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We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,015 ratings  ·  129 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
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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Sarah Crichton Books
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Kathy
Dec 12, 2012 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
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.
Jessica Jeffers
Sep 25, 2013 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
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Karin
From Phyllis Diller to Chelsea Peretti, from Joan Rivers to Anjelah Johnson, from Carol Burnett to Mindy Kaling (and Mindy Kaling has just made history 7 years after this book was published by being the name and host of a late night TV show on a major network), this book is a written oral history of women in comedy from the late 1950s to about 2011ish. It had a lot of interesting information, but would hop back and forth over the time lines both within and between different chapters, although th ...more
Hilary
Aug 30, 2013 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
Stephanie
Nov 12, 2014 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
Monica
Mar 25, 2013 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
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Laurel
Oct 25, 2012 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
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k reads
Jan 22, 2014 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.)

Where
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LynnDee (LynnDee's Library)
This is a fascinating look at how comedy developed in America and women's roles in its development. I also liked that it was an oral history because it featured interviews with people in the comedy industry, some who I had never heard of. Having it be these interviews sort of erased the bias that an author might have if they were writing it just from the perspective. If you're into the history of the entertainment industry, Saturday Night Live (which is featured heavily in here), or women's role ...more
Meghan
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The structure of the book is very interesting, I liked the various perspectives from comics throughout history. Overall, since it was just based on everyone’s opinion, the story and concept fell short. I was left wanting more factual details. It was published in 2012- which mean so many amazing comics and progress has not been included in this book. It’s ok.
Jan
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fun oral history of female comedians from the Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers era through 2012.
Frances Mican
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie
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
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Susan Bazzett-Griffith
I was expecting this book to be funnier and more light hearted than it was. Instead, what Yael Kohen has actually compiled in the form of cut and pastes from various interviews, is a comprehensive, and at times a tad too-long, history of women breaking into the art of stand-up comedy. What makes this book work is also what makes it not as fun to read as I feel it could have been-- the entire book is verbatim interview quotes, some very brief- just a sentence or two, and some very long- three or ...more
Mainon
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
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Penny Peck
Aug 14, 2013 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
Melanie Page
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
We Killed is described as “a very oral history,” riffing on the nature of stand-up comedy and the way the book is constructed. What started as an article for Marie Clare became a book. Yael Kohen took interviews with comedians, club owners, writers, TV executives, actors, managers, etc. and stitched them together to give the history around people and TV shows a narrative shape and focus. Also, the We Killed is broken into sections that mark transitions in TV/stand-up/performative comedy. Kohen s ...more
Lauren
Nov 18, 2012 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
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Dorota
Feb 15, 2016 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
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K
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K by: Caitlin Gray's bookshelf
The subtitle is "a very oral history," because it is like an informative and funny talking-heads style documentary. Yael Kohen spliced together chunks from over two hundred interviews she conducted over five years, either in person or over the phone. The narrator is not intrusive and it is structured and edited together so well that the effort is invisible. A good solid piece of craftsmanship, where the author gets out of the way of the work. I enjoyed every minute of listening to these women sp ...more
Asmaamtl
Feb 09, 2014 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
Kris Patrick
Dec 01, 2012 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!
Kathy Schroder
Aug 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
Loved the idea of this book. NOT the execution.
Jill
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Lots of interesting interviews and insights from some of the most recognizable and/or influential women in comedy.
Ashley
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting information, poorly written
Trav S.D.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it liked it
There are plenty of things about Yael Kohen's new book We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy that seem almost calculated to bug me.

One is the prejudice against old school vaudeville and burlesque comedy. This is an industry-wide attitude, an idiotic one I encounter frequently. I once met with a tv writer from one of America's top comedy shows a few years back who wanted to write a musical about a major vaudeville act. "But I have to solve the comedy problem," he said, "You can't do tha
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Madeline Puckett
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I am not a huge fan of this interview-format non-fiction book. I find it difficult to stay engaged and keep the momentum going when it's in a piecemeal format like this one. However, I think Kohen did a good job with the layout and editing, and was able to move from topic to topic throughout the same chapter and with different interviewee snippets.

I didn't read the entire book, instead I read the chapters that engaged me, the ones on Saturday Night Live and rising comedy at the time it was publ
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Dee Eisel
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
I really, really enjoyed this book. During the '80s, I would stay up late to watch Short Attention Span Theatre on the Comedy Channel, and over the last several years I'd wondered what happened to all th wonderful standup. Telling that story isn't the prime focus of the book, but it answers questions that I'd asked in larger contexts.

Kohen's story is told primarily in interviews about different times in comedy history, interspersed with her editorial and historical clarifications. Kohen provide
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Paul
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Decent enough oral history of woman in comedy from 50's to today. Lots of leapfrogging over certain events and deep dives into particular people that Kohen feels were singularly important in the development of comedy by women.

It's all a little pat and evenhanded. Kohen is interested less in staking a claim for women in comedy than nudging us gently into the direction of "women can be funny too." Which, of course, should have always been a given. A bunch of territory that Kohen covers here is ava
...more
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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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