A comedy of errors

I'M never going to tell another joke again. Never. Women, it seems, aren't funny. This long-suspected fact has been proved once and for all by a sad attempt to give funny women their own radio programme on British national radio.

Women's Troubles is billed as a quiz show but is actually four women trying to be informally funny for half-an-hour and largely failing.

The saddest part is how desperately everyone wanted to like the programme. It was an idea, we hoped, whose time had finally come.

After all, in Western Europe it's become politically correct to push women out into the world of comedy to prove they can cope with it - and that we're liberal enough to laugh along in support.

The English have traditionally had a tough time letting women take comic centre stage. The world of smoky male-dominated clubs has been largely replaced by the college campus as the place where young comedians cut their teeth - but the style of humour has stayed remarkably male, more in the realm of jokes about drinking exploits and schoolboy smut than about diets and supermarkets.

In the past, rather than being solo comedians in their own right, women appeared mostly as comic parodies seen through the eyes of men - fat domineering wives, interfering mothers or giggly girls with big busts and corresponding small brains.

Men were firmly the ''us'' of the comic world; women the ''them''. Even today, it only takes a male character to appear with hairy legs protruding from a badly fitting dress and false breast balloons stuffed down his blouse for a British audience to collapse in laughter.

It's not just cross dressing, it's crossing the great sexual divide and the naughtiness of what is irresistible.

So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that now a new and stronger generation of female comics is breaking into the mass media, they in their turn bear an uncanny resemblance to male comedians in drag.

Instead of recreating comedy in their own image, too many of them are still trying to out-male the men, imitating male humour in both style (fast, aggressive and confrontational - the grown up equivalent of boys sparring in the playground) and content (vulgar enough to shock and rude enough to offend).

It's as if they still feel they need to prove a woman can. The question they seem to have forgotten is: does a woman really want to? In my experience at least, female humour is a different animal altogether. It's gently self-mocking, with the joke as often as not turned against the teller.

It's anecdotal and warmly sympathetic, closer to conversation than to point scoring. And it's empowering - supporting the listener by offering a comically exaggerated account of the sad or embarrassing things which happen to us all in daily life.

Maybe that's the real trouble with Women's Troubles. With its too carefully scripted ad libs and too-clever put downs, it's women trying hard, too hard, to be men.