Women have always been funny, though arguments to the contrary ridiculously persist. We've assembled a few of our favorite funny women and the moments that have helped shape their careers. From Lucille Ball's 11-year run on "I Love Lucy" to Melissa McCarthy's breakout role in Bridesmaids, consider this an extended ode to the women who make us laugh.
Hear more about the rise of women in comedy TONIGHT on MAKERS.com. We're showing a special screening of MAKERS: Women in Comedy, hosted by Kathy Griffin. Team MAKERS will also be online to answer your questions and tell exclusive behind-the-scenes stories. Join us at 8 PM EST!
Lucille Ball makes everyone laugh for years
In 1951, "I Love Lucy" was born. The black and white series was the most-watched show in the United States for four of its six seasons. Its star, played by Lucille Ball, had show biz ambitions without the true talent to get the jobs, but because Lucille Ball excelled at physical comedy and clowning, everyone laughed. Her show became beloved by Americans. In 1990, it was the first TV show to be inducted into the TV Hall of Fame.
Carol Burnett becomes the first female variety show host
After performing standup in New York City nightclubs and breaking out on Broadway (she received a Tony nom for Once Upon a Mattress), Carol Burnett became the first female variety show host. The network execs initially offered her a role on a one-character show, “Here’s Agnes,” but Carol put her foot down. She loved playing different characters and refused to give it up. The Carol Burnett Show aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978. It won 23 Emmy Awards.
Carol tells her story to MAKERS.
Joan Rivers competes with Johnny Carson, her former mentor
Joan Rivers rose to fame when Johnny Carson made her his regular guest host in 1983. But in 1986, she lost Carson as her mentor when Fox gave her a late night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. Her show was slated to run at the same time as Carson’s, making her a direct competitor. She took the job without consulting Carson (but honestly: was she supposed to say no to the opportunity?).
Hear her career story in her own words.
Ellen DeGeneres comes out
In 1994, Ellen Degeneres got her first sitcom, “Ellen.” In 1997, she won her first Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. She also played the lead character in the series who, in that same Emmy-winning year, became the first gay lead character on TV. Ellen’s character came out at the same time she did. Ellen says her coming out was the greatest thing that ever happened to her. For a while, every time she’d say “I’m gay,” in rehearsal, she would sob; she’d never said it aloud before.
Learn about the backlash she received.
Melissa McCarthy cracks us up in Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy fell in love with her Bridesmaids’ character Megan right away. For the audition, she told GQ, ‘I wore no makeup and a bad pant. Once I look like the character, it really locks me in, even if people sometimes say, ‘We need you not to be repulsive.’” The 2011 movie was an incredible ensemble of hilarious women. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and McCarthy was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
Tig Notaro jokes about having cancer
In 2012, Tig Notaro opened her legendary show at Largo by saying, “Good evening, hello. I have cancer. How are you?” Louis C.K. was at the show and told Tig she should make an album of the show. She released “Tig Notaro Live” in 2013, and it sold more albums than the Kiss record of the time.
Hear how Tig remembers the show.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host the golden globes
Two of comedy’s leading ladies (and BFFs) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes in 2013 (then followed it up in 2014). They made some scathing jokes (James Cameron as torture, George Clooney as modelizer) and cured the dread that Ricky Gervais had instilled in the award ceremony after hosting the past three. Relive their first glorious run here.
Jane Lynch on the new generation of women comedians.