It’s difficult to make it as a comedian. It’s not enough to just get up there and act silly. Anybody who wants to succeed needs to come up with fresh, creative ideas that help them gain a following. For a long time it was a real challenge for women in particular to break through. But fortunately times are changing and the list of funny women is growing. Here are 10 women who have made it big in the entertainment industry.
As a former cast member on Saturday Night Live, Fey made history when she became the show’s first-ever female head writer. She also wrote the quintessential high school comedy Mean Girls. But what really brought her a huge amount of attention was her hilariously dead-on impression of Sarah Palin, the ditzy governor of Alaska who had been chosen as Senator John McCain’s running mate during the presidential 2008 elections. She was later the creator and main star of the long-running comedy 30 Rock. Tina attributes her success in comedy to her parents exposing her to funny movies and TV shows as a child.
It’s impossible to discuss Fey without mentioning her partner-in-crime Poehler, a fellow SNL cast member who co-hosted the show’s Weekend Update segment with Fey until Tina’s departure. What really elevated Poehler to stardom was when she played Leslie Knope in the comedy series Parks and Recreation. She’s won a Golden Globe and PrimeTime Emmy, and has been nominated for dozens of other awards for her work on TV and in movies. In 2015 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her efforts.
An extremely underrated comedian, Notaro is known for her laid back, likeable personality and her conversational style of delivering jokes. Her 2014 standup album Live won that year’s Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album, and from 2011 to 2015 co-hosted the popular podcast Professor Blastoff, which blended humor and psychology-related topics. She has also produced two comedy specials for Netflix.
Silverman’s start as a writer and cast member during one of Saturday Night Live’s worst periods didn’t stop her from eventually making it big. From 2007 until 2010 she starred in The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central, for which she was nominated for two Emmy Awards. She has also won a pair of Emmys, one for a song she penned for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and another for her standup special Sarah Silverman:We are Miracles. Her sarcastic and crude humor isn’t for everybody, but it ought to be.
The happy-go-lucky Brit originally rose to fame appearing on a variety of children’s shows on CBBC, including Blue Peter, All Over the Place, and Big Babies. In 2009 she won that year’s Funny Woman Award at the Comedy Store London branch. A standup comedy performance in 2019 won her the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Comedy Show and a year later it was adapted into a Netflix special.
Another alumni of SNL (this will become a pattern), Wiig is one of the few female cast members who has been able to find critical and box office success on the silver screen. She has appeared in a series of supporting roles in such comedy hits as Knocked Up, Adventureland, Anchorman 2, and Wonder Woman 1984. She has also lent her voice for the popular Despicable Me and How to Train a Dragon franchises. For her efforts, she’s been nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe.
The Canadian comedian and talk show host didn’t originally plan a career in entertainment, but after registering for a theater performance class in college because she was hoping it would be easy, she discovered her love of acting. She was a founding member of an all-female sketch comedy troupe called the Atomic Fireballs. She gained prominence through her 12 years on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, finishing in 2015 as the show’s longest-serving correspondent. Since 2016 she has served as host, writer and executive producer of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, currently the only late night comedy show on a major cable network hosted by a woman.
Although Jones won the “Funniest Person on Campus” contest when she was a college student at Colorado State, it took a while before she broke out as a star. But the time and patience has finally paid off. Seeing her potential, follow comedian Chris Rock helped her get on SNL where she was a cast member from 2014 to 2019. She also signed a deal with Netflix to produce a standup special. In 2017, Time magazine listed Jones as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Winner of a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (for her portrayal of Susan Fischer in the Netflix show Orange is the New Black), Lapkus knew at an early age that she wanted a career in comedy. She began taking improv classes while still in high school and performed stand up while she was a student at DePaul University. She appears in a variety of comedy podcasts, most notably Threedom, Comedy Bang! Bang! and With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus.
Melissa McCarthyMcCarthy is one of the most successful female entertainers in the world today. Winner of two Primetime Emmys, she’s also among the highest paid actresses. She got her start as a member of the legendary Los Angeles-based sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings. She became widely known after landing the role of the clumsy but cheerful Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls for the show’s seven seasons. She also appeared in such comedy hits as Bridesmaids, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. She had supporting roles in This is 40 and The Hangover Part III as well. In 2020, The New York Times ranked McCarthy #22 on their list of the 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century.