“Women aren’t funny.”
Talk about fake news. For some reason, despite the success of thousands of women whose chosen profession involves making you laugh until your sides split, this idiotic bias persists. In 2011, a study by the Division of Social Sciences at the University of California, San Diego found that participants judged cartoon captions as “funnier” when they were told they’re written by men, proving just how ingrained the notion is.
Yet, as culture shifts and female voices in entertainment become more prominent, we have found zero justification for the bias. In fact, the people who makes us laugh the hardest, loudest, and longest these days are all women. From sharing insights into relationships, gender biases, and motherhood to possessing impeccable comedic timing, these 20 female comedians have been destroying the notion for decades that women aren’t funny – one joke at a time.
Producers were skeptical that audiences would accept a program about an all-American housewife married to a Cuban band leader who is constantly trying to get into his show, but producers were wrong. Audiences loved Lucille Ball. The show had many firsts for television, including filming in front of a live audience, which resulted in the longest audience laugh ever recorded — the editors had to cut four entire minutes of pure laughter from the episode where Lucy dances the Tango. Ball was not only a pioneer for women in comedy, but also for women in entertainment, as she was the first female to run a major television studio, Desilu Productions. Today, I Love Lucy is considered Hollywood comedy gold and is still watched generations later.
She doesn’t even have to talk and she can make you laugh. The Carol Burnett Show was one of the first sketch comedy shows hosted by a woman, and it paved the way for future shows like Saturday Night Live. Carol Burnett created so many memorable characters throughout its 11 seasons that it is truly difficult to choose a favorite. The multi-talented actress and comedian has appeared on Broadway, in films, television, and has even won a few Grammys. One of her most memorable roles is as Miss Hannigan in the film production of Annie. Her impeccable timing, wide range of characters, physical comedy, and expressive voice and eyes continue to make audiences laugh, even after 65 years in the business.
Arguably one of the funniest women of all time, Gilda Radner was the very first cast member — male or female —hired by Lorne Michaels for the brand new comedy sketch show: Saturday Night Live. She could sing, she could tap, she could impersonate almost anyone, and she had a wicked sense of humor which consistently brought the house down. In fact, many modern comedians — again, both male and female — claim Radner was their inspiration for getting into comedy and the one comedian they learned the most from.
Radner sadly passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989, but not before she used comedy to alleviate some of the pain of one of life’s most unfunny realities. Her legacy (and her SNL characters) live on to this day.
You’ve seen Catherine O’Hara in so many films you have probably lost count. The actress is a favorite of famed directors like Tim Burton and Christopher Guest, and chances are every time you see her face, you think, “Oh that lady is in this. She’s funny.” Yes, she is funny.
O’Hara started in Second City with the likes of John Candy and Dan Akroyd and interestingly enough, was the understudy for Gilda Radner before Radner moved on to SNL. She soon made the move to writing for a variety show for which she won her first Primetime Emmy award and was seen in blockbusters like the Home Alone franchise and A Series of Unfortunate Events. At 66 years old, O’Hara is still making people laugh as is evidence by the 2020 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy that she just won for her work on Schitt’s Creek.
Whoopi Goldberg is one of only 16 performing artists who have won an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Tony award. And that is hardly surprising. Her talent surpasses beyond the borders of just a comedian, or just an actress, or just a producer. She is known for taking a character and making it her own in a way that is remembered. She can go from a heavy drama in The Color Purple to making you laugh out loud in Sister Act. Her voice and personality was the standout of the hyenas in the animated feature, The Lion King, and her introduction to the all women talk show, The View, brought about a 7% increase in viewership. Goldberg can make you laugh in one line. Here. We’ll prove it.
Is Tiffany Haddish the funniest person alive? Quite possibly. Just a few short years ago, no one knew who Haddish was, but her incredible, scene-stealing performance in 2017’s breakout comedy Girls Trip, starring opposite Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett-Smith, made her an overnight sensation. In the film, Haddish plays Dina, the wild card of the “Flossy Posse”, a group of four best friends that formed in college. While every group of friends has a wild card, we’re willing to bet none have ever been as crazy, as lovable, or as funny as Dina. Haddish has since gone on to star as the lead in such movies as Night School with Kevin Hart and has voiced characters in both The Lego Movie 2 and The Life of Pets 2.
All you need to do is see her face, and you can hear her high-pitched, nasally voice in a thick New York accent. Fran Drescher was a comedy queen before she soared to popularity in her own sitcom The Nanny. But despite being a funny woman, she has actually faced and lived through some of life’s worst trials: divorce, home break-in, rape, and cancer. She describes her journey in her autobiography Cancer Schmancer and says “My whole life has been about changing negatives into positives.” Today, Drescher uses her platform to fight for equal rights and to raise awareness for women’s health and early detection of cancer.
After being cast in a slew of supporting roles in film comedies, funny girl Kristen Wiig decided to take matters into her own hands and, along with Annie Mumolo, co-wrote her own movie and star vehicle. That movie, Bridesmaids, became a box office hit and made Wiig a household name. It also reminded audiences that not only are women funny on-screen, they’re funny off-screen as well. Wiig was a cast member of SNL for almost seven years before leaving the show to pursue her film career. Her sharp wit, deadpan expressions, and trademark willingness to do anything for a laugh are what set her apart as a comedy icon.
Love her or hate her, the woman is just plain funny. Amy Schumer had only been doing stand up for two years when she placed fourth in the finals of Last Comic Standing and the rest, as they say is history. She wrote and performed for various shows on Comedy Central, including her own stand-up and a series called Inside Amy Schumer. She made herself a household name when she starred and wrote her own feature film Trainwreck, and in 2015, her comedy special Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo, released on HBO to rave reviews and earned her three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Variety Special, Directing, and Writing.
Despite giving birth in 2019 and being in lockdown in 2020, it hasn’t slowed the comedian down by any means. She and chef husband, Chris Fischer, shot and released Amy Schumer Learns How to Cook on the Food Network in May 2020 which followed Fischer trying to teach Schumer how to cook during the COVID-19 quarantine. She is set to appear in an HBO Max special Expecting Amy later this year about preparing for a stand up special while going through a difficult pregnancy, and is signed to write, star, and produce a new series for Hulu, called Love, Beth. We just wonder if Kim and Kanye know who she is now?
It’s official, Darling. We’re putting Jennifer Saunders on the list because we think she’s absolutely fabulous. Despite the fact that her first major breakthrough in comedy came about when she answered an ad in the paper for female comedians for the alternative comedy scene at The Comic Strip and was hired simply by walking in the door, Saunders took her chance and created a name for herself. She rose to fame with The Comic Strip, and was featured in several of their movies. But it was her brainchild, Absolutely Fabulous, and her biggest solo success that flung Saunders onto the global comedic stage. In it she plays irresponsible fashion PR agent, Edina Monsoon. The show ran for five seasons, have two telemovies, three special episodes, and a feature film which she co-wrote in 2016. Fabulous, Darling. Well done indeed.
Name one movie starring Melissa McCarthy that didn’t make you laugh until your face hurt. We’ll wait. The actress, who first rose to fame in Gilmore Girls, stole the spotlight in 2011’s Bridesmaids and has continued to dominate the comedy-film scene ever since. From her turns in The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters to her many appearances on Saturday Night Live, McCarthy is one of the best physical comedians in the business.
Jessica Williams is as close as we’re ever going to get to a real-life superhero. Not only does she use her platform to speak out against racism, misogyny, and other social ills, but she does so with grace and wit. Williams first rose to fame as a correspondent and writer for The Daily Show, but her podcast 2 Dope Queens is where her personal sense of humor really shines. She also stars in The Incredible Jessica James, a hilarious and heartfelt film about a fiercely independent young woman finding her way through life after a painful break-up.
There are very few female comedians with a career as long and as illustrious as that of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. From her breakout role as Elaine on Seinfeld to playing the acidic Selina Meyer on Veep, the actress has been making us laugh for decades. With 24 nominations and 11 Emmys under her belt, it’s safe to say that comedy is in her blood.
As one of the most likeable women on television, Mindy Kaling makes it hard not to fantasize about having her as a real-life BFF. Not only is she smart and self-deprecating, but she also has pitch-perfect comedic timing, as evidenced by her beloved roles on The Office and The Mindy Project. Kaling’s talents extend beyond the television screen – she’s also the author of not one, but two extremely funny, best-selling memoirs.
Kate McKinnon, one of the most adaptable and talented impressionists of our time, is so talented that it’s (almost) scary. As Saturday Night Live’s secret weapon, McKinnon has been tapped to imitate everyone from Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel to Justin Bieber. The world looks forward to watching her delightful transformations weekly on the show, but she’s also branched out into film lately, with brilliant roles in the all-female Ghostbusters movie and Rough Night.
Longtime stand-up comedian Chelsea Peretti became an overnight sensation when she landed the role as Gina on NBC’s popular comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. As an acerbic, dance-obsessed civilian administrator who just cannot be bothered to lift a finger to help anyone, the character’s antics quickly became the highlight of the show. Recently she left the Nine-Nine to be a mother, but has also been entertaining the masses through her Instagram where she posts videos pretending to be a beauty influencer. The results are nothing short of genius.
Competing with an ensemble cast that boasts the incredible comedic talents of people like Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza cannot have been easy – and yet it is Retta’s role as Donna Meagle that stole every scene in Parks and Recreation. Not only did the character boast a rich history that involved everything from marrying Keith Sweat as part of a long con to revealing that Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy album had been written about her, but her no-nonsense attitude also afforded some hilarious conflicts on the show. Retta has since gone on to play the sarcastic but lovable Barbara on Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, which boasted five incredible seasons, and currently portrays Ruby Hill in the dark comedy Good Girls.
Chelsea Handler’s crass, confrontational sense of humor kept her live audience in stitches throughout the duration of her wildly popular talk show, Chelsea Lately, where an “anything goes” mentality ensured guests stayed on their toes. After Chelsea Lately ended, Handler found success with a slice-of-life formula for her new Netflix documentary series, Chelsea Does, where the comedian explored topics ranging from racism and marriage to Silicon Valley.
An alum of Chicago’s illustrious comedy-proving ground, Second City, and a long-time Saturday Night Live cast member, Amy Poehler’s wit and humor were sharpened by years of dedication to her craft. With a breakout role as Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation, Poehler’s star rose swiftly, leading to many starring film roles alongside her partner-in-comedy, Tina Fey. She has also authored a bestselling memoir entitled Yes, Please! as well as started the popular improv comedy club Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Poehler now flexes her Executive Producer muscle with shows like Hulu’s Difficult People and Comedy Central’s Broad City, and she recently directed her first feature, Wine Country.
Tina Fey is a comedy powerhouse. From the writer’s room at Saturday Night Live to co-anchor of Weekend Update to the star of NBC’s 30 Rock to authoring the chart-topping book Bossypants to hosting The Golden Globes with Amy Poehler four times, Fey’s comedy career has been nothing short of meteoric. She also wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls, co-created The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and has starred in numerous films, both serious and comedic. And did we mention that she’s one of the most highly decorated female comedians in modern history, with nine Primetime Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Writers Guild of America Awards?