Comedian Jimmy Pardo makes sure to drop a short joke early on in his routine. That way, no wisecracking audience members will bring up his height.

"I'm onstage so I'm the tallest guy in the room," says Pardo, who is 5-foot-4 and has appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." "It's a lot about confidence and charisma and power."

Pardo is happily married to a 5-foot-3-inch woman. And before his marriage, he had no problem landing dates, often with women taller than him. High school was rough, he admits, but even then the "popular girls" went out with him because he was funny.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy when you're not a well-known comedian, Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone. Dating experts, women and men 5-foot-7 and shorter concur: Even though the average American man is between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10, height is an issue, and the "tall" in tall, dark and handsome is still a big point of desirability.

"It's been an issue my whole life," says Andrew Meyer, 40, of San Francisco. Meyer is 5-foot-7. "From my end, it can create some awkwardness. But more so, I feel it from the woman's side. They seem more receptive to taller men. Taller than them, at least."

Meyer once dated a 5-foot-9-inch woman he felt "towered over" him in heels. Upon meeting him, a blind date told him his height was a deal-breaker. For these reasons, Meyer tries to target women who are between 5-foot-1 and 5-foot-6.

"There's a part of me that understands it, but it's kind of a


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restrictive convention, especially if you're trying to meet someone you could have a meaningful future with," Meyer says.

Sophia Lane, 18, of Berkeley is 5-foot-8 and dated a man shorter than her. "I would feel uncomfortable around him in heels," Lane says.

At parties, Carolyn Beaty, also 18, gravitates toward the tallest guy in the room. "I guess I like to feel little," says Beaty, who is 5-foot-2. "In a day and age where being tiny is such a big deal (for women), I guess the 'tall' in 'tall, dark and handsome' only reinforces that."

Psychology professor Maureen O'Sullivan says body image is an obvious reason women prefer tall men. The taller the guy, the smaller the girl looks.

"You look in the media and the pressure on women to be thin is everywhere," says O'Sullivan, who teaches at the University of San Francisco.

Also, much like height for women, thinness is the one physical attribute men don't like to compromise on when looking for a mate, says Terry Fitzpatrick, chief operating officer of The Right One, the nation's largest matchmaking service.

Fitzpatrick says most women come in wanting someone "tall, dark and handsome," but once they open up, a matchmaker identifies what they're really looking for.

"What most women really want is a guy with a personality, sense of humor and confidence," he says. "They are way more willing to sway on that than men are (about weight)."

Even so, most women, regardless of their own height, are only willing to go down to 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, Fitzpatrick says.

"When you start getting below that, that gentleman's going to have to be a strong, self-confident man," he says. "It's tough to match that man."

Sarah Gorback of Oakland is 5-foot-6 and admits that she prefers to be with a guy who is tall enough that she can easily fit under his arm when walking down the street. She calls it an "innate desire to feel guarded or protected."

"However, maturity and confidence can definitely add a few inches on a shorter guy," says Gorback, 26. "A guy who acts big and in control of any situation can give his partner that same feeling of security."

In terms of evolutionary psychology, it's no wonder women prefer taller men, O'Sullivan says. Much of the research supports that height in a man is a symbol of genetic preference and fertility, she adds, citing a 2006 study in Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

Another study by Jeff Hancock at Cornell University showed how men on dating Web sites lie about their height -- and women about their weight -- but only by a few inches or pounds. Even Fitzpatrick, of The Right One, admits to fibbing -- on his driver's license. "I don't know why I do it," he says. "Probably insecurity."

Boosting confidence in all aspects of dating is a significant chunk of Askmen.com's coverage, says editor-in-chief James Bassil. A piece written by Heidi Muller on dating short men generated 140 posts, and continues to stimulate dialogue.

"The most damaging aspect to a short guy is his confidence," Bassil says, adding that the site provides content for short men on everything, including sexual positions and how to dress to de-emphasize height (avoid vertical stripes).

Jamie Diamond of San Francisco tries not to let the issue bother him, despite online dating profiles he skims that say "only guys 6 feet tall need reply." "What if I'm 5-foot-7 and have every other quality you like?" quips Diamond, 37.

Some sites, like Match.com, show height requirements, while others hide them and use the data to send people matches.

Online, Diamond met a 5-foot-11 woman from Las Vegas. They struck up a friendship, and before meeting, he warned her that he was 5-foot-7. "And your point?" she said to him. Diamond was pleasantly surprised.

"She said, 'You sound so nice and fun and seem like a great guy,'" he recalls. "There are women out there who don't care and realize there are other qualities that are more important."

Reach Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanewsgroup.com or 925-943-8155.