In Career, Now You Know

Women in Comedy: 3 Ladies That Led the Way

By Amy Gonzales

I truly believe that laughter is the greatest medicine. When I think of all the times I’ve been upset or disappointed about the hardships of life, I rely on laughter to get me through it. Whether it is watching a comedy series on Netflix, finding a funny meme on Instagram or having a conversation with a friend who makes you laugh, this truly can warm one’s soul.

Ladies With Personality

I grew up watching old school Saturday Night Live episodes and remember seeing a male dominated casting (they’re all funny, I’m not hating I just remember the lack of women). Off the top of my head I can remember seeing Gilda Radner (GOAT of SNL), Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch on SNL. As the early 2000s approached, I began to see a slight increase in women including Amy Poehler (my favorite Amy, ever lol), Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. These women were genuinely hilarious and uplifted me when sh*t hit the fan.

Nothing To LOL About

Comedy has long had a reputation for being a “boys club” where girls aren’t cut out for the job. Stand-up shows usually have just one or two women on the roster (if that) and on television and in movies, women have historically held tokenistic roles as performers and are often ignored altogether as an audience demographic. In the stand-up world, the situation is no less gender-skewed. In 2014, all 10 of the highest paid comedians collectively made $173 million were all males. Out of 683 American stand up comedians, only 92 were women. This equates to only 13% (not funny). “It is not only the pay-gap between male and female performers that is notable, but the vast disparity in representation on the stage” (Ozy). As we look at the under-representation of women in this field, there are also MANY women that have impacted comedy as well. Without these three women, comedy would not be where it is today.


1. Lucille Ball:

How can you not love this crazy accident-prone redhead on I Love Lucy? Lucille Ball along with her husband Desi Arnaz, promoted the 3-camera technique that is now the standard in filming modern day sitcoms using 35mm film. She was the first woman to own her own studio and run a major production company as the head of Desilu Productions. What Lucille Ball is most notable for is showing that women CAN be funny. She showed that women can be the lead of their own show and their own lives. She was a sheer representation that goofiness can be attractive and that women do not have to lead a domesticated role. Another major highlight of Lucille Ball’s career was that she fought for TV’s first interracial couple (herself and Desi Arnaz). Since Desi was of Cuban heritage CBS didn’t know how viewers would feel about his Cuban accent. The network said that “The American public would not accept Desi as the husband of a red-blooded American girl” (She Knows). Lucille however, defended Desi and to CBS that they’d have to either cast them both or neither of them (boy bye!).

Lucille Ball – Comedy


2. Phyllis Diller:

Known for her self-deprecating humor, Phyllis Diller started her stand-up comic career at 37 (you can do anything you put your mind to!). Starting off as a housewife raising five kids in San Francisco, Phyllis Diller’s career skyrocketed in the 1960s since her appearances with Bob Hope on his television specials, USO tours and three movies. “She became a pop culture icon for her disparaging jokes about her looks, cooking and fictitious husband “Fang” (CNN). She was the first lady of stand-up comedy and queen of one-liners. She paved the way for women comedians such as Joan Rivers, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen Degeneres and Chelsea Handler. What most people don’t know about Phyllis is that she was trained as a classical pianist, but never pursued music as a career. Phyllis, you were a gem darling!

Phyllis Diller – Comedy


3. Carol Burnett:

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Carol Burnett moved with her grandmother to Hollywood where she attended Hollywood High School and eventually studied Theater and Musical Comedy at UCLA. Starting out her career on Broadway, Carol Burnett made a name for herself by getting nominated for a Tony Award for her very first play, Once Upon A Mattress. After leaving Broadway, she dove into comedy beginning with The Garry Moore Show, eventually culminating in the creation of The Carol Burnett Show. So, what was so special about this show? It showcased comedy sketches, parodies, musical numbers and featured celebrities. The Carol Burnett show ran for 11 years (September 11th, 1967 through March 29th, 1978), won 25 Emmys and entertained 30 million people a week. Burnett was also selected as the first-ever recipient of the Peabody Career Achievement Award by the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors. “The award, presented by Mercedes-Benz, is “reserved for individuals whose work and commitment to broadcast media has left an indelible mark on the field” (Wochit Entertainment).

Carol Burnett – Comedy


Shows like Broad City, makes it (a little bit) more accessible for women to see that there are goofy Latinas out there that can relate to them. There are more and more women coming to the table and bringing their A-game to make everyone laugh, regardless of race or gender. I want to start going to comedy shows and see more women making me laugh. I want to see an all women comedy show (sorry men) so that women can talk about things that we go through on the day to day, the annoyances we face and the moods we cannot control (sometimes). I remember going to see Jamie Kennedy back in June at the Ontario Improv and he had a female opener named Melissa McQueen (she’s the homegirl, we follow each other on Instagram). She SERIOUSLY had me in tears and I did an embarrassing snort laugh at one point. These are the kind of women we need! We need more representation of Latinas, Asians, African-Americans and other races in comedy.


Who are the women in your life that make you laugh? Are you down with the Amy Poehlers, Wanda Sykes and Ally Wongs? Share your thoughts with us!


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