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, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy. We start in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself. Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America’s favorite frustrated ladies; the joke was always on them. The Sixties saw the appearance of smart, edgy comediennes (Elaine May, Lily Tomlin), and the women’s movement brought a new wave of radicals: the women of SNL, tough-ass stand-ups, and a more independent breed on TV (Mary Tyler Moore and her sisters). There were battles to fight and preconceptions to shake before we could get to where we finally are: in a world where women (like Tina Fey, or, whether you like them or not, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler) can be smart, attractive, sexually confident—and most of all, flat-out funny.
Like all revolutions, it’s suffered false starts and backslides. But it’s been a remarkable trip, as the more than one hundred people interviewed for this riveting oral history make clear. With a chorus of creative voices and often hilarious storytelling, We Killed is essential cultural and social history.
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.