A List of Ground-Breaking Female Comedians

The humor world would not be the same without these trailblazers.

The days when people thought of stand-up comedy as being a “man’s world” are long gone, and we have the following funny ladies to thank for that fact. These ground-breaking female comics disproved the old sexist myth that “women aren’t as funny as men,” leading the way for equality on the stand-up circuit, on television, and beyond.

01
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Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett
Via Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.

Carol Burnett is the essential "class clown" among the legends on this list. Her career spans decades; she's famous on stage and on screen, but she's most well known for her variety show The Carol Burnett Show, which aired for 11 seasons from 1967-1978. In recent years, she's showing she's still got it with appearances on Glee and 30 Rock

Nobody did slapstick or a deadpan look quite like Carol!

 

02
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Joan Rivers

© New York Post. © New York Post

Until her death in 2014, Joan Rivers had performed on stage and screen since the early 1960s. Her brand of comedy was sharp, snappy, and often scathing. She made fun of celebrities, Hollywood, fashion, and most of all, herself. Even into her 80s, her legendary wit was on full display as she critiqued fashion choices on the E! Channel, proving that sharp observational skills and a clever mind never go out of style.

03
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Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball
Via Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images.

Everyone remembers the iconic Lucille Ball for her eponymous role on I Love Lucky, one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time.

Her career began as a model in 1929, but she soon began her performing arts career on Broadway and a few minor movie roles. After meeting and marrying her first husband, Dezi Arnaz, the pair created their famous show together.

Everyone with eyes could see how funny Lucy was as an actress, but she was also a savvy businesswoman. In 1962, Lucy became the first woman to ever run a Hollywood studio. Desilu Productions produced a few shows you may have heard of...Ever hear of Star Trek or Mission Impossible, for instance?

 

04
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Ellen Degeneres

© People Magazine. © People Magazine

Who doesn’t love Ellen? Ellen Degeneres became famous because of her hilarious stand-up act, but she has since cemented her place in America’s hearts by becoming one of the funniest, most kind-hearted and genuine comedians alive. Degeneres made waves in 1997 when she came out as being homosexual during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and she has been a champion for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues. She has starred in television shows, movies, and currently hosts a hugely-successful talk show, yet she never lets anyone forget that you can be funny, while still being a nice person.

05
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Whoopi Goldberg

© Britain Magazine. © Britain Magazine

There are not many awards in Hollywood that Whoopi Goldberg hasn’t won. She got her start as an actress, starting her own one-woman show that eventually made it to Broadway, and she has acted in countless movies and television shows, worked behind-the-scenes, and currently keeps it real (and funny) as a co-host on ABC’s The View. She was also the first African American woman to host the Academy Awards ceremony, in 1994.

06
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Roseanne Barr

© Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images Entertainment. © Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images Entertainment

Love her or hate her, the world of comedy would not be the same without Roseanne Barr. Barr got her start in stand-up clubs, perfecting the "fierce working-class domestic goddess" persona that she would eventually bring to her popular TV sitcom, Roseanne. Barr became a symbol of working class American life, often saying and performing acts in public that raised eyebrows and earned her a label of “crass” by most standards. However, Barr was so fearless, blunt, and above all, funny, that her career has continued to flourish in spite of her outspoken critics.

07
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Phyllis Diller

© MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS. © MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

A self-described "life of the party-type," Phyllis Diller did not enter the comedy world until she was almost 40 years-old. Often donning over-the-top costumes and make up, Diller's comedy act was saucy, self-deprecating, and punctuated by her trademark cackle of laughter. As a frequent guest on talk and game shows, she pioneered the art of the witty one-liner.

08
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Kathy Griffin

© KathyGriffin.net. © KathyGriffin.net

Like many notable comedians, Kathy Griffin got her start working for the comedy troupe, The Groundlings. Griffin’s stage style is conversational, blunt, and often controversial; she is an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, and often discusses celebrities, pop culture, and religion in her act. Griffin portrays herself as someone who is just as wowed by celebrities as us “non-famous” people, and she has earned kudos and criticism for dishing about what goes on behind the scenes.

09
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Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin
Via Salon.

Lily Tomlin has been a popular stand up comedian for several decades, and even in her late 70s she's still kicking butt as the star of the popular Netflix show Grace and Frankie.  She got her start performing on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in the 1970s, and her improvisational and observational brand of humor are legendary in the industry.

10
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Wanda Sykes

© facebook. © facebook

Wanda Sykes worked the stand-up circuit for years before getting the gig that would catapult her into the spotlight: Opening for Chris Rock at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City. Sykes has since become one of the funniest people in America, according to Entertainment Weekly, often lending her quick wit and distinctive voice to cartoon characters on film.

11
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Carol Leifer

© GreenNobles. © GreenNobles

In 1980, Carol Leifer was performing a stand-up act when she was discovered by David Letterman, who asked her to perform on his show, Late Night with David Letterman. Her quick wit and quirky antics earned her an amazing reputation in Hollywood, and she has written and produced shows such as The Larry David Show, Saturday Night Live, and Seinfeld. In fact, rumor has it that the character of Elaine, on Seinfeld, was modeled in part after Leifer herself.

12
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Sarah Silverman

© en.wikipedia.org. © en.wikipedia.org

Sarah Silverman started out on Saturday Night Live, but then the comedian, writer and actress, became famous for her one-woman shows and comedy acts. Silverman uses satire to skewer taboo subjects like sexism, religion, and racism. You might not like her, but you can’t ignore that she says what she thinks and is never afraid to “go there”.

13
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Chelsea Handler

© CelebCenter.us. © CelebCenter.us

Chelsea Handler got her start in stand-up before getting her own talk show on E! in 2007. Often shocking with her word choices and willingness to poke fun at fellow celebrities, Handler’s humor has become extremely popular both on the screen, and in print. Handler is the best-selling author of humor books, many of which have hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

14
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Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho
Via kenphillipsgroup.com.

Margaret Cho breaks boundaries everywhere she goes. The Chinese-American is famous for her critical take on society and poltics, and she simply refuses to keep silent about racial and sexual stereotypes that she believes inhibit women every day.  Cho is also a champion for LGBT, women, and Asian rights.

15
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Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer
Via IMDB.

Amy Schumer is on fire lately, and her tough-talking, dirty-minded attitude defies anyone who would dare opine that "women aren't funny."

After putting in many years on the stand up circuit, Schumer co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in the hit sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer. She then went on to pen and star in the Judd Apatow-produced movie Trainwreck, which earned critical acclaim and catapulted the star to a whole 'nother level.

16
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Lisa Lampanelli

Lisa Lampinelli
Via Wikipedia.

The so-called "Insult Comic" has been called a lot of things in her career, but the nickname that really sticks is "The Queen of Mean."  Think of her as the anti-Ellen. There isn't a race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality that Lampanelli hasn't skewered on stage.  She unabashadely "goes there" and doesn't seem to care at all who she insults.

17
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Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro
Via Indiewire.com.

Tig Notaro is an actress and comedian who rose to fame after performing a fantastic, funny, and heartbreaking comedy routine about her own breast cancer. After fellow comedian Louis CK heard the routine and helped publicize it, Tig went on to perform another stand up after her double mastectomy.  During the show, she wowed the crowd by removing her shirt and performing for over 20 minutes topless. Audience members couldn't help but admire not only her bravery, but her ability to be so insanely funny that you didn't even notice the partial nudity after the initial shock wore off.