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We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

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More than fifty years of iconic comediennes, unmediated and unfiltered In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded. In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, More than fifty years of iconic comediennes, unmediated and unfiltered In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded. In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy. We start in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself. Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America’s favorite frustrated ladies; the joke was always on them. The Sixties saw the appearance of smart, edgy comediennes (Elaine May, Lily Tomlin), and the women’s movement brought a new wave of radicals: the women of SNL, tough-ass stand-ups, and a more independent breed on TV (Mary Tyler Moore and her sisters). There were battles to fight and preconceptions to shake before we could get to where we finally are: in a world where women (like Tina Fey, or, whether you like them or not, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler) can be smart, attractive, sexually confident—and most of all, flat-out funny. Like all revolutions, it’s suffered false starts and backslides. But it’s been a remarkable trip, as the more than one hundred people interviewed for this riveting oral history make clear. With a chorus of creative voices and often hilarious storytelling, We Killed is essential cultural and social history.


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More than fifty years of iconic comediennes, unmediated and unfiltered In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded. In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, More than fifty years of iconic comediennes, unmediated and unfiltered In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded. In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy. We start in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself. Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America’s favorite frustrated ladies; the joke was always on them. The Sixties saw the appearance of smart, edgy comediennes (Elaine May, Lily Tomlin), and the women’s movement brought a new wave of radicals: the women of SNL, tough-ass stand-ups, and a more independent breed on TV (Mary Tyler Moore and her sisters). There were battles to fight and preconceptions to shake before we could get to where we finally are: in a world where women (like Tina Fey, or, whether you like them or not, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler) can be smart, attractive, sexually confident—and most of all, flat-out funny. Like all revolutions, it’s suffered false starts and backslides. But it’s been a remarkable trip, as the more than one hundred people interviewed for this riveting oral history make clear. With a chorus of creative voices and often hilarious storytelling, We Killed is essential cultural and social history.

30 review for We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    In this case, I think the parts may be bigger than the sum. I really enjoyed reading this, but once I was done, I was a unsure of how strong the author/editor was. The raw material was good, but the book didn't feel as confident and coherent as other oral histories I've read, like the one about SNL. But the participants had a lot of very interesting things to say and the overall narrative about how women integrated themselves into comedy (and how comedy felt about that) was very engaging. The In this case, I think the parts may be bigger than the sum. I really enjoyed reading this, but once I was done, I was a unsure of how strong the author/editor was. The raw material was good, but the book didn't feel as confident and coherent as other oral histories I've read, like the one about SNL. But the participants had a lot of very interesting things to say and the overall narrative about how women integrated themselves into comedy (and how comedy felt about that) was very engaging. The end felt a little weak; for me, it can be summed up by a variety of women saying, "No, I'm totally hot and funny and have never really had a problem with that." The problem was that none of them felt as distinct as the women who came before. I'm sorry, Whitney Cummings. Even if you talk about Spanx in your act, Roseanne would eat you alive--and be hilarious and unique doing it. Maybe some of that is having the perspetive of looking back on Phyllis Diller and Elaine May and Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner, versus seeing Cummings's annoying talk show commericals--I don't know, yesterday? I think this could have been an even stronger book, but the one it is was still awfully fun to read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    It really could have been sooooooo much better. Like a lot better. Was she rushed? What the hell? I found myself taking notes going, what about Rosie ODonnell? madTV? Jenny McCarthy, the State, funny black women like Pearl Bailey, Bessie Smith? Counter Culture? Carol Channing? Beyte Midler? More Golden Girls? I don't know. She doesn't even have actual quotes from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Satah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, etc!!! I dunno. It's a good start. Disappointing, but a good start.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    Few things in this world will make me dislike someone more than if they utilize the tired, "Women aren't funny" argument. Few things in this world made me happier than the episode of 30 Rock that addressed the moronic statement by pointing out just maybe men and women just find different things funny. Because few things have made me laugh as hard as a Tig Notaro stand-up show, and I'd give my left tit to be best friends with Amy Poheler. Women are funny, dammit. This is a fascinating, Few things in this world will make me dislike someone more than if they utilize the tired, "Women aren't funny" argument. Few things in this world made me happier than the episode of 30 Rock that addressed the moronic statement by pointing out just maybe men and women just find different things funny. Because few things have made me laugh as hard as a Tig Notaro stand-up show, and I'd give my left tit to be best friends with Amy Poheler. Women are funny, dammit. This is a fascinating, comprehensive look at why that's the case, though it often suffers from the common problem of the oral history genre: a lack of context. I didn't have a lot of knowledge of the 60s and 70s stand-up scene going into this, and I found myself perusing Wikipedia to get a broader understanding than the book could provide me. Still, it was engaging and a lot of fun to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hilary

    There’s something about the oral history format that I just don’t cotton to, because, despite the success of several recent-ish pop-culture histories in that form (Live From New York, Those Guys Have All the Fun), it’s not writing so much as editing, and it ends up reading like the script to a documentary. (There’s a reason there’s no Oscar for best documentary screenplay.) It’s simply not that hard to take these recorded interviews, add a few video clips and photos, and turn it into a TV show There’s something about the oral history format that I just don’t cotton to, because, despite the success of several recent-ish pop-culture histories in that form (Live From New York, Those Guys Have All the Fun), it’s not writing so much as editing, and it ends up reading like the script to a documentary. (There’s a reason there’s no Oscar for best documentary screenplay.) It’s simply not that hard to take these recorded interviews, add a few video clips and photos, and turn it into a TV show or documentary, and it’s a shame they didn’t do that here, as the lengthy discussions of, say, Lily Tomlin’s 1970s CBS specials, don’t accomplish in ten pages what thirty seconds of licensed footage would do. This book, which began as an article for Marie Claire, is supposed to be an answer to the old, demonstrably false contention that women aren’t funny through a look at 50 years of female comediennes, including Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler. There are several interesting insights and stories spread throughout, but without any clear throughline, there’s a lot of meandering, too. Still, given the sheer number of people she got access too, Cohen does a good job establishing a general timeline, and there are topics - such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was initially pitched and rejected as being about a divorced woman (scandalous!), how it was funny and relatable, and how it was an entry point into the industry for many female writers - that are covered lovingly and with great detail. As the book enters the 1990s and alt-comedy scenes, it becomes much more a collection of reminiscences and strays even further from the alleged topic. Discussions of That One LA House We All Crashed At by Janeane Garofalo, Greg Behrendt, Margaret Cho, and Kathy Griffin were entertaining to me, having grown up in the Dr. Katz and Pulp Comics era of standup, but stories about hanging out and a messy house aren’t too thematically relevant. The end of the book shifts to comics like Chelsea Handler, Whitney Cummings, and Sarah Silverman, and sort of seems to proclaim that “finally, female comics can be funny and pretty!” as if that’s not reductive, while also featuring several complaints from comics and comedy teachers (because that’s a real thing) that too many kids these days try to be overtly gross to emulate those ladies. So, yeah, the end is disappointing. There are enough moments here to make this worth reading, but it’s a very uneven ride. It only discusses sitcoms (but not obvious ones like the Golden Girls) and stand-up, too, and be prepared for some mundane insights like, “Amy Poehler is really funny.”

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Let's say 2 and a half stars. I'm hesitant to give it three although I did enjoy it for the most part. It seemed to contradict itself a lot though. Like somewhere in the beginning it went on about "we're not going to talk about Lucy...we're here to talk about stand-up, not TV...and Lucy was just the housewife" (I have a problem with that sentiment right there)....but then the book proceeds to go on for a chapter or two about Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda and Maude. Huh? I thought we weren't talking Let's say 2 and a half stars. I'm hesitant to give it three although I did enjoy it for the most part. It seemed to contradict itself a lot though. Like somewhere in the beginning it went on about "we're not going to talk about Lucy...we're here to talk about stand-up, not TV...and Lucy was just the housewife" (I have a problem with that sentiment right there)....but then the book proceeds to go on for a chapter or two about Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda and Maude. Huh? I thought we weren't talking about sitcoms? But otherwise it was an okay read. It started out, naturally, with Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller and Elaine May. I liked that the book wasn't complete man-bashing although a few (hello Johnny Carson) come off as real jerks. The later chapters had such a plethora of funny ladies that one was left wondering what anyone is still complaining about. But again...since the book wrapped up with this whole pretty/sexy plus funny phenomenon that we have today it is still strange that there was this dismissal in the beginning of Lucy who was older at the time of I.L.L. but nevertheless had BEEN a glamour girl and still wore her clothes quite well....and she was this absolute nut. Right in the middle of the 1950s in the era of pearls and Dior and Donna Reed. She was a housewife but completely and gloriously insane. It was interesting to read in the last chapter about Chelsea Handler who I didn't really know to much about. I'm aware of her existence, of course, but haven't seen 15 seconds of her show or her act or whatever. And it was nice to read a little about stand-ups that seem to have been a bit forgotten such as Laura Kightlinger. It was also good the way the book showed such diversity to the women and their particular shticks. But there was quite a lack of color in here too. We had the lone Asian (Margaret C.) and a cursory pass through the African American world. This book was a tad too white for me....and I'm white! I'd rate this book highly uneven but interesting.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    This book is hard to rate, if only because the new oral histories are a confusingly uneven lot, and this is no exception. There is very little editorial content, relatively speaking, and when it does come through there are some strange conclusions reached. But, the actual material here is engaging and dishy as hell. The book focuses almost exclusively on predominant female standup comics or improv performers from the midcentury until 2012. This means that relatively important players like the This book is hard to rate, if only because the new oral histories are a confusingly uneven lot, and this is no exception. There is very little editorial content, relatively speaking, and when it does come through there are some strange conclusions reached. But, the actual material here is engaging and dishy as hell. The book focuses almost exclusively on predominant female standup comics or improv performers from the midcentury until 2012. This means that relatively important players like the Golden Girls, Bette Midler, Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham are left out entirely, but there are long stretches about shows like Roseanne, because she worked in standup first. There are a lot of other inexplicable omissions, but I'm assuming that she didn't have access to a lot of top-tier folks and chose to leave them out rather than showcase that. The stories are dynamite, about Gilda Radner punching Woody Allen in the stomach at a club, the scandal of producer Marcy Carsey getting hired for a high-profile job while she was pregnant in the 80s, Kathy Griffin getting in to huge fights with the 90s alternative comedy crew (Janeane Garafalo, Margaret Cho, Laura Kightlinger, David Cross) in their giant squalid comedy house. It is fascinating stuff, and I loved hearing all of these stories from the lens that women have traditionally had a tough time succeeding in this world, and the arguments about who/what worked. The end is a disappointment, with the shift to the Sarah Silverman/Chelsea Handler style of I'm-sexy-and-also-blue style and their imitators. Since its that last group you encounter, it leaves you with this idea that pretty girls triumphing (finally!) is supposed to be a huge step forward for the industry, even if that's not how the author/editor intended it to come across. Even though We Killed is really uneven, I laughed out loud multiple times and learned a lot, and it feels like this would appeal to both the fans of Live From New York and memoirs like Bossypants, just on the strength of the stories being told here.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laurel Beth

    Judy is in her mid sixties and has the perfect silver bob. She's the acquisition department at our library. She takes my advice when I mention we need texts like Soulacoasta, ostensibly written by R Kelly. On my second day of work she says she's disappointed that Peter's nephew was nominated for a "boring" Grammy, cause he wouldn't get to meet Kanye West. Judy has a lot of questions for Kanye West. Judy's going to retire at the end of December. We've been talking a lot about this book when we're Judy is in her mid sixties and has the perfect silver bob. She's the acquisition department at our library. She takes my advice when I mention we need texts like Soulacoasta, ostensibly written by R Kelly. On my second day of work she says she's disappointed that Peter's nephew was nominated for a "boring" Grammy, cause he wouldn't get to meet Kanye West. Judy has a lot of questions for Kanye West. Judy's going to retire at the end of December. We've been talking a lot about this book when we're at the library at the same time. She tells me the first time she saw Roseanne was on Carson, and when Roseanne spoke Judy was repulsed by her nasal voice, but then she realized Roseanne was speaking her truth. Although Judy never had kids and I don't know if she was ever married. She lives alone in an apartment and stores accessories in her oven, Carrie Bradshaw style. Judy says she misses seeing Margaret Cho. Judy loves "Dancing With The Stars" and reminds me that Margaret was on it, and it was a huge mistake. We're talking while I'm working the circulation desk on a slow Friday before she leaves two hours early. Someone told me our boss is terrified of her, but I guess I didn't know because I never see them together. Judy says she respects comics because she never could come up with all those stories on the fly, think that way on her feet. I say, right now I'm reading the chapter about the 80s. All the comics in Boston are getting paid half in cash, half in cocaine, and it seems nonnegotiable. We both think that probably helps.

  8. 5 out of 5

    k reads

    Very readable and most times very interesting but ultimately, not completely satisfying. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it - I did. The Mary Tyler Moore stuff made me want to go back and watch every episode - especially Chuckles Bites the Dust. (I had no idea it was written by a woman.) I found the Elayne Boosler spotlight fascinating. And I don't think I will ever get enough of Carol Burnett. In fact, much of the book is engrossing (though it does start to peter out near the end.) Where Very readable and most times very interesting but ultimately, not completely satisfying. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it - I did. The Mary Tyler Moore stuff made me want to go back and watch every episode - especially Chuckles Bites the Dust. (I had no idea it was written by a woman.) I found the Elayne Boosler spotlight fascinating. And I don't think I will ever get enough of Carol Burnett. In fact, much of the book is engrossing (though it does start to peter out near the end.) Where the book fall short is in its lack of depth. It begins in the 1950s with Elaine May and Phyllis Diller and goes all the way up to (roughly) present day. That's a lot of time to cover in just over 300 pages. I feel like many of the quotes were designed to give a greatest hits version of the various decades without truly bringing the times alive. I wish it had been longer. But what was there, was still an entertaining read and parts of it were fascinating.

  9. 5 out of 5

    LynnDee (The Library Lush)

    This is a fascinating look at how comedy developed in America and women's roles in its development. I also liked that it was an oral history because it featured interviews with people in the comedy industry, some who I had never heard of. Having it be these interviews sort of erased the bias that an author might have if they were writing it just from the perspective. If you're into the history of the entertainment industry, Saturday Night Live (which is featured heavily in here), or women's role This is a fascinating look at how comedy developed in America and women's roles in its development. I also liked that it was an oral history because it featured interviews with people in the comedy industry, some who I had never heard of. Having it be these interviews sort of erased the bias that an author might have if they were writing it just from the perspective. If you're into the history of the entertainment industry, Saturday Night Live (which is featured heavily in here), or women's role in comedy, I would definitely recommend this read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    A fun oral history of female comedians from the Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers era through 2012.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Frances Mican

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I thought that this book was great. I really enjoyed hearing so many different perspectives on the history of women in American comedy, and looking at the women who were important in the different stages of comedy/female comedy. However, I felt that this book seriously fizzled out at the end. I was with it and excited up until about the second half of the last chapter. It seemed like the last chapter was like, "Chelsea Handler and other beautiful women of comedy, bla bla bla stuff with I thought that this book was great. I really enjoyed hearing so many different perspectives on the history of women in American comedy, and looking at the women who were important in the different stages of comedy/female comedy. However, I felt that this book seriously fizzled out at the end. I was with it and excited up until about the second half of the last chapter. It seemed like the last chapter was like, "Chelsea Handler and other beautiful women of comedy, bla bla bla stuff with substance. Annnnnd... Youtube? And, let's see... women saying kind of weird stuff about how they wouldn't tour with another female comedian, and how they don't think other women are very funny?" Wait, what? We spent so much time rallying around the important women throughout the history of comedy, and then we move into talking about how the most recent phase in comedy seems to be seeing beautiful female comedians as well as comedy on the internet (looking at issues including the issue of beauty/needing to be beautiful to be a female comedian, and the male dominated comedy of the internet) - stuff that's important to consider. But rather than considering the hurdles that women are going to be facing in comedy and leaving it there, or summing up somehow with some great quotes that make us feel good and excited to see the future of women in comedy, things just get weird. The last few pages are just a major let down for me, not very inspiring or motivational, and some of the portions seem really out of place. It comes across as if there were a few extra pieces that didn't fit in anywhere else so they just got stuck at the end. We see a few thoughts including (and I'm paraphrasing with these): -Lisa Lampanelli: I'm like a dude and I think dudes are funny, so of course I don't think women are funny. -A few comments that seem out of place (about audiences and such) -Anjelah Johnson: I don't like to tour with women; I wouldn't want to alienate male audience members by having an all female line-up. -A few more comments about audiences and being thankful for gay men who support female comedians -Jeff Singer: Says something intelligent about there having always been funny women -Chelsea Peretti: Don't complain, you'll just alienate yourself. "At the end of the day, it's entertainment. It's not some civil rights issue, really." So... What? This just left me feeling puzzled and frustrated. Maybe I misinterpreted how it wraps up and other folks will see it differently, I'd be curious to see what others have to say. Regardless of feeling really weird about the last few pages, I loved this book and found so many parts of it to be exciting and inspiring - if I just hadn't read those last few pages I think I would have only praises for this book, which is truly wonderful in many respects.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I am utterly obsessed with this book. After a relatively negative experience with another comedy-history book, this was right up my alley. I bitched and moaned about the lack of women in comedy represented in another text, and I certainly got exactly what I wanted in this one. At first, I was suspicious of the format, but Kohen put everything together so incredibly well that it read not as a bunch of separate interviews, but as one long, cohesive work. She really wove all of those different I am utterly obsessed with this book. After a relatively negative experience with another comedy-history book, this was right up my alley. I bitched and moaned about the lack of women in comedy represented in another text, and I certainly got exactly what I wanted in this one. At first, I was suspicious of the format, but Kohen put everything together so incredibly well that it read not as a bunch of separate interviews, but as one long, cohesive work. She really wove all of those different thoughts, opinions, and stories into something completely seamless, and I admire the hell out of that. In terms of the actual material, there wasn't one part of the book that wasn't absorbing. Given that the only other comedy-history book I read focused on stand-up in the 70s, I'd only read something with a much more narrow focus than this book. That, to me, is what's so great: When you're discussing something as broad as comedy, you really can't pick one teeny aspect without coming off as totally lacking. This book had it all - stage performances, stand-up, improv, sitcoms, writing, variety shows, etc. Literally any form of comedy from around the 50s onward was touched on, and it felt like Kohen could've added way more if she'd wanted. It's just really wonderful that all of these great tales were recorded and saved, because there's just such great stuff. I loved learning about the rise of women in sitcoms and writing. Some of the stories of how female writers got started in the 60s and 70s were so hilarious and awesome - I'm thinking mainly of the one that just watched the credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (I think that's the one) from her house she lived in with her parents in Monroeville, PA (holla to my town-ish!), took note of the producer, and just, like, found his number from an operator and was like, "Hey, can I write for you?" Whaaaaaat? And nobody had made a true compendium of women in comedy before? THERE WAS A CHANCE I WOULD NEVER HAVE HEARD THESE STORIES? I think the best part of this book overall is how often as a reader you forget that the focus is actually on women. It isn't as if sexism and misogyny isn't discussed; instead, you just become so absorbed in each individual woman's stories that you see them as all women should be seen: Complex, intelligent, interesting human beings with fucking amazing stories to tell. I'm not kidding when I say I'll probably read this again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan Bazzett-Griffith

    I was expecting this book to be funnier and more light hearted than it was. Instead, what Yael Kohen has actually compiled in the form of cut and pastes from various interviews, is a comprehensive, and at times a tad too-long, history of women breaking into the art of stand-up comedy. What makes this book work is also what makes it not as fun to read as I feel it could have been-- the entire book is verbatim interview quotes, some very brief- just a sentence or two, and some very long- three or I was expecting this book to be funnier and more light hearted than it was. Instead, what Yael Kohen has actually compiled in the form of cut and pastes from various interviews, is a comprehensive, and at times a tad too-long, history of women breaking into the art of stand-up comedy. What makes this book work is also what makes it not as fun to read as I feel it could have been-- the entire book is verbatim interview quotes, some very brief- just a sentence or two, and some very long- three or four pages of monologue, by people- both men and women, who have been part of the stand-up world since its mainstream inception in the late 1960s/ early 1970s. You would think, having a bunch of the most brilliant minds in comedy's history- Elayne Boosler, Joan Rivers, Carol Brunett, Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Griffin, Kristin Wiig, etc, etc, etc-- that the book would make you laugh as you read it. It doesn't. This book is ultimately about sexism in the entertainment industry, about the history of stand up as a genre and women's place in it. It is not a funny book, and though it is definitely interesting, because of the lack of actual humor in the book, it fell a bit flat for me. Considering the vast majority of the story tellers in this book are some of the funniest people on the planet, I was expecting it to make me laugh a bit- even when discussing more serious material. Sadly, only 2.5 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Page

    We Killed is described as “a very oral history,” riffing on the nature of stand-up comedy and the way the book is constructed. What started as an article for Marie Clare became a book. Yael Kohen took interviews with comedians, club owners, writers, TV executives, actors, managers, etc. and stitched them together to give the history around people and TV shows a narrative shape and focus. Also, the We Killed is broken into sections that mark transitions in TV/stand-up/performative comedy. Kohen We Killed is described as “a very oral history,” riffing on the nature of stand-up comedy and the way the book is constructed. What started as an article for Marie Clare became a book. Yael Kohen took interviews with comedians, club owners, writers, TV executives, actors, managers, etc. and stitched them together to give the history around people and TV shows a narrative shape and focus. Also, the We Killed is broken into sections that mark transitions in TV/stand-up/performative comedy. Kohen starts with the likes of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. The first big transition shift was away from jokes to Lily Tomlin and her characters (with which I am not familiar). Then, Kohen covers TV performers like Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett. Going back to stand-up and women no one knew what to do with, we hear about Whoopi Goldberg and Elayne Boosler. Finally, I got to a time period I remember: Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, and Paula Poundstone doing stand up! This was a time of joke telling, but soon transitioned to comedians telling stories about who they are as individuals with Janeane Garofalo at the helm. We Killed wraps up with “the girls’ club” at Saturday Night Live (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph) and what Kohen suggests are the feminine/sexy comedians like Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler. My first concerns was whether I would remember who’s who in each chapter. When a person is first introduced, he/she gets some brief credentials (a longer list of why the interviewee is important is contained at the front of the book). After, the person’s name alone is used. However, thanks to Kohen’s impressive weaving of interviews to create a narrative, I never felt confused. And with the exception of a few paragraphs Kohen writes to provide transitions, the whole book comes straight from interviews, giving it authenticity and an conversational style. While the early names were somewhat lost on me (I conflated Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers in my mind), Kohen made it easy to follow why each writer and performer was important in the context of the time period. If a comedian is still alive, I may place her one way now and see her in a new light after reading about her origins. Joan Rivers comes to mind, yelling at celebrities with her daughter on the red carpet, but was described as a trailblazer with improv roots in the 1960s. Lily Tomlin’s pivotal work I didn’t know about, but love her as the co-star of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. And I learned about what it was like to be woman in a certain time period based on the treatment and desires of female comics on prime-time TV. Marlo Thomas, whom I know from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital commercials (which her father founded), taught me about “a woman’s place” as a comedic actor on a TV show:I could see very clearly that I didn’t want to be the wife of somebody, or the secretary of somebody, or the daughter of somebody. I wanted to carry the story as opposed to just being an appendage of the story, which is what women were on television.Yael Kohen includes mini chapters titled “In the Spot” in which she looks at either a mover-shaker or small group. The one that made me furious was a look at the “boys’ club” days of Saturday Night Live, including John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Dan Aykroyd. According to Anne Beatts, who was a writer for SNL from 1975-1980, Belushi constantly demanded the female employees be fired and refused to be in any sketches women wrote. Though I loved Chevy Chase in his family vacation films, I can’t stand him in any other movies. Always, Chase ends up with a naked woman (Caddyshack) or grabbing a female actor’s breast (Spies Like Us)– moments in the script that have zero logic to any female viewer and were obviously written by men to appease his desires. At one point, Chase read a bit by SNL writer Cindy Caponera that got lots of laughs, which angered him. He told her, “Why don’t you give me a handjob.” Not a petulant response (in the tone of “why don’t you kiss my ass?!”), but a statement. Then, Chase refused to go on stage and do the bit. Kohen’s interviews confirm suspicions that I’ve had about a whole genre of male comedians from “classic” films I’ve hated, like Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House. Another suspicion I’ve long held without evidence is that women make it hard for other women in comedy. One of the most important club owners on the west coast, Mitzi Shore (mother of Pauly Shore) played favorites. Sandra Bernhard, stand-up comedian and actor on Roseanne, remembers:I don’t think Mitzi ever really liked a lot of women. She might have had a couple of favorites, but she liked to be like the queen bee. So there was always like a lot of young male comics who she liked and kind of took under her wing and had little flings with.Lisa Lampanelli fails to surprise. She’s a walking example of “the cool girl.” The insult comic has always made me cringe, and in her own words she states that she won’t hang out with female comics other than Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin (and herself, she says) because they all “yap, yap, freakin’ yap” and whine and believe there are barriers for women in comedy. I appreciated that Kohen captured even the ugly parts of comedy because it made me more passionate about the history of women in comedy. Published in 2012, Yael Kohen ends with comedians like Anjelah Johnson, Whitney Cummings, and Chelsea Handler, people Kohen asserts made sexy female comedians acceptable (in the past, women in comedy were more androgynous). I’d love a follow-up article in Marie Clare about comedians like Ali Wong, Katherine Ryan, Aparna Nancherla, Nicole Byer, Nikki Glaser, and Amy Schumer. A highly recommended read that I enjoyed each time I picked it up, like I stepped into some kind of reality TV confession room with a serious, not petty, focus. This review was originally published at Grab the Lapels.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mainon

    I seriously recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in standup or improv (regardless of whether you prefer to perform it or just to watch it). It's an unusual format; the author's commentary is sparse, consisting of scattered italicized paragraphs that give a bit of additional information when necessary. But really, this is the history of women in comedy in the words of the people who made that history. So you get to read Joan Rivers and Ellen DeGeneres's comments on their early I seriously recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in standup or improv (regardless of whether you prefer to perform it or just to watch it). It's an unusual format; the author's commentary is sparse, consisting of scattered italicized paragraphs that give a bit of additional information when necessary. But really, this is the history of women in comedy in the words of the people who made that history. So you get to read Joan Rivers and Ellen DeGeneres's comments on their early successes in the comedy clubs, and it gives you a better sense of "what it must have been like" than any outsider's description ever could. And then you get something like Susie Essman's comments on the rise of Sarah Silverman or Chelsea Handler, and it's like having a bunch of gossipy comedienne best friends, and it's fascinating. The format also made it a great before-bed or occasional-read book, because there's not really a plot to keep track of, and it's easily digested in small bites over a length of time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Penny Peck

    The author did a magazine piece on women in stand-up comedy, and then expanded it with more interviews for this thoughtful look at the history of "women in comedy." But it includes some women in comedy TV, mainly the Mary Tyler Moore Show and That Girl, and no women in movies, so the book would have been stronger if it focused on women in stand-up, improv, and performance comedy like Saturday Night Live. The part on TV sitcoms and women was fine but belongs in a different book. The narrative is The author did a magazine piece on women in stand-up comedy, and then expanded it with more interviews for this thoughtful look at the history of "women in comedy." But it includes some women in comedy TV, mainly the Mary Tyler Moore Show and That Girl, and no women in movies, so the book would have been stronger if it focused on women in stand-up, improv, and performance comedy like Saturday Night Live. The part on TV sitcoms and women was fine but belongs in a different book. The narrative is mainly interviews with a wide variety of folks in comedy (men included - other stand-ups, writers, producers, etc.); the author is adept at arranging the interview segments in a logical way (although there is a little repetition). The author's connective writing on the subject is also good. If the book focused on stand-up and performance comedy only, there would have been room to include important women such as Moms Mabley and a few others who don't appear, or appear only very briefly (from Totie Fields to Amy Schumer).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    The chapters are organized chronologically by generations of comedians. Chapters are made up of chunks of oral histories with a wide smattering of inhabitants of the comedy world, including comedians (of varying genders), writers, and folks on the business-y side of things. These chunks are organized around themes that emerged from the oral histories about that era. I really enjoyed skipping around to read what particular people had to say, or what was said about particular people; I definitely The chapters are organized chronologically by generations of comedians. Chapters are made up of chunks of oral histories with a wide smattering of inhabitants of the comedy world, including comedians (of varying genders), writers, and folks on the business-y side of things. These chunks are organized around themes that emerged from the oral histories about that era. I really enjoyed skipping around to read what particular people had to say, or what was said about particular people; I definitely spent more time with certain generations than others; and I learned about some people, shows, etc. that I had never heard of and am now obsessively scouring the Internets for more information and footage. To me, though, the layout and content of this book doesn't lend itself well to reading every word in order from beginning to end.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dorota

    I think I would love to see this book made into a special on TV or some sort of a documentary. Reading it was fun also, but seeing all these women together would be amazing, educational and definitely entertaining. The author did a great job and clearly tons of research working on this book. It contains so much information about female comedians. It's separated into several parts, which start with an introduction and then are followed by interviews with comedians, writers and those who are or I think I would love to see this book made into a special on TV or some sort of a documentary. Reading it was fun also, but seeing all these women together would be amazing, educational and definitely entertaining. The author did a great job and clearly tons of research working on this book. It contains so much information about female comedians. It's separated into several parts, which start with an introduction and then are followed by interviews with comedians, writers and those who are or were involved in the comedy business. I did not read it from start till end. I picked my favorite parts and then kept going back and forth between chapters and making a whole list of sketches I want to watch now. Thank goodness for YouTube!

  19. 4 out of 5

    K

    The subtitle is "a very oral history," because it is like an informative and funny talking-heads style documentary. Yael Kohen spliced together chunks from over two hundred interviews she conducted over five years, either in person or over the phone. The narrator is not intrusive and it is structured and edited together so well that the effort is invisible. A good solid piece of craftsmanship, where the author gets out of the way of the work. I enjoyed every minute of listening to these women The subtitle is "a very oral history," because it is like an informative and funny talking-heads style documentary. Yael Kohen spliced together chunks from over two hundred interviews she conducted over five years, either in person or over the phone. The narrator is not intrusive and it is structured and edited together so well that the effort is invisible. A good solid piece of craftsmanship, where the author gets out of the way of the work. I enjoyed every minute of listening to these women speak into my brain. P.S. I miss you Carles, my favorite funny lady, and will find a way to get this back to you somehow!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Asmaamtl

    as a huge comedy fan, i was excited to read this book. the stories of the individual comediennes are fascinating - Elaine May, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett – but the author's attempt at stitching together personal memories into a cohesive story misrepresent the rise of women in comedy as a collective movement. Tom Shales used this technique to great effect in his history of SNL mostly because all of the personalities were tied by their work on the show. in this case, however, the chapters felt as a huge comedy fan, i was excited to read this book. the stories of the individual comediennes are fascinating - Elaine May, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett – but the author's attempt at stitching together personal memories into a cohesive story misrepresent the rise of women in comedy as a collective movement. Tom Shales used this technique to great effect in his history of SNL mostly because all of the personalities were tied by their work on the show. in this case, however, the chapters felt forced as time often feels like the only thing pulling everyone together.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kris Patrick

    [skimmed it] Divided into nine chapters based on era - each chapter reads like a nine hour panel discussion. If you enjoy entertainers talking about "their craft" and "gender lines" a la James Lipton, this may be the book for you!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Lots of interesting interviews and insights from some of the most recognizable and/or influential women in comedy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Schroder

    Loved the idea of this book. NOT the execution.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Interesting information, poorly written

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trav S.D.

    There are plenty of things about Yael Kohen's new book We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy that seem almost calculated to bug me. One is the prejudice against old school vaudeville and burlesque comedy. This is an industry-wide attitude, an idiotic one I encounter frequently. I once met witha tv writer from one of America's top comedy shows a few years back who wanted to write a musical about a major vaudeville act. "But I have to solve the comedy problem," he said, "You can't do that There are plenty of things about Yael Kohen's new book We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy that seem almost calculated to bug me. One is the prejudice against old school vaudeville and burlesque comedy. This is an industry-wide attitude, an idiotic one I encounter frequently. I once met with a tv writer from one of America's top comedy shows a few years back who wanted to write a musical about a major vaudeville act. "But I have to solve the comedy problem," he said, "You can't do that kind of comedy any more. How do you show the audience that you're smarter than that?" And I as much as told him, "Screw you, jack! My entire life is about reviving that sort of comedy." Modern (realistic, non-joke-based, whatever you want to call it) comedy bores the frig out of me. This is 2012, not the 1970s. Why is anyone still worried about appearing too much like Alan King? And by the way, if the original worry is that joke-based vaudeville comedy was too ossified, at least it was diverse. Kohen talks about Mitzi Shore's 1970s pioneering of the comedy club, a specialized venue that only presents stand-up comics, as though it were a good thing. Frankly, I think it's horrible. I hate comedy clubs. 95% of the comedians stink, they have no material and no originality, and you have to watch 8 of them in a row? I say, flush this phenomenon down the toilet. So: defining "American comedy" as the sort of comedy that has only been around a half century or so seems selective at best, to put it mildly. Calculated to raise my hackles. But more importantly, if your issue is gender equity, then it's simply not fair not to acknowledge the inroads made in the first part of the twentieth century. Women (singing comediennes) were the biggest stars in vaudeville: they were the most powerful, the highest paid, and the most famous. Show business was among the first realms in American life about which this can be said. If you had asserted a century ago that these women somehow "weren't funny" or "weren't comedians", people would merely have been nonplussed.  I'm talking about the likes of Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker,Eva Tanguay, Nora Bayes, Elsie Janis, etc.  Kohen dismisses this earlier era, because back then women "were expected to sing and dance." But, guess what? So were the men. Back then that is what defined a top entertainer: they sang, danced, and told jokes. The male equivalent of those women I mentioned is Eddie Cantor. Or to use Kohen's own example of "old school", we can use Bob Hope. What is he associated with in addition to telling jokes? A song: "Thanks for the Memories". He sings in every Hope and Crosby picture, and indeed was a star of Broadway musicals before going to Hollywood. All of the emcees at the Palace, America's top show biz venue prior to the night club era, sang, dance, and told jokes, just like the musical comedy stars they also became. Were there some comedy professionals who only did comedy monologues prior to the stand-up era? Yes, they were known as monologists. They were often well loved, but they were not the top stars, and you can gauge that by the unsexy name for their specialty. Any of the top singing comediennes would have dwarfed any monologist in power, influence and take-home pay. It's only in the night-club era, a few years into the Cold War, that you get guys who are stand-up comics, that is, who only come out and talk, becoming popular. And THIS is the realm in which women did not dominate, although the first pioneers (the examples Kohen gives are Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Elaine May) came along pretty soon thereafter. The distinction is important because when you claim that Phyllis Diller is the first woman in American comedy, you are kind of shitting on not only all the singing comediennes but also Mae West, Beatrice Lillie, Gracie Allen, Imogene Coca, Penny Singleton, Mabel Normand, Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Zasu Pitts, Ginger Rogers, Gertrude Berg, Selma Diamond, writers like Anita Loos and Dorothy Parker, and -- hardly irrelevant, the first woman to be President of her own television studio -- Lucille Ball. The distinction is supposed to be that these earlier performers were too ladylike, they're not aggressive enough ("like a man") and so they somehow don't count. Uh, they count to me. I remember watching this show Collin Quinn had in the 90s where he and a bunch of his thug friends would sit around and kibbitz, and one time they started talking trash about Rita Rudner (I'm certain the topic was one that is a central -- valid -- theme of Kohen's book, the well-known male canard that "women aren't funny.") At any rate: here's what you should know, ladies. My instant reaction to Quinn's comment was "Rita Rudner (who is actually witty and has a sharply honed comic persona) is worth a thousand of you imbecilic retards." I have no interest in dick humor, or the dicks who are preoccupied with their dicks and apparently can't stop talking about theirs and other people's dicks. Surely, I'm not alone. The problem is: when people like Johnny Carson and Lorne Michaels and most of the men in the industry seem to share Quinn's attitude, it makes it tough and nasty for women. The environment sounds a lot like a locker room, a dirty, nasty cul-de-sac of human activity, from which, somehow, the industry once produced tv stars. It was a gauntlet manifestly not hospitable to the faint-hearted, but women eventually got the door open. And (now that we've got my historical objections out of the way), I can say that the book does an amazing job of chronicling that process...how we went from the occasional token woman in the writers room or on the Carson show to Mary Tyler Moore, Rosanne, Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. And it's all accomplished in interviews: scores and scores of them -- and important ones, interviews with the key players and some of the most important people in show business. This story gets told. And for a show biz buff, reading these behind-the-scenes reminiscences is like eating popcorn. It's just full of rich detail about a fascinating time. It's extremely illuminating about the evolution of the old cabaret scene into the comedy club scene, for example. And the fact that it's full of grievances makes it an even better read. There's a lot of passion here, and a lot of hurt. One feels that this is an important story to be told, and it's been a long time in coming. At times, though, it feels like there is too much of it. The book could have used some editing. There's a lot of redundancy and overlap, and some of the contributions by some of the more marginal people could easily be excised.  On the plus side, EVERYBODY is in this book. Every female figure in the comedy business you can think of , from the last half century. The problem, is everybody and her sister are in here, without much discrimination. After a while it seems like there are 150 people in the book about whom it is said "No one had ever seen anything like that before!" The cumulative effect is that every day someone does something on a comedy stage that no one has ever seen before. It's quite true. It's also quite unremarkable. Better to have kept it down to just the true benchmarks. After awhile the sheer weight of narcissism and self-importance can be overwhelming -- not because they are women, but because they are comedians. Also there is a substantial amount of digression into areas unrelated to the book's theme of women struggling in the comedy business. And the book is inconsistent. At first (and for the most part) the yardstick for inclusion seems to be "the cutting edge": women who made inroads not just professionally but in terms of the content of their material, i.e., having some feminist significance or import. But then, if this is true, and if we are ignoring Gertrude Berg and Lucille Ball, why talk (and at some length) about Carol Burnett and Betty White? Speaking of narcisssism and self-importance, the coolest part for me was reading that Janeane Garafolo was doing stand-up at Periwinkles in Providence in 1985. Because I was doing stand-up at Periwinkles in 1985! We may well have done that open mic on the same night, although at that point who knew her from Eve? (Nearly 15 years later we were on the same bill at Caroline's, although I was only appearing as a musician). PLUS there is an entire chapter on the alternative comedy scene I sprang out of in the mid '90s, including shout-outs to our old haunts Surf Reality, Collective: Unconscious and Luna Lounge. Thus my message to the reader is the same one these long-suffering female comedians were forced to listen to all their lives: good things come to those who wait.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dee Eisel

    I really, really enjoyed this book. During the '80s, I would stay up late to watch Short Attention Span Theatre on the Comedy Channel, and over the last several years I'd wondered what happened to all th wonderful standup. Telling that story isn't the prime focus of the book, but it answers questions that I'd asked in larger contexts. Kohen's story is told primarily in interviews about different times in comedy history, interspersed with her editorial and historical clarifications. Kohen I really, really enjoyed this book. During the '80s, I would stay up late to watch Short Attention Span Theatre on the Comedy Channel, and over the last several years I'd wondered what happened to all th wonderful standup. Telling that story isn't the prime focus of the book, but it answers questions that I'd asked in larger contexts. Kohen's story is told primarily in interviews about different times in comedy history, interspersed with her editorial and historical clarifications. Kohen provides valuable insight into each period, but the interviews are really the story "on the ground," and it was wonderful to read them. I found it especially touching to see the interviews with Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. Their deaths took the knowledge of much of this history, and their insights were valuable. They are missed. We begin with Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, and the early comediennes who were starting as singers just as much if not more than standup. Kohen then takes us through the variety show era and Lily Tomlin and Laugh-In, Carol Burnett, and the Saturday Night Live early era. Throughout this time, Kohen interviews men and women who performed and wrote for the various teams as well as the solo acts. Starting with Elayne Boosler (who I loved!) Kohen then moves into the 80s standup. I learned so much about how these women I enjoyed were living and working. It was amazing to discover how hard they were working on every little thing, and I marvel at how easy they made it appear at every turn. I never thought I could say I admire them more, but I do. Then Kohen takes us into the sitcom era, with Roseanne and Friends and Ellen. Of course these get covered, and the "cute wife and schlub husband" merits attention as well. Overall, reading this segment about the sitcoms and Janeane Garofalo and so many more helped me understand what happened to the stand-up I loved so much. It was a lot of fun to realize that while I was living in a place with a bunch of friends in San Jose, to the north Garofalo and Jack Black and others were doing the same thing. The book closes with the Tina Fey and Upright Citizen's Brigade era of comedy, with an aside into Sarah Silverman and her effect on comedy. It's not my favorite era, but it works and the feeling that things are going much better for women in comedy closes the book. This is the kind of history I love to read. Yes, it's about women. But it's also about an art form and how it developed, popular culture and its evolution, and gives voices to people who we only know from stories or punchlines. Well worth your time. Five of five stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Decent enough oral history of woman in comedy from 50's to today. Lots of leapfrogging over certain events and deep dives into particular people that Kohen feels were singularly important in the development of comedy by women. It's all a little pat and evenhanded. Kohen is interested less in staking a claim for women in comedy than nudging us gently into the direction of "women can be funny too." Which, of course, should have always been a given. A bunch of territory that Kohen covers here is Decent enough oral history of woman in comedy from 50's to today. Lots of leapfrogging over certain events and deep dives into particular people that Kohen feels were singularly important in the development of comedy by women. It's all a little pat and evenhanded. Kohen is interested less in staking a claim for women in comedy than nudging us gently into the direction of "women can be funny too." Which, of course, should have always been a given. A bunch of territory that Kohen covers here is available elsewhere in a more expanded form, i.e. the SNL oral history and Carol Burnett biographies, but Kohen does manage to take a fresh look at certain events and people that bring their accomplishments closer to the light. For example, she is quite clear how important Janeane Garofolo in the development and nurturing of the alternative comedy scene and her contribution to the evolution of comedy. There are some wonderful stories, particularly about the Mary Tyler Moore show and the rise of female comics in the 80's such as Paula Poundstone, Judy Tenuda and Sandra Bernhard. Kohen effectively maps how the evolution of early 50's comedy where women were in reaction to men and only a certain type of woman with a certain viewpoint would find success to the current time where there is a diaspora of viewpoints and positions that women can take and be successful in comedy. Totally worth a read, but it falls short of essential

  28. 5 out of 5

    Judy G

    very well done study and interviews of women comediennes thru the years beginning prob w Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers and ending with Roseanne and some women I dont know didnt remember their names. Yael Kohen interviewed the women and people who worked with them. She wrote an oral history and she is a journalist in NYC I read more than half and then I began to skim. I think aside from talking about the actual scene in the decades beginning I think with Tonight Show w Carson as the TV scene. She very well done study and interviews of women comediennes thru the years beginning prob w Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers and ending with Roseanne and some women I dont know didnt remember their names. Yael Kohen interviewed the women and people who worked with them. She wrote an oral history and she is a journalist in NYC I read more than half and then I began to skim. I think aside from talking about the actual scene in the decades beginning I think with Tonight Show w Carson as the TV scene. She also covers various clubs where they worked. It is a very thorough journaling. Interspersed are comments on how comedy and what people seek as comedy and its performers have changed. I would like to read with a focus on how comedy has changed as women have changed and our roles in life. This book was done in 2012. Judy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ayse

    . An interesting overview of women in comedy from the early golden age up to a few years ago. I didn't realize that it was a series of interviews rather than a written narrative and it took me a long time to enjoy it. The main themes are very interesting and it is fascinating to hear it in the voice of the people who lived through it all. It was especially compelling to see the same themes played out in basically every generation. The challenges, the stereotypes, the idea that there will finally . An interesting overview of women in comedy from the early golden age up to a few years ago. I didn't realize that it was a series of interviews rather than a written narrative and it took me a long time to enjoy it. The main themes are very interesting and it is fascinating to hear it in the voice of the people who lived through it all. It was especially compelling to see the same themes played out in basically every generation. The challenges, the stereotypes, the idea that there will finally be that breakthrough person who will change the industry. I think the most true and telling statement near the very end is that trends come and go and a success breeds copycats but then dies down again. An engaging and revealing book but be aware of the format going in as it was very off putting for me in the beginning.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Doug Clark

    On the last day of 2012, I finished Yael Kohen’s book, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. This is, quite simply, a wonderful book. Of course, I am completely biased, both because I love comedy, especially standup, but also because I think women are funny. I have managed to see in person Lily Tomlin (twice), Wanda Sykes, Kathleen Madigan, Paula Poundstone (twice), Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Chelsea Handler (twice), Janeane Garofalo, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, and On the last day of 2012, I finished Yael Kohen’s book, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. This is, quite simply, a wonderful book. Of course, I am completely biased, both because I love comedy, especially standup, but also because I think women are funny. I have managed to see in person Lily Tomlin (twice), Wanda Sykes, Kathleen Madigan, Paula Poundstone (twice), Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Chelsea Handler (twice), Janeane Garofalo, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, and most recently, Chondra Pierce, a Christian comedian. So I certainly looked forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed. The book is structured as an oral history with the actual participants telling their stories, anecdotes and memories. This seems to be an increasingly popular type of history, especially in the entertainment industry following on the heels of others such as: Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Schales and James Andrew Miller (2002), Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Schales (2011), I Want My MTV: The Uncensored History of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum (2011), among others. Kohen starts her history in the late 1950s with the rise of Phyllis Diller. From there she moves into the 1960s with the start of Elaine May, famous for teaming with Mike Nichols in the team Nichols and May, Anne Meara, who teamed with her husband, Jerry Stiller, Louise Lasser, once married to Woody Allen and the eventual star of the classic sit-com, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and finally, Joan Rivers. Of these founders of the women’s comedy movement, Phyllis Diller passed on August 20, 2012 at 95, and the rest, although still living appear infrequently with the exception of Joan Rivers who is still working as hard as ever and just as funny, even though her act has significantly changed from her days of standup in the 1960s. Kohne then moves to early comics of the television sit-com: Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore, Bea Arthur, and others. She also includes the performers from variety shows such as Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and Carol Burnett, who rightfully merits a special chapter of her own. Included in the chapter is Valerie Harper whose recently published memoir and continuing battle with a terminal brain tumor with continued grace and good humor are an inspiration to everyone she meets. From there comes Saturday Night Live and the women who were so valuable to its ensemble and the fight for recognition in an all too often boy’s club. These are the stories of the great Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman. They blazed a bright trail for many of the amazing female writers and comics that have followed. In the late 1970s and early 80s, several women opened new paths in standup. Among these women were Whoopi Goldberg, Elayne Boosler, Carol Leifer, and Sandra Bernhard. Kohen then has a special chapter on Merrill Markoe, a longtime writer for David Letterman. Her story is both one of success, but also a cautionary tale of someone who hid her light under a basket for the success of another. Moving into the 1980s, there was a boom in comedy throughout the United States. Comedy clubs were opening everywhere. Originating in New York and California, comedy came to middle America, and, along with the expansion of visibility, female comics became known. These were the years of Roseanne, Rita Rudner, Ellen DeGeneres, Joy Behar, Judy Tenuta, Paula Poundstone and others. Again, Kohen offers a spotlight chapter on Ellen DeGeneres. Finally, in the 1990s on, women grabbed standup by throat. There are remembrances by such stars as Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Griffin, Laura Kightlinger, and Margaret Cho. This lead to the rebirth of women on Saturday Night Live with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Rachel Dratch. These are the women we follow in TV and film today. A last chapter looks at several of the current crop: Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Kudrow (already famous for Friends), Aubrey Plaza, Whitney Cummings, Loni Love, Lisa Lampanelli, Natasha Leggero, Ellie Kemper, and Jen Kirkman. I would say that at this point, Chelsea Handler has done the most recently to promote female comics by featuring one or more each night as part of her nightly panel on her show, Chelsea Lately. She has also started her own publishing company and besides having several bestselling books of her own, has helped or published recent books by Heather McDonald, Sarah Colonna, Jen Kirkman, with one by Loni Love due out in July. The stories and the struggles of women for recognition and respect make for a great story. I have little criticism in regards to the book. However, I would have liked to have seen more in regards to past female comics. There is little mention of Lucille Ball. What about funny women in films? It seems all the focus is on TV and standup, which certainly are important, but if one is considering sit-coms, why not include films, also then? There are some great women who performed wonderful comedy in films: Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot and Katherine Hepburn in films like Bringing Up Baby and Adam’s Rib. I think these women should also be included. Also, there was in the 1940s and 50s a group of women known for bawdy comedy such as Rusty Warren. And where’s Moms Mabley? However, these are slight criticisms. The book is a much needed history of important members of the world of comedy and their contribution has made all our lives easier to enjoy and better.

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