Last week was a bit of a heavy week for me, so I decided to focus this post on a bit of comic relief, and honour a few of my go-to pick me ups when I’m feeling down. This week’s topic: women in comedy.
I’ve long considered comedy a space for challenging the status quo – pointing out sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, or any other form of equality, in such a sharp and clever way that it has everyone laughing with you while at the same time (hopefully) getting your point. Of course, it can reinforce all those systems of power and exploit the disadvantaged in our society, but that’s what I call “easy” comedy. The cheap shots. Lazy funny. But really good comedy, comedy at its best, challenges those established hierarchies. Comedy is certainly a frontier for feminism. And thank god we have so many funny girls leading the way.
It’s been a struggle to get women into comedy at all. It was widely believed for a long time that women just inherently weren’t funny – humour and wit were considered exclusively male traits (which is pretty hilarious in itself). Though it’s still unfortunately a male-dominated field, thanks to the groundbreaking work of early female comedians like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, there are many amazing and kick-ass female comedians in entertainment today.
With that in mind, I decided to compile this list of my top seven favourite comedians of all time (because I couldn’t narrow it down to just five). So without further ado, here they are, in ascending order:
- Lauren GrahamPerhaps an unorthodox choice, but even though it’s been off the air for six years, Gilmore Girls still warrants LG a spot at #7 for her starring role in what remains my favourite show of all time. So many things made that show the witty, brilliant, one-of-a-kind gem that it was, but my girl Lauren’s impeccable comedic timing brought it all together and carried the show for seven excellent seasons. Thank you, Lauren Graham – you will always have a special place in my heart as Lorelai Gilmore.
- Melissa McCarthyAnother Gilmore Girls alum! I’ve loved her since I knew her as Sookie St. James, but McCarthy didn’t hit mainstream fame and success until her smash hit role in the 2011 film Bridesmaids. Critics and fans alike named her as a standout in this female ensemble comedy (and by the way, if you haven’t seen it yet, you must immediately – guys too, because anyone can enjoy this delight). McCarthy is now a straight up movie star in her own right, one of the few major female successes in Hollywood who doesn’t conform to the oppressive body size standards that are so strictly enforced. She doesn’t have the body type that’s become standard on the Hollywood big screen (you know the one) – and it doesn’t matter. Funny is funny, talent is talent, and nobody even cares. Keep killing it, Melissa McCarthy :)
- Sarah SilvermanDefinitely the darkest comedian on my list. Her absolutely biting satire, delivered with goofy affectation, leaves me in awe every time I watch her do standup. Homegirl’s timing and wit are flawless, to the point that it actually freaks me out a little bit. Silverman is a true rarity, and I will forever be in deep admiration of her. She is a strong advocate of social justice, and she not only talks the talk but walks the walk, from speaking openly about her struggles with clinical depression to her refusal to get married until same-sex couples are able to.
- Mindy KalingOther than the fact that she was one of the most prolific writers on one of my favourite shows, The Office, for eight years, what I love about Mindy Kaling is that she is unabashedly confident and decidedly unapologetic. She refuses to be boxed in by any labels. In an interview with The Huffington Post, she had this to say about people trying to put her in a box: “I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’” In show business, typically any one of those things could define you and your career. But Mindy Kaling doesn’t let anything define or restrict her – which is hard enough for anyone to do, but especially in the entertainment industry. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and her new show, The Mindy Project, which (as you can probably guess by the title) is all her own. Mindy is pretty much unstoppable.
- Tina FeyThe higher I get on this list, the more I’m wishing I’d done a separate post for each one of these women. What can I say about Tina Fey? So much.. starting with, I suppose, her years on Saturday Night Live as head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor. It’s really exciting whenever women are writing in comedy, something that is sadly still too rare. It’s especially exciting when it’s for a beloved show like SNL, which reaches a large audience and touches on hot topics each week. That’s some pretty major cultural capital right there. There’s also Mean Girls, a classic film for my generation, which highlighted and dramatized how hard girls can be on each other. Despite being hilarious, it still points the out the very real issue of how often, and to what extent, girls are pitted against each other in our society. Lastly, I have to mention her book, Bossypants, which literally had me laughing out loud pretty much from cover to cover. And I would expect no less. See you at the Golden Globes, Tina Fey :)
- Amy PoehlerSpeaking of the Golden Globes, next up is Tina Fey’s co-host, the incomparable Amy Poehler. First off, I also need to mention her work on Saturday Night Live, and how much I loved it when Tina and Amy co-anchored Weekend Update together. Fortunately, we can still see Poehler weekly on Parks and Recreation, a single-camera, mockumentary-style gem of a show in which she stars. And though her comedic talents would be all it took for me to love her, she is also a self-proclaimed feminist and (as far as I can tell) a genuinely lovely person. Who else besides Amy Poehler would, despite a crazy schedule, create and run a site called “Smart Girls at the Party” where she encourages girls to change the world just by being themselves? Who else would maintain a section on said site where she makes candid youtube video responses to fan’s personal problems, such as being nervous to take exams? Nobody, that’s who. Amy Poehler is one-of-a-kind.
- Kristen WiigI can’t even express how much I love Kristen Wiig. It is impossible for me to see Kristen Wiig on screen and not feel all happy inside – just anything and everything she does makes me laugh. She is one of the most talented performers that Saturday Night Live has ever seen; all of her characters and impressions are spot-on, and she brings that unique, off-beat energy every time. And I could just stop right here and she would still be my favourite. But, of course, there’s Bridesmaids, which Wiig co-wrote with Annie Mumolo. This is one of my favourite movies ever, and I’m definitely not alone in that. Wiig wrote an outstanding script for this talent-packed female ensemble cast, then deftly led the way in her starring role. There are so many reasons to love Kristen Wiig. Like this interview. My only complaint about Kristen Wiig is that I can’t get enough. Write another movie, please?
This about wraps up my list. I have to add, though, that one of my favourite things about women in comedy is that it shows women and girls, in a big way, that you don’t have to always be pretty, and polite, and reserved like a well-behaved and proper lady. You can poke fun at yourself, and you can poke fun at others, and you can be silly and crazy but you can also be smart. Comedy is a powerful tool, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I don’t have to be self-conscious and pretty and put together all the time. I can let loose, and take a risk, and maybe make a fool of myself, and maybe have a great time. So here’s to you, ladies, and all our other fantastic female comedians out there.