It’s the recent passing of Betty White that made me think of doing this post. Boy, I really hate that she died.
A long time ago, seems like a lifetime ago, I did standup comedy for a few years. I obviously wasn’t very good or successful at it; otherwise, I’d still be doing it. Well, one thing I kept hearing from a few other male comedians is that females just aren’t funny. I always thought this was really weird, especially considering that these guys who would say this were pretty much always terrible at at standup. Also, some of the funniest humans I had ever seen or heard happened to be women. In my mind, I don’t separate them from the men. Funny is funny, and lots of women are “hurts my face to laugh” funny. Was I supposed to suddenly not think these women were funny, just because some bad open mic male comedians telling endless dick jokes told me they’re not?
The other thing I should probably say is that humor — like all forms of art — is subjective. What one person finds really funny, another person might not. Just about everyone will agree that Richard Pryor is one of the best — if not THE best — standup comedians who ever lived. And count me among those who always thought he was drop dead hilarious. But you know what, I always preferred Bob Newhart. You read that right. I think they’re both great, really great, and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing anytime to watch a few minutes of Richard Pryor. It’s just that Bob Newhart does it for me more. In fact, there’s a story of how Richard Pryor once told Bob Newhart that when he was an aspiring comedian, he stole Newhart’s album from a store because he looked up to him. So there’s that.
I also think I’m just drawn for some reason to comedians who aren’t so angry. The ones who are even kind of passive.
So here are my 5 favorite funny ladies over time, in alphabetical order. I know that you might read this and think, “I can’t believe you left so-and-so off the list!” But remember, this is MY list. Remember, subjective.
Like most people, I saw the reports over the last few years of how Ellen created a toxic environment on her TV show. I don’t know if that’s true or not; if it is, that sucks. But I do know that she’s always been really good on a stage.
The first time I saw her was her debut on Carson back in the 80s. She was just so good.
Comedians (usually bad open mic comedians) will always tell you that bits on airline flights have been done to death and are hacky. But I always loved this bit she did on airplane seats.
Now, this woman is without a doubt my favorite standup comedian working today, male or female. She’s one of those people who, you look at what she says on paper and it might not seem so funny, but when you watch or hear her say it, it’s just funny. She’s just naturally hilarious. Doesn’t need any gimmicks or cheap, easy punchlines. I love this woman.
If you’re new to Tig Notaro, one of her most incredible standup sets was recorded right after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Here is that iconic set. It’s over 30 minutes long, and you can get a feel for it from listening to the first few minutes, but if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll listen to the whole thing. (Also, she tells the story of doing this set to CBS This Morning.)
And this more recent bit on her Mississippi relatives just kills me.
I was a kid when Saturday Night Live first started, and back then it was the freshest, most inventive thing on TV. I mean, if you don’t count Monty Python somehow making it past censors and onto PBS and sneaking out of bed to watch it with my older brothers in the mid 70s.
Remember that first cast on SNL? John Belushi. Dan Aykroyd. Chevy Chase. Garrett Morris. And then there were the three women: Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman. All of them brilliant. The men got most of the attention, and I think for most people John Belushi and Chevy Chase were the favorites. But for me… it was always Gilda Radner. She was just so amazing. And it was always joyful comedy with her. Who doesn’t love Gilda Radner?!
When I hear her name, the ”Judy Miller Show” is the first sketch that I always think of.
And of course, you can’t talk about Gilda Radner without talking about Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Now, Sarah Silverman just strikes me as the most lovely person, even though she does a lot of what’s called ”edgy” comedy, which I guess turns some people off. She’s just not afraid of anything. I’ve seen her perform and be interviewed tons of times. And each time I watch her, I like her more than the time before. She’s awesome.
This stuff about her dad is just… so funny.
And then there’s her take on religion. But be warned, if you love religion and are bothered by strong language, maybe you don’t want to watch this one. (But you should.)
And of course this whole thing started with, and ends with, Betty White.
I love Betty White. I love Betty White. I love Betty White. I love Betty White. I love Betty White.
She was great with everything she ever did.
I first remember her from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but a lot of people first got to know her as Rose on The Golden Girls. When the other cast members can’t help laughing during a scene, you know you’re something special.
And you know you’re an absolute legend when you’re on a TV commercial and people don’t want to fast forward through it. They want to stop and watch you be amazing.
Finally, there’s this. A really good compilation of Betty White’s best moments (not just the funny ones), because there’s just too many to list individually.