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Funny Women: Getting a Laugh in a Man's World

by Shelley Mosley

*This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of RA News.*

Adam Carolla and Jerry Lewis have said that women aren't funny. Christopher Hitchens even wrote about it. From their first sets for their families to their struggles in a male-dominated profession to their popular stand-up routines, here are just a few of the women who prove their naysayers wrong.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
ISBN: 9780316056861
Comedian Elizabeth Stamatina Fey is best known for her role as the beleaguered Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, which is based on her experiences as the head writer for Saturday Night Live. Other notable portrayals  include her satire of Sarah Palin and co-anchor of SNL's  "Weekend Update" segment.. She shares her experiences with confessions, advice, and lots of hilarity. Especially interesting is the chapter titled  "Peeing in Jars with the Boys," which describes being one of the few women comedy writers (and eventually, the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live.  
Diary of a Mad Diva by Joan Rivers
ISBN: 9780425269022
Diary of a Mad Diva grew out of entries in the diary given to Joan by her daughter. Rivers, a pioneer stand-up comic, turned her entries into this devilishly acerbic, non-PC book. Uncensored and hilarious, she dishes about other celebrities as well as current events. 
Girl Walks into a Bar: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch 
ISBN: 9781592407576
Dratch has written a candid, feisty memoir, complete with photos. With such diverse topics as "WASP World," "Dating the Fonz," and "Body by Shtetl," she shows the humorous side of disastrous experiences. Miraculously a mom at 44, this Saturday Night Live alumnae (Debbie Downer, Denise, Sheldon, Abe Scheinwald, etc.) gives us an insider's look at the ups and downs of comedy.
I Still Have It…I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It: Confessions of a Fiftysomething by Rita Rudner
ISBN: 978-0307394606
Known for her dry wit and deadpan punchlines, Rudner tells what it's like to turn fifty. Complete with platitudes in boxes, this book tells about such things as "Drive-By Hootings," "The Abbreviation Generation," and her own catalog addiction. 
If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't) by Betty White
ISBN: 9780425245286
This likeable ninety-plus-year-old writer/actor/producer and animal activist uses anecdotes, letters, and photos for her very funny memoir. The humor is so sly you can almost see her dimples and twinkling eyes as you read. White is known for her roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Sue Ann Nivens), The Golden Girls (Rose Nylund), and Hot in Cleveland (Elka Ostrovsky). Her other books include Betty White in Person and Here We Go Again: My Life in Television.
Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
ISBN: 9780307886279
Vera Mindy Chokalingam, writer/actor/producer, is best known as Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project and Kelly Kapoor on The Office. Some of the chapters, such as "Chubby for Life," begin with something humorous and then turn serious when she relates her own experience, such as being called a "Whale" during her teen years. Kaling's ability to turn unfair things in her past to something that "seems funny now" adds an under-layer of poignancy to her book. 
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
ISBN: 9780812994995
Who writes her memoirs at age twenty-eight? Dunham, the creator/writer/star of HBO's Girls has done just that. Simultaneously funny and brutally honest, Dunham talks about body issues, weight, being embarrassed by the male sex, and losing her virginity. Essays are divided into five sections -- "Love and Sex," "Body," "Friendship," "Work," and "Big Picture." This is the place to look if you want to know what thirteen things aren't okay to say to your friends. 
Seriously…I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
ISBN: 9780446585040
Popular television host DeGeneres has written a usually cheerful memoir full of serendipitous meanderings that read like her stand-up routines. As the first fifty-plus, openly gay Cover Girl model, she has a lot of tongue-in-cheek advice about beauty and being a supermodel ("Always look like you're angry at the universe for making you too pretty.") With hilarious definitions, flash fiction, journal entries, and even haiku, this Emmy winner doesn't miss a beat at making the reader laugh.
This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
ISBN: 9780307461193
Burnett gathered her responses to questions frequently asked during her roadshow, Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett: A Conversation with Carol Where the Audience Asks the Questions Burnett into this book. She talks about the people who appeared on her weekly show (Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner), as well as other famous friends (Jimmy Stewart, Julie Andrews, Cary Grant, etc.). Fans of this brilliant, slapstick comedian will find her book generally folksy and funny, although there are some serious anecdotes, including her early poverty and the suicide of her daughter, Carrie. 
Yeah, I Said It by Wanda Sykes 
ISBN: 9780743482714
Sassy, double Emmy winner Sykes makes fun of everything from sex to homeland security to celebrities. Known for her no-holds-barred zingers as well as her political rants, Sykes won an Emmy in 1999 for her writing on The Chris Rock Show, has had her own show, and is one of Entertainment Weekly's 25 Funniest People in America.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
ISBN: 9780062268341
This multi-talented writer/actor/producer/director handily meets her goal "to tell the truth and be funny" in her memoir. Through essays, poetry, lists, and masking taped images of her childhood, Poehler recounts her life as well as the roles she's made famous, including Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" co-anchor and Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. Yes Please is divided into three sections: "SAY Whatever You Want;" "DO Whatever You Like;" and "BE Whoever You Are." Entertaining and empowering at the same time, this is a memoir you'll definitely want to READ.

Films to check out 

Women Aren't Funny. Bonnie McFarlane, director
McFarlane's 2014 documentary, featuring Adrienne Iapalucci, Chelsea Peretti, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer, and Sarah Silverman, as well as male counterparts Adam Carolla, Todd Glass, Anthony Cumia, Gregg Hughes, Artie Lange, Jim Norton, and Rich Vos, shows just how untrue the title is.

Why We Laugh: Funny Women. Bernard Gourley, director 
In this 2013 documentary, a wide variety of female comedians tell how it was -- and is -- to break into the still male-dominated world of stand-up comedy. This eye-opening video includes interviews and snippets of live performances. Those included are: Joan Rivers, Kim Wayans, Tig Notaro, Kathy Griffin, Aisha Tyler, Rita Rudner, Brett Butler, Wendy Liebman, Kathleen Madigan and many more.

Women in Comedy. PBS
Through the use of interviews, this documentary shows the evolution of women in comedy, from groundbreaking sitcoms such as Maude,  to comedy clubs, to today's comedy . Comics featured include: Chelsea Handler, Mo'Nique, Sarah Silverman, Ellen DeGeneres, Jane Lynch, and Kathy Griffin, and they all have a story to tell. This 2013 video is part of the PBS series Makers: Women Who Made America, Season 2.

It's still hard to break into the boys' club of comedy, but thanks to these ground-breaking women, it's more possible. In fact, at the 2015 Golden Globes Awards ceremony, Lily Tomlin turned the stereotype around:  "Finally, we can put aside that negative stereotype that men aren't funny!"


Enjoy books about funny ladies? Try a subject search in NoveList for:

"SU women comedians" 

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Retired library manager Shelley Mosley, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List, is a contributor to NoveList and What Do I Read Next?, and reviews books for Booklist and Library Journal.