The DePaulia

Filed under Focus

Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story



“Un-lady like.”


These are some of the reactions people have to female comedians and their jokes. Most recently, Michelle Wolf faced a lot of these criticisms for her roast at the White House Correspondents Dinner when she joked about the physical appearance of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ivanka Trump. She, like many other female comedians over the years, was condemned and dismissed as not being funny.

“The history of comedy has not been kind to women, which is not a surprise since we live in a patriarchy,” said Peter H. Steeves, a philosophy professor at DePaul whose area of expertise includes the philosophy of comedy.

While this is true, female comedians continue to fight against the patriarchy so that they can be heard and influence change. There have been a multitude of women who have had a substantial influence in the comedy world over the years such as Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Tina Fey and Ali Wong, to name a few. Just like Michelle Wolf, they illustrated a sense of bravery and uniqueness when they challenging the status quo regarding what it means to be a comedian.

“Lucille Ball was one of the first female comedians to be known by all Americans and to have her comedy influence the culture at large,” said Steeves.

In the 1950’s sitcom “I Love Lucy,” she played the wife of successful entertainer Ricky Ricardo (played by her actual husband Desi Arnaz) who also always wanted to be an entertainer herself but never had the talent. In reality, however, Ball was deemed the more successful and talented of the pair. With this, many feminists criticized Ball for painting women as second-class citizens despite the show’s critical success. She later found additional successes in other network sitcoms such as “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy.”

“It’s hard to fault Lucy. And we shouldn’t fault her,” said Steeves. “We should fault the culture that left her with so few options.”

This is to say that Ball was left with few options in regard to her comedy, which is something that has slowly changed as female comedy has evolved.

Similarly, Joan Rivers was met with a lot of criticism when she rose to prominence in 1965 and throughout her career late into the 90’s. Known for her self-deprecating humor, she began establishing her profile as a guest on the “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. It is here that she established her comedic style that consisted of jokes about her upbringing, her relationship status and her appearance.

She was criticized for being too abrasive. Johnny Carson even went as far as saying that while many female comics don’t exist, “the ones that try are sometimes a little aggressive for (his) taste.” Nonetheless, she continued with her comedy, eventually forming a rival program titled “The Late Show with Joan Rivers” and doing other stand-up shows, guest appearances and various talk shows. Though comedy was not particularly inviting to women, she overcame several barriers and paved the way for other female comedians like Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman to follow.

In the 1990’s, both Silverman and Fey began their careers by writing for “Saturday Night Live” and honing their skills as insult and satirical comics focusing on topical issues. Fey went on to write critically-acclaimed shows and films such as “Mean Girls,” “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Silverman had several comedy specials on Comedy Central, including “The Sarah Silverman Program,” where she focused on telling stories about her personal life, including various mental health struggles she faced as a child and continues to face as an adult.

Critics and comedy viewers dismissed her comedy bits as not being funny, sometimes because they just didn’t understand them or saw them as too personal. In a world that spent so much time to shame women for sharing their stories, Silverman’s crassness was a big shift for women in comedy.

Alice Julianna, manager of the DePaul Improv and Sketch Comedy group, says that comedy is important as a venue for women to share their experiences.

“Comedy is and has been an important genre for women because it is an opportunity to discuss the female gaze and perspective,” she said. Similar to other genres, comedy helps offer a perspective that so many people have not seen. It allows for audiences to understand their experiences in a way that isn’t too dark or serious.

To this day, this remains an important aspect of female comedy. Modern comedians such as Jenny Slate, Issa Rae and Ali Wong use their platforms to discuss their experiences as women, the latter two specifically sharing their experiences as women of color. The only difference now is that there are different mediums for these comics to showcase their work. Issa Rae began her career as a comic by posting videos on YouTube and eventually signing a deal with HBO to develop her sketches into a show called “Insecure.” Wong has released two Netflix comedy specials where she discusses her experiences balancing family and a career. She revels in the truths of motherhood that are rarely discussed in public.

Rae and Wong’s successes on the Internet and streaming services allows for the voices of female comics to be heard on other platforms besides the stage or TV. The emergence of new female voices over the past several years has resulted in a change in comedy in which people are beginning to accept that women are funny and have always been.

Gary Novak, director of the School of Cinematic Arts, said that definitions of what comedy is are constantly shifting, and the increase of women in comedy contributes to that.

“Comedy isn’t universal. There are different definitions on what is funny, and you can’t please everyone, but to say women aren’t funny is wrong,” he said. Novak says the comedic voices of women are very important  and continue to be needed.

Recently, he worked with The Second City to offer a new undergraduate degree in comedy filmmaking. Novak says there have been classes that focused on comedy writing, but the Media and Cinema Studies Department wanted to offer students the opportunity to create, develop and show off their comedic writing and directing abilities in more depth.

“Second City is home to so many comedic talents – so many established female comics like Tina Fey,” Novak said.

Novak also said that female comedy has become increasingly popular, and though it is often met with a lot of criticism, it nonetheless finds itself creating important conversations.

Though Michelle Wolf was met with a lot of criticism for her roast, she was also met with some praise. Many praised her for using her platform on a national stage to stand up for her beliefs. Though the jokes about the appearances of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ivanka Trump reinforced misogyny, she did use the rest of her speech to point her gaze outwards.

“Successful comics often also have an element of the ‘outsider’ perspective which is utilized to punch up and critique those in power who have caused problems or deserve a little humbling,” said Julianna.

“Perhaps feminist comedy and women’s laughter are powerful means of social change,” said Steeves.

Michelle Wolf, like Joan Rivers,Sarah Silverman and other female comics before her, faced many critiques and hardships they did. Their contributions to female comedy have, however, remained at the forefront in the fight against patriarchy – in comedy and in the world at large. The impact they have had on the comedic world will serve as an inspiration for female comics who are trying to establish their voice in a world that still attempts to shut them up.


7 Responses to “Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity”

  1. Caden Sage on June 5th, 2018 3:52 am

    This is my story, a true life story on how I survived an abusive husband(s). Please read and share.

    Leaving an abusive marriage was life threatening, I was scared of the post-divorce lifestyle. I felt starting afresh with another man seems impossible at my age because my husband(s) always downplays my emotions making me feel like a worthless woman. Yes, I was married thrice.

    I was betrayed by a friend, cheated upon by husband(s), beaten, jailed but I never gave up, I chose to ride or die with my current 5-year-old marriage because of love, our children and our shared finance. Though I love my husband to a fault and believed I can change his mindset through spiritual means before we go our separate ways.

    After domestic abuse and emotional conflicts comes spiritual father, Dr. Wakina with redemption and restoration via with the spell that ended my abusive circle. I also escaped social pressure.

    I wasn’t wrong afterall sticking to my husband and changing our lifestyle through spiritual doctors. Believe me, we’re living our dream lifestyle for over 5-months with much love and respect for each other.

  2. Lisa Joy on June 23rd, 2018 4:27 pm

    OMG!!! I am so proud and happy to be out here sharing your work Dr. Sam. I just can’t believe this now my ex Husband is really back to me on his knees presenting a ruby rose to beg me to take him back and he was feeling regretful and sorry for leaving me and for causing me pains after the divorce which occurred last year. And this whole miracle happened after I ordered an urgent 24hours Dr. Sam powerful spell which he cast on me and my husband. Sir, I am the happiest woman today in this whole wide world. Dr. Sam, you really did it..Yes.. Its a miracle and everlasting pleasure and cheerfulness for me and my family today.. I am so happy now and i don’t know how much to convey my thankfulness and appreciation to you sir. And to the whole world, contact him if you need urgent help now because it’s guaranteed that he will help you. Email him

  3. Lily on July 13th, 2018 3:44 am

    This website is really interesting. I will save it as my favourite web. Why don’t I find this web sooner? gmail sign in Woman comadian is deserved to be treat in balance way.

  4. jolena rodriguez on July 14th, 2018 7:47 am

    I am very surprise for the miraculous experience and wonders of Dr gbojie that have been spreading on the Internet and worldwide, How he marvelously helped people all over the world to restored back their lost lovers I contacted him after going through so many testimonies from different people how he help to bring back ex lovers i was deeply in love with my boyfriend and he was with me but suddenly one day he broke up with me. I tried everything but nothing seemed to workout, I thought it was going to be over forever.I never believed in spells but I was so desperate I thought I got nothing else to loose. I started searching for different spell casters and I finally found ‘Great gbojie Temple’ who helped me through the process and I eventually got my boyfriend back and we are so happy together. I am so grateful to him. If you ever need a spell caster who can get you ex back then contact him on []and his telephone number is +2349066410185

  5. Raphael on August 17th, 2018 8:03 am

    Not much to say concerning Dr. Wakina, we all know Dr. Wakina love spell is capable of resurrecting a dead-end relationship. This is just a simply thank you for bringing back my ex-wife after three years and four months of ongoing feud. His mysterious spell worked as testified by people he has helped, he saved my married just as promised. I will conclude by saying with Dr. spell you don’t need to fight anymore or go through pains just to save your marriage. His contact email is (

  6. Michelle Armstrong on August 20th, 2018 4:44 pm

    I cannot believe this… MY EX HUSBAND IS BACK TO ME!!!
    My name is Michelle. This is a story of Doctor Odunga who brought my ex husband back to me in 3 days of contact. He told me me he would do it but i didn’t believe him but decided to give him a try and to my greatest surprise, my ex husband came home and started playing with the kids and gave me a kiss on my cheek, knelt down on his knees and begged me for leaving without a goodbye. I heard he had woman he was seeing before he left me and i was devastated which made me seek help in a spell caster such as Doctor Odunga. I also met this man through a testimony about him and i contacted his email at odungaspelltemple@gmail. com and when i explained things to him, he told me not to worry. I am very happy today that my husband who left me for over 2 years, came back home. I asked him what about the other woman and he said that was his past and nothing will ever make him leave again. I am thankful to Doctor Odunga. Contact him to help you now at odungaspelltemple@gmail. com

  7. clouds on August 21st, 2018 2:21 am

    My name is Heidi Ellaine, I lives in United States, my Email [] help me thank DR. covenant who helped cured me from HERPES SIMPLEX in just one (1) week. I got
    to know him from a friend who he helped, at first I doubt if his herbal
    product would work until my friend put her car at stake that if it doesn’t
    work she would give me her car. After which I decided to try, to God be the
    glory am now a living testimony, all thanks to DR. covenant, if not for him I would
    not have been healed so easily.. You can reach him via or call/whatsapp at +2349057353987, you can also
    contact him on cure on……
    3. ASTHMA
    4. STROKE

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

Navigate Left
  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Tobacco 21 bill rises from the ashes

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity

    2019 Mayoral Race

    A look back at Chicago’s most iconic mayors

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Survival Guide: Procrastination Edition

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Out with the old…and in with the new

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    The air of success: How AirPods invaded the eardrums – and wallets – of consumers

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity

    2019 Mayoral Race

    What you need to know about the candidates for Chicago mayor

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Revved up: Here are three top picks from the 2019 Chicago Auto Show that will make you stop on a dime

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Brrrrroken records

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Cadets on campus

  • Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity


    Made in America?

Navigate Right
The Student News Site of DePaul University
Laugh track: Women in comedy continue to triumph over adversity