If you think women aren’t funny, just try narrowing down a list of the five most influential women comedians. It’s not only a challenge, it’s nearly impossible, leaving you with this horridly incomplete feeling. Women have had a prominent role in comedy since the Elizabethan Era, when Shakespeare’s Beatrice out wit and held her own against the boys. The Golden Era of Hollywood introduced the slapstick genre and the new female persona, challenging their roles as well as men’s.
Who do you watch Bringing Up Baby for, the boring Cary Grant or the charming and sassy Katharine Hepburn? Leading into television with the undeniably funny I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett Show, and Saturday Night Live, how do you not fall in love with Gilda Radner? The female persona has been a dominant figure and influential in the evolution of comedy.
It’s difficult to grasp and present the female persona with honesty and truth (one of the reasons why there is such a taboo over the depiction of women in the media). Much of the battle is breaking the mold they’ve been set in and then defying it. Women are beautiful, emotional, and flawed. How could this not be depicted in both a three-dimensional and hilarious way? Showing the potential for comedy isn’t about gender. A great outlet and the formation of the current success of female comedians comes from their ability to write their own material and find their own voice.
The comedians I’ve chosen for my list aren’t just funny, but are leading our pop culture to new heights with their humor, social commentary and intelligence.
1. The Personality: Joan Rivers
From her groundbreaking work on late-night to her snarky fun with entertainment television, up to her documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rivers has still got it and isn’t losing it. While continuing to do stand-up Rivers also has a reality television show with her daughter Melissa (WETV’s Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?) and is just coming off of a hilarious guest appearance on Louis C.K.’s FX show Louie.
2. The Comeback: Ellen DeGeneres
Emerging in the 90′s as one of the top comedians to watch, DeGeneres’ breakout role was in her own TV show Ellen. After the tumultuous reception of her coming out to Time Magazine, Ellen’s career began to fall. Never giving up or altering her sweet, charming yet insightful sense of humor, she came back by being the voice of Dory on Pixar’s Finding Nemo as well as hosting her own daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
3. The Night Owl: Chelsea Handler
In 2007 late night added a new edition to their known boys-club with E! Network’s Chelsea Lately. The success of the show comes from Handler’s bold humor, making no apologies for who she is or was. Her thriving career doesn’t stop there as she’s also authored best-selling books and is now adding the title of sitcom darling to her resume with NBC’s Are You There, Chelsea?
4. The Headliners: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey
This one is a cop out that comes from my inability to pick from either choice. Both Poehler and Fey started out in improv and made their debuts with SNL. Currently they both star in their own NBC must-see sitcoms with Parks and Recreation (Poehler) and 30 Rock (Fey), two of the smartest and funniest TV shows out right now.
5. The Game Changers: The Cast of Bridesmaids
If my number four was a cop out this is me being stubborn. There is no one choice when it comes to this ensemble cast. When asked if women can be as funny as men, the answer is Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, and Wendi McLendon-Covey. Making potty and self-deprecating humor for everyone, Bridesmaids the top Judd Apatow production to date.
Filed Under: Featured
About the Author: Currently working on my B.A in Film Studies at CSU Sacramento full time, working part time, and playing the rest of the time. Began my love of comedy with Gene Wilder, and haven't looked back. Tweet me @steviewho