Funny LadiesElizabeth Sankey

There have always been women in comedy, women who have had the strength of character to be heckled night after night, who knew they had to scream so loud to be heard in such a male dominated industry that they didn’t need a microphone.

These women are still around and still making people laugh, but now they’re doing so with more of a steely determination and edge.  They’ve kicked down the doors, allowing those who follow the opportunity to poke their heads ’round the busted frame and be accepted without too much complaint.

I now introduce to you the new breed of female comedian.  In no way am I saying they’ve not had to work hard or that they haven’t experienced sexism, as I’m sure they have.  But they seem freer, and dare I say softer, than their predecessors and we’re falling completely in love with them.

Aubrey Plaza
Plaza’s trademark is deadpan.  She is one of the few people who can display gut-churning emotional highs and lows while speaking only in a monotone.  Her brow is always furrowed.  She stares straight down the camera lens, sullen and cross as she says, “I’m of Puerto Rican heritage. That’s why I’m so lively and colourful.”  Many of you know her from the awesome Amy Poehler show Parks and Recreation where she plays April Ludgate, the personal assistant of the macho Ron Swanson (an Ayn Rand-obsessive and lists ‘breakfast foods’ as one of his interests).  Plaza is also an accomplished stand-up who also appeared in Funny People playing a girl with thick black glasses and a weakness for a cocky Jason Schwartzman.  With the ability to make every character detailed and nuanced, Plaza is one to keep an eye on.  A sullen eye, that is.

Carrie Brownstein
Remember those girls at school who were ‘all-rounders’?  Already getting grade A’s, one day they’d try out for the cheerleading squad “just for fun” and suddenly they’d be turning cartwheels and doing back flips while polishing off equations.  Everything they tried, they’d immediately conquer.  Their lives seemed effortless and fulfilling and what’s more, they were really really nice with it. Carrie Brownstein, of excellent bands Sleater Kinney and Wild Flag, is one of those women.   However, she’s also one of those women who’d be able to satirise a high school all-rounder to hilarious pinpoint precision.  In her show Portlandia (which she writes with SNL castmember Fred Armisen), Brownstein plays a range of surreal and witty characters including a woman so desperate to ensure that the chicken that she’s about to eat in a restaurant is free range, she ends up living on the farm where the chickens are kept for several years.  She eventually remembers why she originally went there and returns to the restaurant only to ask, “Ok so I’ll have the chicken, but what about the vegetables?”  My personal favourites are the owners of the feminist bookshop: long- haired, simpering and judgmental, they force Steve Buscemi to buy something after using their toilet but then dictate what it is that he’s allowed to purchase. “Would you walk into a puzzle store and only buy one piece of the puzzle?”  Amazing.

Kristen Wiig
She has too ‘i’s in her second name! She played a nervous travel agent called Judy Grimes!  She’s tall!  What’s not to love?!  To be fair, although she’s definitely not as famous as she should be, Wiig is not necessarily a new comedian.  As Jason Sudeikis of SNL says, “She had about thirty lives before she showed up at SNL. She’s had a bunch of crazy jobs and crazy haircuts and has lived in about a dozen cities. And there’s always a time when she’ll say, ‘Well, when I was a florist’, or ‘When I sold peaches on the street’, or ‘When I went to massage school’…”  In comedic terms, Wiig comes from a similar place as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and indeed the three of them often work together.  However, with Bridesmaids, the recent release Wiig both co-wrote and stars in, her star is set to go stratospheric.  In the film she plays a maid of honour whose friend’s giddy happiness only highlights how her own personal life is collapsing around her.  It’s hilarious and heart-warming and will speak to any of us who’ve ever been bemused by the collective squealing that “I’m getting married!!” can provoke.  Hey, we’re happy for you, we just don’t feel the need to scream about it.

Alia Shawkat
I still don’t understand why Arrested Development got cancelled, but the character of Maeby Fünke was one of my favourites.  Played expertly by Shawkat, Maeby was more that just a girl with a ridiculous name.  She was a love interest for her nervous cousin (played by the youthful Michael Cera) and an ever-rebellious teen who saw no problem stealing money from the family’s frozen banana stand.  Since the series ended, Shawkat has appeared in films such as Drew Barrymore’s Whip It as the best friend of Ellen Page’s roller-derby obsessed Bliss Calendar. She’s gyrated hilariously in the video for Har Mar Superstar’s song ‘Tall Boy’ and is currently writing an HBO series with Har Mar and Page about two hipster girls who move to LA’s Silver Lake in order to become artists.  She also has freckles to die for, but let’s not fixate on that.

So there you have it.  Watch these women, make them your friends.  They’re awesome.

(Images via,, and

  • Valerie Yvonne Huerta


  • Pammy Smith Strassburg

    I love Aubrey Plaza. And it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s my Doppleganger and we have the same deadpan, sarcastic sense of humor and monotone voice.

  • Claudia Gelabert

    love them all ;] great post <3

  • Georgina Christofi

    Oh wait, also TINA FEY. Otherwise, perfect.

  • Georgina Christofi

    Ummmmm… it’s like this list came from my brain! Kudos.

  • Rebecca Lynn

    1) I looooove Kristen Wiig. 2) I can’t tell you how glad I am that Jenna Marbles isn’t on this list. Granted, she’s not mainstream, only YouTube fame, but man, she is the opposite of funny. I’m currently planning to plan to write a blog about how she’s ruining comedy for women.

    Thanks for this post. I like to be reminded that there are smart, funny women who are really making it.

  • Sarah Devon Milford

    Alia was AMAZING as Maeby. Why oh why did they cancel AD???

  • Amber Alvarado

    Aubrey cracks me up. I love her and, well, everyone on Parks and Rec. Can we include Kristen Schaal from The Flight of the Concords with the next batch of funny ladies, she rocks my socks off.

  • Kari Johnson

    these women are fantastic because they show you don’t have to sacrifice femininity to be funny. That is something that bugs me about Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman and the like. Too often women feel the need to take on more masculine qualities in order to “make it” (read Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs”). The fact is we ARE women, we ARE different, in FANTASTIC, perfectly acceptable ways that shouldn’t be compromised.
    Kristen is particularly fantastic because most of her characters expound on the valid insecurities that women feel and are often disparaged for, creating a vulnerable yet hilarious honesty that draws the viewer in. Male comics often tastelessly exploit these insecurities in their movies (i.e. “Wedding Crashers”), while Kristen, Tina Fey and others give us our sense of humanity back in their work.
    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  • Allyson Bousema

    Alia Shawkat was also in Cedar Rapids! She was very good there too!

  • Marissa A. Ross

    Kristen is such an inspiration to me, love her & this article! :)

  • Shelley Gibson

    I love, love, love these women! Not to distract from them, but when I think early funny ladies, I often think of some of the women playing bit parts in The Three Stooges! Those ladies were truly pioneers.

  • Ashley Lynn Cook

    Aubrey is HILARIOUS in my favorite movie of all time Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World! Cracks me up! And is it just me or is Alia’s dress anything short of gorgeous? I want that dress! lol :-D

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