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We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  749 Ratings  ·  99 Reviews
More than fifty years of iconic comediennes, unmediated and unfiltered

In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded.

In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, produ
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Sarah Crichton Books
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26th out of 91 books — 63 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Bonnie G.
It really could have been sooooooo much better. Like a lot better. Was she rushed? What the hell? I found myself taking notes going, what about Rosie ODonnell? madTV? Jenny McCarthy, the State, funny black women like Pearl Bailey, Bessie Smith? Counter Culture? Carol Channing? Beyte Midler? More Golden Girls? I don't know. She doesn't even have actual quotes from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Satah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, etc!!!

I dunno. It's a good start. Disappointing, but a good start.
Dec 12, 2012 Katherine rated it really liked it
In this case, I think the parts may be bigger than the sum. I really enjoyed reading this, but once I was done, I was a unsure of how strong the author/editor was. The raw material was good, but the book didn't feel as confident and coherent as other oral histories I've read, like the one about SNL. But the participants had a lot of very interesting things to say and the overall narrative about how women integrated themselves into comedy (and how comedy felt about that) was very engaging. The en ...more
Aug 28, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
Few things in this world will make me dislike someone more than if they utilize the tired, "Women aren't funny" argument. Few things in this world made me happier than the episode of 30 Rock that addressed the moronic statement by pointing out just maybe men and women just find different things funny.

Because few things have made me laugh as hard as a Tig Notaro stand-up show, and I'd give my left tit to be best friends with Amy Poheler. Women are funny, dammit.

This is a fascinating, comprehens
Nov 18, 2014 Stephanie rated it it was ok
Let's say 2 and a half stars. I'm hesitant to give it three although I did enjoy it for the most part. It seemed to contradict itself a lot though. Like somewhere in the beginning it went on about "we're not going to talk about Lucy...we're here to talk about stand-up, not TV...and Lucy was just the housewife" (I have a problem with that sentiment right there)....but then the book proceeds to go on for a chapter or two about Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda and Maude. Huh? I thought we weren't talking ...more
It started out so well, too. When it has contributions from the major players its talking about We Killed is fascinating, full of insight into what comedy has been in America and how its changed direction in the past fifty years. But as we get closer to the present, more and more comedians decline interviews and so we get a least a quarter of the women on the cover of the book not actually have anything to say inside of it. Others make only minimal contributions.

I haven't read too many anecdotal
Sep 11, 2013 Hilary rated it liked it
There’s something about the oral history format that I just don’t cotton to, because, despite the success of several recent-ish pop-culture histories in that form (Live From New York, Those Guys Have All the Fun), it’s not writing so much as editing, and it ends up reading like the script to a documentary. (There’s a reason there’s no Oscar for best documentary screenplay.) It’s simply not that hard to take these recorded interviews, add a few video clips and photos, and turn it into a TV show o ...more
Laurel Beth
Oct 29, 2012 Laurel Beth rated it really liked it
Judy is in her mid sixties and has the perfect silver bob. She's the acquisition department at our library. She takes my advice when I mention we need texts like Soulacoasta, ostensibly written by R Kelly. On my second day of work she says she's disappointed that Peter's nephew was nominated for a "boring" Grammy, cause he wouldn't get to meet Kanye West. Judy has a lot of questions for Kanye West.

Judy's going to retire at the end of December. We've been talking a lot about this book when we're
Apr 13, 2013 Monica rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2013
This book is hard to rate, if only because the new oral histories are a confusingly uneven lot, and this is no exception. There is very little editorial content, relatively speaking, and when it does come through there are some strange conclusions reached. But, the actual material here is engaging and dishy as hell.

The book focuses almost exclusively on predominant female standup comics or improv performers from the midcentury until 2012. This means that relatively important players like the Go
k reads
Jan 28, 2014 k reads rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of comedy, subway (or mass transit) readers, bathroom readers, beach readers
Shelves: read-2014
Very readable and most times very interesting but ultimately, not completely satisfying.
Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it - I did. The Mary Tyler Moore stuff made me want to go back and watch every episode - especially Chuckles Bites the Dust. (I had no idea it was written by a woman.) I found the Elayne Boosler spotlight fascinating. And I don't think I will ever get enough of Carol Burnett. In fact, much of the book is engrossing (though it does start to peter out near the end.)

I am utterly obsessed with this book.

After a relatively negative experience with another comedy-history book, this was right up my alley. I bitched and moaned about the lack of women in comedy represented in another text, and I certainly got exactly what I wanted in this one. At first, I was suspicious of the format, but Kohen put everything together so incredibly well that it read not as a bunch of separate interviews, but as one long, cohesive work. She really wove all of those different thoug
Frances Mican
Mar 13, 2013 Frances Mican rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Penny Peck
Aug 14, 2013 Penny Peck rated it liked it
Shelves: celeb-biogs
The author did a magazine piece on women in stand-up comedy, and then expanded it with more interviews for this thoughtful look at the history of "women in comedy." But it includes some women in comedy TV, mainly the Mary Tyler Moore Show and That Girl, and no women in movies, so the book would have been stronger if it focused on women in stand-up, improv, and performance comedy like Saturday Night Live. The part on TV sitcoms and women was fine but belongs in a different book. The narrative is ...more
Mar 15, 2016 Dorota rated it really liked it
I think I would love to see this book made into a special on TV or some sort of a documentary. Reading it was fun also, but seeing all these women together would be amazing, educational and definitely entertaining.

The author did a great job and clearly tons of research working on this book. It contains so much information about female comedians. It's separated into several parts, which start with an introduction and then are followed by interviews with comedians, writers and those who are or wer
Aug 15, 2014 Lauren rated it liked it
The chapters are organized chronologically by generations of comedians. Chapters are made up of chunks of oral histories with a wide smattering of inhabitants of the comedy world, including comedians (of varying genders), writers, and folks on the business-y side of things. These chunks are organized around themes that emerged from the oral histories about that era.

I really enjoyed skipping around to read what particular people had to say, or what was said about particular people; I definitely s
Feb 09, 2014 Asmaamtl rated it it was ok
as a huge comedy fan, i was excited to read this book. the stories of the individual comediennes are fascinating - Elaine May, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett – but the author's attempt at stitching together personal memories into a cohesive story misrepresent the rise of women in comedy as a collective movement. Tom Shales used this technique to great effect in his history of SNL mostly because all of the personalities were tied by their work on the show. in this case, however, the chapters felt ...more
Jul 07, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it
Lots of interesting interviews and insights from some of the most recognizable and/or influential women in comedy.
Kris Patrick
Jan 20, 2013 Kris Patrick rated it liked it
[skimmed it] Divided into nine chapters based on era - each chapter reads like a nine hour panel discussion. If you enjoy entertainers talking about "their craft" and "gender lines" a la James Lipton, this may be the book for you!
Debra Komar
May 08, 2016 Debra Komar rated it liked it
2.5 stars, rounded up. I loved the subject of this book, but the execution is problematic. Its hard to say that Kohen "wrote" this book. "Edited" might be more accurate. 95% of the book is just quotes from comedians, agents and others associated with the comedy scene. I appreciate that Kohen did some of the interviews, or the research to find the quotes, but the net result feels lazy. She raises some interesting questions - are women funny? (are we still asking that?) - but then never answers th ...more
Kathy Schroder
Aug 12, 2013 Kathy Schroder rated it did not like it
Loved the idea of this book. NOT the execution.
Jan 26, 2013 Ashley rated it liked it
Interesting information, poorly written
Mar 05, 2014 Rebecca rated it did not like it
i really wanted to like this book. i was thrown by the hot pink cover, but i took it out of the library anyway.

the topic is extensive, and is way too much to cover in just 300 pages. the writing was shallow at moments and delved deeper into stories and male voices that i truly wasn't interested in. i can think of about 10 formative female voices in comedy that were left completely out of the book.

there were quite a few sections that seemed dedicated to quotes from men who worked with the women i
Jan 21, 2013 Erin rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
This book provided a lot of personal anecdotes from comedians, writers and members of the comedy scene to whom I wouldn't have otherwise had access, but I didn't feel like it delve as deep into the lives and experiences of female comedians as it could have. The editor organized the book from an interesting perspective - to show how women broke into comedy by gradually integrating themselves into all aspects of the comedic world, starting with television sitcoms that put a female voice on televis ...more
Doug Clark
May 22, 2013 Doug Clark rated it it was amazing
On the last day of 2012, I finished Yael Kohen’s book, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. This is, quite simply, a wonderful book. Of course, I am completely biased, both because I love comedy, especially standup, but also because I think women are funny. I have managed to see in person Lily Tomlin (twice), Wanda Sykes, Kathleen Madigan, Paula Poundstone (twice), Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Chelsea Handler (twice), Janeane Garofalo, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, and ...more
I seriously recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in standup or improv (regardless of whether you prefer to perform it or just to watch it).

It's an unusual format; the author's commentary is sparse, consisting of scattered italicized paragraphs that give a bit of additional information when necessary. But really, this is the history of women in comedy in the words of the people who made that history. So you get to read Joan Rivers and Ellen DeGeneres's comments on their early succes
May 01, 2013 Lani rated it really liked it
I really enjoy oral histories, but I always want more pictures and context. Since I'm bad with faces and names I would often enjoy a comment, but not really know who was 'speaking'. That's not the fault of the book though, just my own lack of knowledge.

I haven't ever really followed stand up, so my knowledge of comedy is pretty limited to 90s SNL, 90s sitcoms, and some 'classic TV' like Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and a few episodes of the Carol Burnett Show. But even without much knowledg
Dec 29, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it
At first I didn't like the interview format, but then I came to appreciate it. Any other way would have been boring; to hear the story straight from the mouths of those involved was richer. Respect to Kohen for getting the interviews and editing until she had a well-arranged story according to a chronological timeline. She must have a good eye for identifying which material to keep and which to cut.
Jan 05, 2015 Kuva rated it really liked it
Interesting, engaging, and contains interviews with a wide swathe of women (and men) in comedy. This is almost completely an oral history, though, with not much context in between. It also ends sort of inconclusively. But as a primer on women in comedy from the late 50s to now, it's very interesting.
Jul 15, 2014 Calli rated it liked it
I thought this was great. I loved reading about comedians I love in the context of the history of women in comedy. It made me love them even more realizing what they were up against. I also found a few more women that I am definitely looking into.
Really the only reason I didn't rank this higher was because of some pacing problems. There were a few chapters that just stretched much longer than they needed to (though I feel awful saying to spend less time on some of these women). It just started f
Beth Mechum
Jun 13, 2014 Beth Mechum rated it really liked it
Great oral history that filled in some of the gaps in knowledge from the Saturday Night Live oral history and "I'm Dying Up Here" by William Knoedelseder. Can't give it five stars because it's a bit repetitive and has a tendency to draw big conclusions and themes when I'm not sure they exist.
Jan 29, 2013 Meg rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Like the rest of the world, I read and loved Tina Fey’s book. So I was pumped to get my hands on this one about all the other wonderful women of comedy.

Haven’t read a lot of oral histories so the change in voice took a bit to get used to. But it’s such a fantastic way to present the story. Especially for comedians whose work is telling stories/jokes in their own voice (bad pun intended). It covered a pretty long stretch of time and comes up pretty much right to the present. Really cool to read
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We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy 1 1 Dec 02, 2015 07:58PM  
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YAEL KOHEN is a reporter and editor in New York City. A contributing editor at Marie Claire, she covers books, pop culture, and issues important to working women. She has written for New York Magazine, Salon, The Daily Beast, New York Daily News, and The New York Sun.
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