Looking for a good laugh? You might want to try going to a stand -up show. Comedy has long been a male-dominated industry, but over the past few decades, the best female comedians of all time have been paving the way for more women to take the stage and deliver hilarious performances. Now there’s no shortage of talented women making their mark in the world of stand-up comedy. Women have left a lasting impression on the stand-up comedy industry, blazing the trail for future generations of comedians. Not only were they funny, but they were also groundbreaking in their approach to humor and challenging societal norms.
You know what they say — laughter is the best medicine. Going for some comedic relief might do you some good. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Basel, laughing can actually help ease the negative effects of stress. Their study finds even cracking a smile can help ease the negative effects of stress. For participants who frequently laughed, stressful events were more related to minor symptoms of personal stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of life, just let out a chuckle or two. Apparently, people laugh about 18 times a day, usually during interactions with others or when they’re enjoying life. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying!
An aptitude for comedy might play a role in our lives sooner than we think. A study found that kids who are the class clowns are likely to have a higher than average level of general knowledge and verbal reasoning than peers. When researchers tested intelligence and humor skills, they found a direct correlation. Funnily enough, intelligence accounted for a whopping 68 percent of the difference in humor ability among the kids. But as for the grown-ups? The jury is still out.
Now for the list of the best female comedians of all time … according to experts, the five funny stand-up ladies below deserve a standing ovation! Each of these women offer a unique style and approach to comedy, but all share the ability to make audiences roar with laughter. Our list is made up of the top recommedations across 12 expert sources. Don’t see your favorite below? Let us know your pick in the comments below!
The List: Best Female Comedians, According to Experts
1. Jackie “Moms” Mabley
“Moms” Mabley was a pioneering stand-up comedian who broke barriers in the entertainment industry. Biography describes her as ahead of her time. “She was definitely a woman ahead of her time — gay, Black and political. After a difficult childhood — both her parents were killed in separate accidents and she was raped twice by the time she was 13, got pregnant both times, and was forced to give away the babies — she escaped to Vaudeville. It was on the Chitlin’ Circuit, she found an outlet for her talents. She developed an onstage persona … an homage to her grandmother, the one parental figure she had been able to count on.”
The Manual highlights her influence in the world of comedy. “Talk about busting down doors! Not only was ‘Moms’ Mabley a female comic of color at a point in history when that was practically unheard of, but she was also one of the first openly queer comedians of all time. Add to that her formidable talent and you have a recipe for one of the most influential comedic voices of the 20th century.”
Vogue praises “Moms” Mabley’s courage in addressing topics that were not socially “acceptable” to speak of in her time. “Chitlin’ Circuit veteran and pioneering Black lesbian stand-up ‘Moms’ Mabley was the definition of a comedy trailblazer, addressing topics like racism and sexuality that were often deemed too controversial for her time (or hell, even ours). It’s hard to imagine where comedy would be today without her influence.”
2. Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers had a sharp wit and biting humor that made her a legend in the industry. The Top Tens describes her comedic style that cemented her legacy. “Joan Rivers was an American comedian, actress, writer, producer, and television host noted for her often controversial comedic persona — where she was alternately self-deprecating or sharply acerbic, especially toward celebrities and politicians.”
“There wasn’t exactly an excess of women around when Joan Rivers was coming up in West Village joints. Yet the bold, brash and canny comedian did more than just stake her claim to a spot in the boys’ club, she built her own addition. Her dishy invocation — ‘Can we talk?’ — was a call into Rivers’ special little gossip circle; if her naughty digs and blue talk ever became too much for her audience, she’d admonish them, ‘Oh, grow up,’ and she meant it. She could talk, hilariously and then some,” Rolling Stone raves.
TimeOut celebrates Joan Rivers’ ability to break barriers, which seems to be a defining quality of the courageous women in comedy. “Performing non stop until her death, Rivers defied age and gender expectations from her industry and flipped the bird to the Hollywood elite that tried to silence her. Her razor-sharp, bullet-speed bits on reproduction, beauty and celebrity made the battle worth it.”
3. Ellen Degeneres
Ellen Degeneres is a household name after a long career in stand-up and daytime TV. “Who would have thought DeGeneres would become one of the most beloved female comedians. Her live sets were super successful. Also, she was the first female comedian to get called over to Johnny Carson’s hot seat (The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson),” remarks Siachen Studios.
Reel Rundown gives an account of her comedic career. “Throughout the 1980s, DeGeneres toured the country doing stand-up comedy, eventually being named Showtime’s Funniest Person in America in 1982. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, DeGeneres starred in two successful sitcoms. She also hosted Saturday Night Live in 2001.”
4. Phyllis Diller
Phyllis Diller was a trailblazer in the industry, known for her wild hair, cackling laugh, self-deprecating humor and outlandish persona. Entertainism highlights Diller’s groundbreaking impact and fantastic writing. “Phyllis got up on stage for the first time at San Francisco’s Purple Onion nightclub. She made her way to a thriving television career with her hilarious performances on ‘Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!,’ ‘Eight on the Lam,’ and ‘The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell,’ from 1966 to 1968.”
“Phyllis Diller was 37 years old before she started her stand-up career, though she’d done comedic segments for local TV. Her first two-week booking at the Purple Onion in San Francisco turned into a nearly two-year run, and from then on, there was no looking back. Diller was one of the first female comedians to become a household name, and she was known for her wild hair, crazy outfits and stage props (including a wooden cigarette) on her way to a long career — and status as one of the first gay icons in stand-up,” YardBarker describes.
5. Ali Wong
Critics have praised Wong for fearlessly tackling taboo subjects and hilariously challenging audiences’ assumptions and beliefs. The National Women’s History Museum recognizes her for breaking stereotypes. “Today, more women comics are at the top of the field than ever before and they continue to make original and pioneering contributions to the genre. Ali Wong’s 2016 special, Baby Cobra, made headlines as the first comedy special filmed by a pregnant comic. After Baby Cobra’s success, Wong released a second special, Hard Knock Wife, in 2018, which she filmed while pregnant with her second child.”
Cosmopolitan highlights her mosty notable achievements in the industry. “She really made her mark with Baby Cobra, her first Netflix standup special on stuff like sex, hoarding, and feminism which she performed while seven months preggo (!). Oh, and she did it again with her second bébé during her Hard Knock Wife special. Her most recent ish? Writing and starring in the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe.”
You might also be interested in:
- The Manual
- The Top Tens
- Rolling Stone
- Siachen Studios
- Reel Rundown
- National Women’s History Museum
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