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Girls & Women

4 “female comedians” who defy your expectations

FX/ It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

“Female comedians.” I’m not a huge fan of the term (neither is Wanda Sykes). Making comedy a gendered profession is not only unnecessary, it’s potentially harmful. It adds another hurdle for women who aspire to be comedians (which is insanely difficult as it is) by insinuating that female comedians are out of the norm and perpetuating the terribly false notion that women aren’t funny.

And if you haven’t heard that stereotype at least once in your life, you’ve been living under a rock. Almost any video of a woman performing stand up comedy will have some sort of comment about the comic being funny for a woman, or not being funny because she’s a woman - and of course, a number of comments about her appearance.

There’s actually some interesting academic work on the subject that explores how this phenomenon came to be: essentially, women who are comics are seen as aggressive and threatening (which isn’t alway perceived as being “attractive”), which means that funny women have had to do a lot more work to find success in the field.

Luckily, there are a lot of awesome women in comedy now-despite all the hurdles. The problem is, many of the most successful women seem to suck up some of the public awareness of the other female comedians. I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as much as the next person, but I also think it’s time for some other women to have the spotlight and showcase the many types of “funny” and different types of “female” there truly are!

Here are 4  Female Comedians Who Defy Your Expectations:

1. Kaitlin Olson

Kaitlin Olson is, in my fact-like opinion, the funniest person on television. From Curb Your Enthusiasm to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, her comedic talent is undeniable and diverse. She’s gained more attention in recent years and she will even be in the upcoming Finding Nemo sequel. Despite her accomplished career, it’s mind-boggling that she hasn’t received more attention for her work. In this candid and in-depth Buzzfeed interview, her Always Sunny co-star Glenn Howerton explains that “ a lot of men are scared to act opposite a woman who is as funny as they are, and who will give them a run for their money for being the funniest person in that project. And I think a lot of times she doesn’t get cast in things because she’s so funny, and I think that’s f***** up.”

I invite you to watch this hilarious clip of Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, drunk on a stoop in broad daylight singing the Biz Markie classic “Just A Friend” and contemplating her career prospects.

2. Broad City (Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer)

Ok, so the duo technically makes this list “5 Comedians Who Defy Your Expectations”. But their collaboration on Broad City is so harmonious that I just can’t separate them. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer perfectly blend physical humor with subtle wit, touching on societal issues in empowering and lighthearted ways. Broad City is not only one of the funniest shows on TV, but an important example of how accessible and diverse feminist messaging can really be.

Watch the clip below to understand how trying to hook up with old classmates makes one a “feminist hero”.

 3. Aparna Nancherla

You should absolutely check out Aparna Nancherla’s stand up; she often opens her set with the line, “It’s okay, you guys. I’m surprised I’m a comedian too. We’ll get through this together.”

She had an awesome stint on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell as well as a stand up appearance on Conan. Now, Nancherla plans on channeling her talent into comedy writing - and I’m so excited to see what she does next. Her style is quirky and self-aware with killer delivery. She does touch on some racial issues in her comedy, and she addresses the barriers she faces as a woman of color in the eye-opening interview below. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“There’s still so many walls. I’ll still go to a meeting sometimes and people will be like, ‘why don’t you do more Indian accents in your act?’ Why don’t you try to fit this preconstructed mold of what we can do with your character?”

4. Maria Bamford

In the above video, the host introduces the unique, intelligent and hilarious Maria Bamford with: “We should spice up our stage with a little femme fatalism - I’m talkin’ ‘bout a woman, y’all." 


Admittedly, she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, because her comedy is literally absurd. Maria Bamford is a surrealist comic who uses her craft (including some really strange voices and impressions of no one in particular) to discuss a wide range of issues, including her mental health problems. She not only defies our expectations of “female comedians”, but of comedy in general.

We need gender equality everywhere. In our political systems, in our economies, in our schools - and yes, in our comedy. If we don’t address the stereotype that “women aren’t funny”, that doesn’t just harm comics. It means that all women and girls are being undervalued.

Global citizens: let’s make sure all young girls can grow up to be the stars we know they can be, by submitting your selfie to UNFPA’s #ShowYourSelfie petition (a visual petition to promote youth rights and advancements around the world).

Bonus info: I make jokes all the time but I have yet to be offered my own sitcom, and this is a prime example of injustice. I don’t get it. It would be a post-apocalyptic and funnier version of The Mindy Project: one woman’s search for true love in a barely populated world, starring myself and everyone on the above list. HBO, I’m waiting for your call.