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Top 10 Greatest Female Stand-Up Comedians

VO: Emily Brayton
Script written by Shane Fraser Who says women aren’t funny? Join MsMojo, as we count down our picks for the top 10 greatest female stand-up comedians. For this list, we’re looking at female stand-up comics who are the pinnacles of their profession. These comediennes were ranked strictly based on their stand-up careers, so success in other ventures like movies or sitcoms is irrelevant. Also, they must be pure stand-ups; women who had sketch or one-woman-show acts like Lily Tomlin or Whoopi Goldberg are not included. Special thanks to our users supersqueak and Tyson Turner for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at http://www.MsMojo.tv
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Top 10 Greatest Female Stand-up Comedians


Who says women aren’t funny? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 greatest female stand-up comedians.

For this list, we’re looking at female stand-up comics who are the pinnacles of their profession. These comediennes were ranked strictly based on their stand-up careers, so success in other ventures like movies or sitcoms is irrelevant. Also, they must be pure stand-ups; women who had sketch or one-woman-show acts like Lily Tomlin or Whoopi Goldberg are not included.

#10: Amy Schumer


She’s among the most famous female stand-ups in the world today, and a defining voice of this generation of comics. Building a career based on self-deprecation, Schumer has risen to the top of show business by cultivating a filthy, hypersexual act. Feminists the world over have embraced Schumer for her painfully true observations about the human animal, which have turned her into a cultural figurehead. However, whether this was Amy’s intention is a whole other question. Before she was in the spotlight, Schumer was a respected grinder in the comedy scene: a hard-hitting joke-machine who lived for laughs. The work has definitely paid off, and paid out.

#9: Janeane Garofalo

Stand-up comedy was a paint-by-numbers art form . . . until Janeane came along and Jackson Pollock-ed all over the canvas. Debuting in the late-’80s, she quickly gained notice for her unique style - which ended up inspiring a movement called “alternative comedy.” Janeane’s act removed all preconceptions from stand-up – you know, like those pesky set-ups and punch lines – and extracted humor in unexplored ways. Garofalo displayed her stream-of-consciousness act in various clubs, and later major TV shows, ultimately becoming a fan-appointed leader for a new breed of comedians. By the mid-’90s, her socio-political repartee gave her icon status in areas outside of stand-up, especially feminism and liberalism. The undisputed Queen of Alt Comedy still performs frequently, smart and biting as ever.

#8: Sarah Silverman


Sarah Silverman has made controversy her bitch. That monster has destroyed many careers, but Silverman tamed it and rode it headlong into fame. Since her humble beginnings in stand-up as a sweet-looking 19-year-old in a business of hardened old men, Silverman had to trounce stereotypes to gain respect – and boy did she ever. Cultivating one of the most offensive acts a female comedian has ever had, no topic was off limits for the young Silverman – and she would tackle those subjects with an irony that was lost on the critics that wanted her head. The combination of her bad-girl infamy and dough-eyed innocence made Silverman the biggest female stand-up of the 2000s.

#7: Paula Poundstone


Paula Poundstone did things her own way, which made her rise to fame inspiring for young comics everywhere. Poundstone was a suspender-wearing asexual comedian who ascended the rungs of show business with the weight of nonconformity hanging from her ankle…but she ground her way to the top. With her sharp and insightful act, Poundstone was a cornerstone of ‘80s comedy and helped legitimize political stand-up for women. She was a fixture on Letterman, had her own HBO special, and became nationally known as a political correspondent for the Jay Leno show. Pandering to nobody, Poundstone was a trendsetter and a mold-breaker who achieved success on her own terms.

#6: Maria Bamford


Bamford is arguably the most experimental, surreal and admired female stand-up in the business, and it’s easy to see why. Much of her humor stems from personal difficulties: Bamford digs through the misery of ordinarily painful things to expose the fleshy root of hilarity buried deep within our anxieties. For over 25 years, Bamford has pushed the limits of her act, culminating in remarkably funny and original concepts like an entire stand-up special filmed with her parents as the audience, and a surrealist comedy performance done from her living room couch, with her dogs providing the soundtrack. The mainstream has just caught up with her recently but she won’t be stepping out of the spotlight any time soon.

#5: Wanda Sykes


Wanda Sykes is a veteran stand-up, whose “comic’s comic” moniker is in no way hyperbolic. Originally an agent for the NSA, Sykes began stand-up in 1987 after becoming disillusioned with her rigid job. She worked her way through the DC and New York clubs, fashioning a bold, original act that turned heads in the comedy scene. Sykes would perform on Conan, HBO, Comedy Central, and write for the Chris Rock show, which led to the hilarious character acting that many know her for. Through all her success she hasn’t wavered from stand-up, and she remains one of the best in the biz.

#4: Ellen DeGeneres


Before she was Ellen the TV character, Ellen the talk show host, or Dory in Finding Nemo, DeGeneres was one of the finest observational comedians the world had ever known. Starting in the late-’70s, Ellen honed her craft as a small-time club comic before she made one seminal appearance on Carson. Ellen had her first performance on the Tonight Show on November 28, 1986. History - and her career - was made when Johnny called her to the couch after her set, making Ellen the first female comic to receive that honor. She may be known for other outlets today but it's in the world of stand up where Ellen first made her mark and arguably created her best work.

#3: Roseanne Barr


When you’re recognized by a single name, you know you’ve made it big. Housewife turned comedy superstar Roseanne achieved just that, and her success in the ‘80s and ‘90s was unparalleled. Already a mother of four kids when she started performing comedy, Roseanne’s “couldn’t care less” attitude cut through the BS of motherhood to provide show business with a new brand of comedy. Soon after, the Roseanne sitcom was born, rivaling only Seinfeld in terms of cultural impact. Possessing comedy’s most commanding female voice, Roseanne was the highest ranked woman on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time, and the only woman to appear in the top 10 – can’t argue with that.

#2: Phyllis Diller


How big of a deal was Phyllis Diller? Well, she’s considered the first mainstream female stand-up, the first female comedian to become a household name, and the first female comic to incorporate real life experiences into her act. Entering the scene as a 37-year-old in 1955, Diller’s eccentric persona, off-the-wall delivery, and refreshing sincerity made her a fan favorite, and her rise to stardom took only a few years. By 1965, she was the most famous comedienne in America. Diller was also a pioneer in the art of self-deprecating humor and continued performing stand-up until she was 85. Phyllis Diller may be gone, but her legacy and influence lives on in every female comedian she’s inspired.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- Lisa Lampanelli
- Margaret Cho
- Tig Notaro
- Chelsea Handler
- Kathy Griffin
- Moms Mabley

#1: Joan Rivers


Joan Rivers is considered the funniest woman to have ever lived—which is really all that needs to be said. As the original “Queen of Mean,” Rivers liberated female comedy from the trenches of banality and wholesomeness and became the Czar of Feminist humor. Starting stand-up in the 1950s, and gradually elevating her act to the coterie of offensiveness we’ve come to love, Joan’s provocative style was unlike anything that came before her, and, though people tried, anything that came after her. She had biting wit, killer one-liners, a fearless personality, and a no-holds barred attitude about any topic. And, perhaps even more importantly, in spite of all the offensive things she said or did throughout her controversial career, Joan was still widely beloved.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite female stand-up? For more acerbic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.
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