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It's Eve's turn at the fax

Question: Why are all dumb-blonde jokes one-liners?

Answer: So men can understand them.

What do all men and all blondes have in common?

They are the subject of jibes _ disseminated like a conceptual virus through America's fax machines _ suggesting that they suffer terminally low IQs.

Even as the latest men-mocking gags make the grass-roots rounds, a proliferation of professional female comics _ many with frankly feminist points of view _ has led to a rash of male-mauling humor on stage and on TV.

Not that this is new. Nor is it unfair. What goes around comes around, and gender-bashing jokes were surely among the repertoire when the Cro-Magnon comedians knocked 'em dead at the Cavern Club.

What's different these days is the mass attack _ every member of a group is painted with the same broad brush once reserved for rightly reviled racist humor.

"The women who began (insulting men on stage), like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, would get away with it because they had their husbands to make fun of," said Maria Falzone, a Boston-based comic and finalist in the recent San Francisco Comedy Competition.

Falzone takes on all humans of the male persuasion. She notes, for example, that while women take hours to prepare for a date, "all a man has to do is clean the lint out of his belly button and clip his toenails."

The fellows will laugh gamely at that, but Falzone said they are are less amused by her schtick comparing the relative advantages of male and female sex organs.

Freid Reiss, a self-confessed "insult comic" in San Francisco, holds a contrary view of audience sensitivities.

"There's always been a taboo against guys picking on women," he said. "A female can get up there and reinforce male stereotypes, like all men are concerned about genital size, and it's OK.

"They're more sexist in talking about men than men are about women."

But if a male comic crosses "a thin line where he sounds like he doesn't like females in general, the women will turn on him," said Reiss.

The current male-bashing trend is only the latest salvo in the historical war of the sexes, said Alan Dundes, an anthropology and folklore professor at the University of California-Berkeley who has chronicled these things in a string of books.

"I call it "folklore by fax,' " said Dundes. "There's a terrific set called "why cucumbers are better than men.' "

All are at least 2 years old, he said, and most are not printable in a family newspaper. Among the tamest: "A cucumber won't ask, "Am I the first?' "

The male response was a series of fax jokes under the rubric "sheep are better than women." Sample: "A sheep won't get drunk and throw up in your car."

"The dumb-men joke cycle is a spinoff of those blonde jokes," Dundes said. "For a long time, women weren't supposed to say anything; they just had to take it. Now, women are speaking up."

And dumb-men jokes have found their ultimate embodiment in the vice president of the United States, said Dundes. "Dan Quayle is the perfect dumb man."

This, told by Dundes, may be the perfect dumb-man joke:

"When Dan Quayle goes into a bar, how does he pick up a girl?

"He says, "My father would like to buy you a drink.' "

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service