By Frankie Wallace.
Over the last decade, feminist comedians have stepped over the idea that women “can’t be funny” and showed the comedy world that women are the funniest in the room. Whether performing stand-up, hosting podcasts, writing books, acting in television shows, or directing big-budget Hollywood films, feminist comedians have risen to the top of the entertainment industry and have no plans of backing down. Here are some of the best feminist comedians working today and what makes them so great.
While Aparna Nancherla’s demeanor might appear shy, her comedy is anything but. With jokes that delve into sensitive topics like mental health, depression, anxiety, and what it’s like to grow up in America as the child of immigrant parents, Nancherla certainly doesn’t shy away from important conversations.
Much of Aparna Nancherla’s comedy is deeply rooted in the human experience which makes her jokes relatable to just about everyone. Aparna Nancherla isn’t just a star of the stage but has also branched out considerably, voicing Hollyhock in the often sardonic BoJack Horseman on top of writing for a number of late-night talk shows.
Iliza Shlesinger has made quite the splash on Netflix with five comedy specials on the platform, the most recent of which, Unveiled, was released this year. Shlesinger takes a sharp look at the life of the modern woman from the impracticality of Las Vegas trips with your girlfriends to ridiculous wedding traditions.
One thing Shlesinger pokes fun at, for example, is traditional bachelorette parties, of which there seems to be a shift happening in the culture of in general. Not every woman wants to go to a strip club or a bar anymore, after all — and her comedy touches on such topics that need stereotypes to be broken. Her comedy doesn’t shy away from other modern feminist topics, either. While her comedy isn’t particularly politically charged, she still subverts traditional token female traditions, evoking plenty of laughs along the way.
Non-binary comedy darling Rhea Butcher has spent the better part of the decade taking the entertainment world by storm. From their hilarious stand-up on topics ranging from visits to the convenience store to confronting the whitest thing they’ve ever said, Butcher’s comedy elevates the mundane at every turn while still talking about important issues like gender, history, race, and culture.
The die-hard baseball fan also ran Put Your Hands Together, a weekly comedy showcase at the UCB theater with their ex-wife Cameron Esposito from early 2013 up until July of 2019. Butcher is a regular on too many podcasts to name and they elevate everything that they are a part of.
Jameela Jamil started her career as a teacher, then went on to become a television host, eventually landing her iconic role as Tahani Al-Jamil on the incredibly funny show The Good Place. Jamil took to comedic performance like a duck to water and has more than held her own against seasoned actors like Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.
Jameela Jamil has not wasted a moment of her increased fame, going all out to condemn the toxic diet culture which pervades social media platforms that prey on young women and exacerbate body image issues. Jamil doesn’t do this just to promote body positivity, but also because she recognizes the dangers of so-called ‘miracle diets’ and the very real risk they pose to the health of those that buy into them.
Cameron Esposito does not shy away from jokes discussing her sexuality and orientation, and it is a good thing that she doesn’t because it results in comedy gold. While many comedy fans were used to seeing Esposito perform with her ex-spouse, Rhea Butcher, Esposito’s solo stand-up is a unique and acerbic experience on its own.
Esposito turned heads last year with the release of her special “Rape Jokes” which sought to take a look at the format from the perspective of a survivor. Equal parts hilarious and deeply personal, “Rape Jokes” is a shining example of feminist comedy in the modern era.
Idaho comedian Emma Arnold is no stranger to the struggle women face in the industry. After writing a blog post detailing a sexual assault from another comedian, Arnold received dozens of vitriolic comments. The experience did not deter Emma Arnold in any way, shape, or form, however, as shortly after this event, she went on to voice concerns with a comedy booker about the dearth of female performers on the lineup at a festival.
When Arnold isn’t championing feminism in the comedy world, she is doing incredibly funny stand up across the country and appearing on podcasts like the Sklar brothers’ “Dumb People Town”. More and more Emma Arnold is exploring comedy driven by feminism, and this is especially apparent with her most recent recorded hour, Abortion. Abortion. Abortion.
Though some women might have questions about what to do during pregnancy, Ali Wong decided to do two comedy specials without a second thought. Wong makes a point in her specials to point out the ridiculous difference between when a male comedian has a child versus when a female comedian, who actually does the child-having, does the same. Female comedians are basically expected to fade out of the spotlight once they become parents while male comedians approach it as an addition to their act.
Wong flips this idea on its head, leaning into it and using what was once considered a career-killer to launch herself to new heights in the comedy world. Pregnancy is already a common topic in comedic films, and Wong simply took something that we can all laugh about and used it in her own way.
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