50 Hilarious Female Working Comedians (
Part 1 of 2)
1:45 pm, April 11th | by
“Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.”
wrote Christopher Hitchens in a now infamous Vanity Fair article. (In case you were wondering, Hitchens decides that the “humor gap” exists because women “have to affect not to be the potentates.”) Five years later, Adam Carolla — remember him? He was a person who sort of mattered at a point in time. He made a TV show of puppets doing prank phone calls; he was a comedic genius, ahead of his time, etc. — told the New York Post that “dudes are funnier than chicks.” “They make you hire a certain number of chicks,” Carolla opined. “They’re always the least funny on the writing staff.”
We know that these comments largely come from men who are just trying to be provocative or men who have somehow discovered a rip in the space-time continuum and travelled to our near future from the 1980s. Hopefully the systemic sexism that exists in comedy has become clearer in recent years, as more and more funny women gain larger and larger followings on nontraditional platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. Yet, lest there be any man who continues to genuinely believe that women aren’t funny, and because April is National Humor Month, we have decided to attack this ever-present and pernicious claim, with scientific proof: a round-up of fifty hilarious working female comedians.
(Note: The stipulation guiding our list was that the funny lady had to be a stand-up comic — so Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and the like couldn’t be included — and presently performing — so don’t think that we just forgot about comedic legends like Phyllis Diller!)
As a female comedian of color, Aisha Tyler has broken a remarkable amount of ground; I mean, she was one of the few reoccurring characters on
Friends who wasn't white and neurotic. Tyler's comedy is honest, edgy, incendiary, and boy, has it taken her places: Talk Soup, Balls of Fury, and The Talk. A self-described "guy's girl", her award-winning podcast " Girl on Guy" proves that gender stereotypes have no place in comedy; as it turns out, female comedians have the ability to joke about things other than menstrual cycles and boyfriends. With an obscure knowledge of beer, sci-fi, and video games, Tyler can talk the talk and walk the walk straight into Comiccon. Tyler is also a reigning Celebrity Jeopardy champion. Are you in love yet?
While you may know her from her roles as the superfan (read: stalker) Mel on HBO's
Flight of the Concords, the inappropriate Hazel on 30 Rock, or her voice acting on Bob's Burgers and Gravity Falls, where Kristen Schaal really shines is her stand-up. Whimsical, charming, surreal, absurd — Schaal's stand-up is unlike anything being performed right now. Following in comedic icon Andy Kaufman's footsteps, Schaal challenges comedic forms and offers an experience that is always fresh, funny and a little off-beat.
After placing fourth on the fifth season of NBC's now-defunct
Last Comic Standing, Amy Schumer has become one of the fastest rising comedians on the scene. For any strange guy you meet in a dive bar who smells like buffalo wings and argues that women can't be as vulgar or raunchy as men, just pull up a clip of Schumer's stand-up on your 4G MSN Bing phone. While she may look like the girl whom you graduated high school with and became a kindergarten teacher, Amy Schumer tells jokes that would make a sixteen-year-old Tosh.O fan cringe. She is proof that a woman can be desirable, hilarious, and ruthless all at the same time, and that the people will just eat it up: her one-hour stand-up special, , became Comedy Central's second-highest rated special. Mostly Sex Stuff
Margaret Cho has always been a necessary voice on the comedic circuit: a queer Korean American woman, Cho's jokes are honest and insightful; she shares shockingly intimate stories (and thank god she does, because her impressions of her mother make me laugh-cry) and helps us to laugh at the world's lunacy. Best of all, Cho isn't too afraid to weave sociopolitical commentary in her sets; as a result, attending a Margaret Cho show is like getting to meet the lovechild of NPR and the acerbic girl who sat in the back of your chemistry class who intimated you and made you laugh harder than anyone else since high school. (…What ever happened to that girl?)
What can be said about Sarah Silverman that doesn't involve a series of expletives? Her comedy is dark and filthy; frankly, filthy is an understatement. Silverman doesn't believe in the taboo; she fearlessly tears into race, religion, and sex, usually all in one joke. She's outrageous. Sarah Silverman was one of the first lady comics to say the unsayable and never back down; she paved the way for all the Amy Schumers of the present.
defines her comedic style as "dark, dry, and Jewey." A former staff writer for The Late Show with David Letterman and a current field producer at The Daily Show, Friedman has successfully translated her hilarious and smart standup into a multiplatform career. In fact, her play skewering the American Girl dolls and, in turn, the American Dream, , had a successful off-broadway run. Friedman is performing some of the sharpest satirical and political comedy out there. Refugee Girls
There's a lot of reasons to love Jen Kirkman — her willingness to reveal her own cringeworthy past, how she revels in the absurd, the painfully funny work she has produced as a writer/performer on
Chelsea Lately — but we knew it was time to break out the big guns (the L word) last year when she decided to take a Twitter hiatus in order to provoke male comedians into standing up for their female peers. Kirkman is the Sister Suffragette of comedy; if the Twitter campaign wasn't enough, early in her career she founded girlcomic.net, a website meant to encourage girls to write funny stories by sharing articles and interviews by famous female comedians.
While I don't think that Karen Kilgariff would like me (she's a bit of a misanthrope), I certainly like Karen Kilgariff. Cynical and a bit snarly, likeability certainly isn't what Kilgraiff is aiming for, or what she cares about, but it's hard not to like someone when she is making you laugh so hard. Before holding down the
The Ellen Degeneres Show for for five years as the head writer, Kilgraiff was a cast member on the infamous sketch comedy series Mr. Show. By holding her own in that satiric boys club, Kilgariff proved the "women aren't funny" arguments wrong more than ten years before they were even made.
Usually I just can't with musical comedy acts. You can take your Bo Burnham; I'd prefer monotone jokes about pizza, farts, and pizza farts any day of the week. But when I discovered
Garfunkel and Oates, the musical comedy team Kate Micuicci co-founded with Riki Lindome, well, I ate my hat! Surprisingly, I don't mind it when Micucci plays her ukulele and sings to me about how pregnant women are smug and trying to get a medical marijuana prescription; the songs are charming, perceptive, and damn catchy! So Micucci makes this list because she taught me that every rules has its exception and because she is really great at bowling. (The latter of the two is really all that matters.)
While more and more female comedians are getting the recognition that they deserve, late night remains a man's world. Most of the major late night shows sport only one or two female writers. Currently, Laurie Kilmartin is the only female staff writer for
Conan but luckily for us ladies, this women is representing us well. While Kilmartin's work on Conan is nothing to shake a stick at, we champion her for managing to have a fruitful stand-up career, write for a late night show, and publish a smart and bash book, all while being a single mom. You go, girl! Keep on rocking in this paternalistic world!
Being a Black, gay woman and successful stand-up comedian is damn near unheard of. Fortunately, Wanda Sykes has never concerned herself much with the ordinary. Sykes is one of the best confrontational comics working; it is incredibly rare for a comic to be able to maintain an in-your-face and pointed attitude without coming off as irritating or abrasive, but somehow Sykes manages. Never backing down from controversial issues or racial commentary, Sykes' routines are hard hitting and hilarious. She is currently one of the most fascinating and unique voices in comedy. We only wish we could see more of her. (Gain laundry detergent ads don't count.)
Nevermind lady comedian, Maria Bamford is one of the most original and essential comedians currently working. Bamford's stand-up is eccentric: her sets feature a repertoire of caricatures and impressions, a rubbery voice that is able to bounce up and down the scale, and blunt jokes about her own struggles with mental health. What she does onstage is unrivaled. Watching Bamford perform is like being invited into an elaborate and peculiarly dark world that you want to explore forever. We can't recommend her enough.
If Aisha Tyler is a guy's girl, Michelle Buteau is a girl's girl and unapologetic about it. She is as sassy as you want her to be and unafraid to joke about "lady things" like dinners, hair, and shopping. What we love most about this Jamaican-Haitian beauty is the reason why she started in stand-up: after attending one too many comedy clubs that featured approximately zero female acts, Buteau decided to be the change she wanted to see in the comedic world. "In any field it's tough for women," she
said. "Women have to keep house, and have babies and take time off to raise babies, and still do the job, bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan."
It's Phoebe Robinson's ability to interact with controversial topics like gay marriage and race without alienating her audience that makes her so compelling to watch. Yet, we think that some of this Cleveland-native's funniest and most vital work is happening on the blogosphere; by approaching politics and culture with wit and warmth, Robinson engages readers in the types of conversations that most people are too uncomfortable having IRL. In my opinion, her
deconstruction of was smart, real, and one of the best articulations of the show's "race issue." Robinson is proof that you don't have to compromise your mind or your morals to get big laughs. Girls
When half of Hollywood is afraid of you, I think it goes without saying that you are doing something right. Kathy Griffin is the OG provocateur, an evangelist of no apologies comedy. Griffin should be looked at as a role model for female entrepreneurs as well as comedians; just look at the empire that she has created for herself. She was able to transition from her Life on the D-List to her very own talk show and a grotesque amount of stand-up specials. Say what you will about her humor but you can't deny that this chick is hardworking. Kathy Griffin was one of the first comedians to build a career out of commenting on pop culture, particularly reality TV; for that, and for so many Real Housewives jokes, we thank her.
Rachel Feinstein's comedy is character-driven; the characters that drive her comedy largely come from her own Jewish family. Feinstein's performances are more like one-woman shows: she tells stories, she switches voices, and the way that she physically embodies a character makes me think that she's the Daniel Day Lewis of the comedy world. One of Feinstein's best-known characters is a hip-hop-reviewing grandmother known as "
Ice Cold Rhoda, the World's Oldest Hater" who accesses music using a Star of David rating system. Watching Rhoda interview Ginuwine is a spiritual experience.
Ellen DeGeneres is
everywhere nowadays: CoverGirl commercials, daytime television, bookstores, movies; yet, with all that success, she hasn't forgotten her roots in stand-up comedy. DeGeneres is peerless when it comes to clean, quick-witted, observational humor. While her insights aren't necessarily groundbreaking, DeGeneres can provide an hour of offbeat and whimsical fun. Comedy doesn't have to scorch the earth or skewer; sometimes it's nice to leave a set just feeling good.
Jenny Johnson is one of the biggest names on
Twitter — which is pretty much bound to happen after your wit starts a blood feud with the wart on humanity, Chris Brown. Unlike many in the Twitter peanut gallery, Johnson was able to translate her online popularity into real success; as the former TV news producer picked up followers and stars, she slyly moved up the comedic ranks. Now Johnson writes for and is working on a book of essays and a TV pilot based on her insanely popular brand of twisted humor. GQ
Janeane Garofalo is notorious for her angst. She is the quintessential self-deprecating and caustic alt-comic who helped to usher in a new type of comedy that is outspoken, informed, observational and unflinchingly liberal. Garofalo's material comes from all of our lives: it's not unlikely for her sets to transition from a diatribe on social media to the pressures on women to conform to beauty ideals. By blending the worlds of activism and comedy, Garofalo created a unique comedic voice that oftentimes makes us think as many times as it makes us laugh.
Joan Rivers is an icon, and for good reason: she singlehandedly paved the way for all other comedic "mean girls" after launching her standup career in the early '60s. Rivers has never had time for sensitivity; she tears into celebrity, sex, and society with a gleeful wrath and abrasiveness that is compulsively watchable. Her story is an inspiration: she has appeared on numerous talk shows, written best-selling books, directed a feature film, launched a jewelry line, and continues to redefine and sell herself in order to stay revenant. Although in her 70s, Rivers is still going and doing cruel better than anyone else.
Sandra Bernhard's brand of comedy is performed with high style: wry, audacious, and the perfect amount of saucy, Bernard's shows are just that — shows. Bernhard was the first to mold her stand-up routines into a type of performance art; her one-woman shows like
I'm Your Woman and Without You I'm Nothing, With You I'm Not Much Better expanded the boundaries of comedy, integrating raucous theatrics, songs, and vignettes with traditional stand-up. Bernhard has been shocking audiences since the '70s and it doesn't look like she has any intentions of slowing down now.
Lily Tomlin's career has spanned five decades and for five decades, Tomlin has challenged most of the stereotypes that constrain female entertainers. Tomlin was one of the first female comedians to build an act out of observational and character-driven comedy, the type of comedy that earned male comedians praise for years. "When I started out, very few women did comedy — certainly very few did standup," Tomlin has
said. "If you did comedy, you either played on being homely or overweight, or that you couldn't get a man, or that you were flat-chested. Honestly, they played a persona and talked out of that place." It is because of the Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Peabody award-winning comedian/actress that women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig are able to pursue the work they are doing today.
While you may know Susie Essman for her profanity-laced turn as Susie Green on
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Essman's stand-up is where the real magic happens. For more than two decades, Essman has been performing uninhibited and vivid routines all across the country. Much of her act draws from her Jewish background, making Essman one of the foundational and prominent voices of Jewish comedy in the nation.
"Thank you, thank you, I have cancer, thank you, I have cancer, really, thank you." Just hours after being diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, Tig Notaro hit the stage at Largo in Los Angeles and created a historical moment in comedy. Delivering a deeply personal, incredibly funny, and poignant routine, Notaro had her audience weeping, laughing, and hollering in a matter of minutes. After witnessing the set, Louis C.K, one of the industry's greatest,
tweeted, "In 27 years of doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." Notaro is a masterful storyteller. With just one routine, she redefined with comedy could and should do.