Humor Me, Ladies

It’s neither original nor astonishing to point out that there are lots of people who don’t think women are as funny as men. There are countless stories of women being passed over for jobs in comedy, whether writing or performing. A friend of mine has told a story about finishing a performance in Chicago and being approached by an audience member who was amazed because “women aren’t usually funny!” – and, sadly, that audience member was a woman herself.

It’s so ingrained in our culture that when I did a Google search for “funniest women of all time,” in your first two pages of results were 20% links about “hottest women,” 10% links to sexist jokes about women, and 5% links to an article titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”

I don’t think I’ve ever understood this opinion. For one thing, “funny” is a completely subjective term. What I find funny and what anyone else finds funny may be completely different things. There’s not even a question about that – it’s just generally accepted that humor is very personal.

When I was a kid, I developed some comedy heroes. The two biggest ones in my mind were Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore.

Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett, whose variety show has never been equaled

Mary Tyler Moore

I like MTM so much I went to a statue of her in Minneapolis and had Ann take a picture while I did the "throw my hat in the air" pose.

I remember sitting enraptured by their timing and delivery of some of the greatest lines – in fact, many of those lines have long-since drifted out of my mind, but the feeling of I want to make people laugh like that was permanently seared into my mind.

Bonnie Hunt

Bonnie Hunt -- understated and underrated.

Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner -- gone far too soon.

Christine McIntyre

Christine McIntyre -- brilliant in her work with the Three Stooges. She once famously beat the holy hell out of Shemp for a take on one of their shorts.

Over the years, my pantheon of comedy performers I admired grew, and women were always part of it. Every single one of the pictures in this post are of women who have at one time or another managed to make me laugh so hard that my sides hurt.

Ellie Kemper

Ellie Kemper -- just about the only reason I still watch "The Office."

Phyllis Diller

Phyllis Diller -- queen of the roasts.

Wendy Liebman

Wendy Liebman -- her stand-up delivery is so good, I don't understand why she isn't a household name.

Golden Girls

Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Estelle Getty. One of the best casts in the history of television.

Catherine O'Hara

Catherine O'Hara -- elevates any project she is in.

Marcia Wallace

Before she was Edna Krabappel, she was Bob Newhart's secretary, Carol Kester

Sara Rue

Sara Rue -- brilliant with cheerful or sarcastic characters.

Carol Kane

Carol Kane -- I can't look away when she's on.

Kathleen Madigan

Kathleen Madigan -- one of the best stand-up comedians I've ever seen.

In fact, I never even realized that there were people out there who thought women couldn’t be as funny as men until I was in college. To my utter astonishment, this was said to me by someone who had just finished interacting with some of the funniest women I ever met – Ann (my wife), and a friend named Deborah Craft (who often can be seen in Chicago’s Piccolo Theatre and LiveWire Chicago Theatre, as well as in the independent film D.I.N.K.s). Of course, that guy was an all-around idiot, so, you know, consider the source.

Madeline Kahn

Madeline Kahn -- for me, the star that pushed "Clue" into the realm of a classic.

Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin -- when she was the operator, I held my breath to hear every word.

Margaret Dumont

Margaret Dumont -- best known for playing the characters that held together Marx Brothers movies.

Rose Marie

Rose Marie -- one of the few actresses I ever dreamed about meeting just so I could tell her how much I loved her work.

Kristen Johnson

Kristen Johnson -- absolutely fearless with comedy.

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes -- for me, an instant favorite.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey -- despite the fact that I have never seen a full episode of "30 Rock," I still think she's one of the smartest comedians and writers in the business today.

Now, I’m the father of a tiny little girl whose laugh is already the most magical sound in my life. The last thing I want is for her to grow up with the idea that women can’t be funny.

The Big Bang Theory women

Melissa Rauch, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik from "The Big Bang Theory" -- experts in timing and delivery.

Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball -- this list would be incomplete without her.

Rhea Perlman

Rhea Perlman -- arguably the best-written character in an astonishingly well-written show.

Jane Curtin

Jane Curtin -- able to transition seamlessly from being the "straight woman" to the over-the-top comedienne at will.

Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad -- I have no doubt whatsoever that "The Cosby Show" wouldn't have been half as good without her.

Ellen Degeneres

Ellen Degeneres -- her stand-up is absolutely must-watch, and then must-watch-again.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that. Not only is Sage’s mother really funny (although she will tell you she’s not), but I have the good fortune of working with ComedySportz Indianapolis.

Erin Carr Adams. Lauren Ahlwardt. Bethany Arrington. Lorne Batman. Mia Lee Bauman. Frankie Bolda. Eryn Bowser. Lynn Burger. Ashley Chase. Kristin Katsu. Caroline Loy. Rebecca McConnell. Aili McGill. Meghan McNulty. Laura Palmer. Ella Raymont. Kari Stamatoplos. Kelsey VanVoorst. Allie Vollmer. Kendra Wilcox. Claire Wilcher. (I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten a current member of our roster, but I very well may have…)

That’s 21 comedy role models right there. 21 ladies willing to put themselves out there to entertain people and make them laugh.

She’s in good hands.

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5 Responses to Humor Me, Ladies

  1. sinwi says:

    Ah, some good ones. I too love M.K in Clue, a classic that I have already shared w/ the girls. 🙂

  2. Lummox JR says:

    Awesome list. Margaret Dumont in particular I think doesn’t get enough credit for playing the straight man to the Marx Brothers’ gags. (Sure there was Zeppo, but he wasn’t so much a straight man as just the normal one.)

  3. hellohilary says:

    Kathleen Madigan makes me want to laugh so hard I pee ALL THE TIME!!! (all the time with the laughing…not the peeing…)

  4. Kendra says:

    I love that you wrote this blog entry. Really love it. So many incredible women on this list.

  5. Ann J Woodruff says:

    Loved this piece! Thank you for opening our eyes to yet more fantastically funny and brilliant women! Lucille Ball is one of my favorites!

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