nothing interesting about fancying Brad Pitt: look at him. You do or don’t find him attractive. But fancying comedians is a statement- it’s a badge of honour, irrevocable proof that we prize intellect and wit over looks, engaging the neurons not the saliva glands. Comedians are the Thinking Woman’s Crumpet.
Second: power. A lot of male comedians play on awkwardness, shyness and social ineptness; a lot of women find this puppyish naivety appealing. Combine it with a razor-sharp wit underneath and voila: a smart guy who can make you laugh but, crucially, won’t make you feel inadequate or talk down to you in conversation- who highlights, in fact, your superior social skills. To quote that Bible of female wisdom, Bridget Jones’s Diary, ding-dong.
And there’s a third reason, one which we must whisper: could it be, perhaps, because they are on TV? After all, fame does have a certain glamour about it. Women are supposedly attracted to men with power and what power could be greater today than dominating the airwaves? Comedy is just opinions, after all, and we invite our comedians to give theirs over and over again- on panels, in columns, on the radio, onstage. And we think they are right because they are funny. Sometimes they are- but comedy is also acting, and if you’re not a little bit convinced by the end of the set then they haven’t done their job right.
Agree with them and it’s easy to like them, even love them: after all, one only appreciates Brass Eye’s ‘Paedageddon’ episode if one agrees that the media’s handling of sexual abuse scandals causes more problems than solutions. Oh, that Chris Morris, he’s ever so clever, gosh, I think I fancy him, etc etc.
Despite this, I would like to think that were I to meet David Mitchell at a party, and he wasn’t famous, but he was as funny and engaging and unpretentious and concerned about the world we live in as he is on TV, then, yes, I’d like to think I’d still be attracted to him. Fortunately for me, I’ll never have to find out. See you at the wedding.