When a fat, balding man walks into a bar, do women's heads turn as they gasp, "I wouldn't mind spending some time with that sense of humor?" Do men elbow each other when a plain-looking woman comes in, and say, "Get a load of the sense of humor on her?"
I understand that relationships aren't based on superficialities. I know it's more fun to be with someone who has a good sense of humor. But is it really sexy? Someone who can laugh and make you laugh may be a good person to spend your life with. But does that make it sexy? A sense of humor lasts a lot longer than a pretty face or flat abs. But, sexy? That's what these women said.
In the Esquire poll, when responding to the question, "Which quality in a man most turns you on?" 47 percent said, "sense of humor," 28 percent said "confidence," 20 percent said "physical attractiveness," 4 percent said "power," and only 2 percent said "wealth." So, they weren't saying that a sense of humor in a guy is fun, loveable, or enduring. They were saying that it turned them on!
Maybe I'm a little naïve, but I've never heard the advice, "Forget the diamonds, don't worry about your appearance, don't bother being loyal or sensitive. If you want her to fall for you, just tell her the one about the rabbi, the priest, and the minister in the canoe."
As someone who has spent most of his life surrounded by professional funny people, I'm doubting the data. Comedy writers and comedians are not generally known for having to fight off people of the opposite sex. Years ago, before Woody Allen was seen as weird and was just funny, he was in a restaurant when the waitress asked him, "Are you Woody Allen?" Being shy, and not wanting to deal with autographs, Woody said, "No, I'm not." The waitress responded, "Sorry. Didn't mean to insult you."
Apocryphal or not, that's how funny people view themselves, not as the people most likely to "turn on" 46 percent of the population. When someone laughs at you in bed, it's rarely a good thing. And when was the last time you heard about a woman leaving her handsome, good-hearted, construction-working, motorcycle-driving husband for a short, skinny shoe salesman with a great sense of humor? Have you ever heard about a man who walked out on his young, rich, voluptuous wife for an unemployed older woman who was great at telling jokes?
Who's sexier, Brad Pitt or Jim Carrey? Catherine Zeta Jones or Lily Tomlin? And if you go back in time a little, ask yourself about Marilyn Monroe versus Martha Raye, or Paul Newman versus Buddy Hackett.
So, what should we make of this — that people lie about how important a sense of humor is so they won't appear shallow? Probably. But more importantly, it's really a silly and unfair question to ask what the one sexiest characteristic is. Attraction is not an exact science, and sexiness is a composite of many traits. Sensitivity, intelligence, looks, moral strength, and many other things can contribute to sexiness. Humor is just one component of a sexy, romantic being, and none of them should be ignored.
So, the next time I really want romance, I'll take my wife out to dinner to a beautiful place with great food, that's quiet so I can truly listen to her every word. I'll compliment her, and I'll mean it, and she'll know there's no one in the world I'd rather be with. And just to make sure it's a perfectly romantic night, I'll be wearing a Groucho mask.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver