This month marked the latest dust-up in the long-running struggle for greater diversity in comedy, when Jerry “Too Rich and Famous to Give a Crap About How Awful He Sounds” Seinfeld dismissed concerns about the abundance of white men on his web series at “PC nonsense.” What Seinfeld didn’t seem to realize was that statements like, “If you’re funny, I’m interested. If you’re not funny, I’m not interested” imply that women and people of color are, um… fundamentally less hilarious than Caucasian dudes. Here’s a sampling of 25 ladies who blow that misconception out of the water; our roundup of POC comedians will be coming soon. (NB: We’re assuming you already know heavyweights like Sarah Silverman and Tina Fey, so we omitted them from the list in favor of more up-and-coming funny women.)
Her tenure at SNL may have come to a premature end thanks to an on-air F-bomb, but Slate’s done quite well for herself since leaving the late night juggernaut. Most visibly, she’s had a star turn as Jean-Ralphio’s equally obnoxious twin sister on Parks and Recreation, but she’s put in appearances everywhere from much-missed cult hit Bored to Death to Bob’s Burgers and House of Lies. And of course, she’s the voice of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, the most adorable series of shorts to ever grace the Internet.
Already a full season into her namesake show on Comedy Central, Amy Schumer has earned a name for herself as part of the slew of talent that’s been revitalizing the network (Key and Peele and Kroll Show both share a similar, sketch-oriented premise). She also stole the spotlight during what might be the funniest Girls to date as a friend of Adam’s ex who briefly convinces the romantic lead he’s become a baby daddy. Schumer has excellent taste in collaborators, too; Tig Notaro, who appears later on this list, is a member of Inside Amy Schumer‘s writing staff.
On a show that’s often compared to Parks and Rec (which she wrote for during its fourth season), Chelsea Peretti’s Gina is like a combination Tom and Donna, a diva with eight drawers of underwear and a penchant for interpretive dancing. One of the strongest members of Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s stellar ensemble cast, Peretti owns her shallow, materialistic character, but she was making waves in comedy long before she landed her network sitcom part. Her Twitter is fabulous, and she’s also popped up on both Louie and Comedy Bang Bang.
Let’s get the whole age thing out of the way: Shelby Fero is 20. TWENTY. And she’s been in the national spotlight for her comedy chops since she was 18. Often called a “Twitter prodigy,” Fero is one of the increasing number of funny folk who’ve parlayed their social media presence (102k followers and counting) into more mainstream success. She currently writes for FX’s Chozen and Comedy Central’s Midnight, with dual side gigs of studying at USC and making her fans feel bad about what they were up to when they were 20.
The better half of Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman, Vilaysack is an alumna of the Los Angeles branch of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and, along with her husband, is a longstanding stalwart of the city’s alt-comedy scene. She’s appeared on CBB a few times, not to mention Bob’s Burgers and Parks and Recreation, and her most regular gig is as co-host of numbers-oriented pop culture podcast Who Charted? with Howard Kremer; listen to the latest episode here.
June Diane Raphael
A frequent collaborator with Happy Endings and SNL‘s Casey Wilson, Raphael has a resumé that’s the stuff of any comedy nerd’s dreams: she has her own web series (Burning Love), a Sundance-debuted movie (Ass Backwards), an NBC pilot (Mason Twins), and even a prominent role on an Adult Swim show (NTSF:SD:SUV::). Yet for some reason, Raphael hasn’t quite achieved the level of name recognition one might expect — though she is one half of one of comedy’s most endearing power couples, along with League cast member Paul Scheer.
Nancherla made history last October as the first Indian-American woman to perform stand-up on late-night television, on Conan. More importantly, though, it was really good stand-up, and brought some much-needed attention to the then-Totally Biased writer. Though the show has since been canceled, Nancherla’s upward trajectory hasn’t slowed. She’s currently touring her stand-up act, has landed on endless “Comedians to Watch” shortlists, and has opened for everyone from Bob’s Burgers star Eugene Mirman to fellow Biased alum Hari Kondabolu.
Any comedy nerd worth their salt knows Maria Bamford; she’s alt-comic royalty, part of the Comedians of Comedy pantheon alongside Brian Posehn, Zack Galifianakis, and Patton Oswalt. Yet most casual consumers of entertainment likely know her primarily as Debris, Tobias’ fragile love interest in the Arrested Development reboot, or the version of herself Louis CK hooked up with on Louie. To those lost souls, we say, “Get thee to Spotify immediately and listen to Ask Me About My New God!” Then get your hands on the Special Special Special, performed for an audience of two: Bamford’s parents.
The last couple of years have been very, very good to Kristen Schaal. Bob’s Burgers, the animated show in which she plays demonic preteen Louise, climbed the critical ranks to become one of the most beloved comedies on air. A guest run on 30 Rock as Hazel the evil, hyper-sexual NBC page further upped her name recognition. And then a slew of regular appearances on The Daily Show, where she serves as Senior Women Correspondent, culminated with the logical next step in provocative Halloween costumes: an actual vagina, plus a slice of pizza. Her stand-up special may have imploded, but it says a lot that a failed hour-long hasn’t come close to deflating Schaal’s standing as a funny lady extraordinaire.
Speaking of The Daily Show, Jessica Williams has been hitting it out of the park lately as one of the venerable late-night program’s strongest correspondents, even as she moonlights with a guest role as one of Hannah Horvath’s new coworkers on Girls. Her routines about white-collar crime, stop-and-frisk, and the Republican National Convention were razor-sharp, and she manages to retain a sense of fun even when taking a hatchet to dead-serious issues like gender and race. (She also wins the prize of second-best Daily Show costume after Schaal’s: sexy Jesse Pinkman, which is to say, Jesse Pinkman.)
Except for maybe Rob Delaney, few comedians are more closely associated with Twitter than Amram. A relative unknown before she started her account, Amram’s social media fame propelled her into a writing job at Parks and Rec, a hiring choice that may have had something to do with her whopping 400,000 followers. A handful of highlights from the last few days: “Ambulances are the original Transformers because sometimes they transform mid-ride into hearses”; “I will give a million dollars to any gynecologist with the vanity plate BOXDOC”; “I love therapy sessions because I get to cry for an hour. It usually freaks out my patient, though.” Plus, check out that super-sexy avatar.
The co-host of MTV’s short-lived Nikki & Sara Live with fellow comedian Sara Schaefer, Glaser has been in the business since she was 18. She’s since performed standup everywhere from The Tonight Show to Last Comic Standing, where she was a semi-finalist at the ripe old age of 20. Currently touring, she’s a regular guest on Comedy Central’s cult-hit internet-influenced game show @midnight
It may be just a half an hour of a woman talking into a microphone, but Tig Notaro’s Live is one of the best, most powerful pieces of comedy out there, 30 minutes of working through grief, loss, and illness with wit and grace. Lauded by Louis CK and pretty much everyone with ears and functioning tear ducts, Notaro didn’t stop there; she traveled the country at the end of last year performing in strangers’ backyards for a Showtime documentary, and began hosting the delightfully weird web series Up Close With Tig Notaro at the beginning of this year (the name is literal: guests lie on top of Notaro and chat with her, nose to nose).
Bernhard’s not exactly up-and-coming (she’s even on Comedy Central’s best-of-all-time list), but she hasn’t quite attained the level of renown shared by peers like Wanda Sykes. Still, anyone who wants to get more familiar with Bernhard’s work has an almost endless supply of material to work through, from her first roles on The Richard Pryor Show and The King of Comedy to a dozen albums (both musical and comedic) to endless examples of her cynical take on contemporary culture. A recent interview with the Wag’s Revue makes for a good starter kit.
Yi isn’t strictly a comedian; she’s done music, performance art, and even dramatic acting (her role on House might be her most prominent to date). But we’ll forever hold her in our hearts as the genius behind Paper Heart, her 2009 film that fictionalized her relationship with Michael Cera, plus appearances by Seth Rogen and Demetri Martin. Though she and Cera are no longer attached, Yi created one of the sweetest, most memorable, and funniest recent mockumentaries.
You might have heard of Byer’s friend and collaborator Sasheer Zamata because of the fairly high-profile role she just landed. But before Zamata joined SNL, she and Byer created Pursuit of Sexiness, an endearing miniseries that got to the vagina-as-storage gag way before Broad City. Byer’s earned most of her exposure, however, through her role on Girl Code, the quietly radical MTV show in which a bunch of funny, awesome ladies consistently speak the truth.
It’s not often that a young comedian holds her own against two of the most established names in late night, but Esposito’s network debut on Craig Ferguson’s show this past September had the LA-based comic in the spotlight, despite her slightly more famous fellow guest: Jay Leno. She’s primarily a stand-up, but you can catch her regularly on her Put Your Hands Together podcast and at the A.V. Club (her debut column is called “I met the Terminator on an African penguin beach.” Interested yet?). Bonus: awesome haircut.
If you’re a certain kind of digitally literate yuppie, you’ve probably come across Suck My Dick, New Yorker, the brainchild of Heller and her musician brother, Nate. When she’s not lovingly skewering the Condé Nast crown jewel, Heller works as a writer on Fox’s new Elliot Stabler Chris Meloni sitcom Surviving Jack, and you can find a collection of her standup material on her website. She’s Conan, John Oliver, and Reggie Watts approved; what more could you ask?
I first came across Smolinski through her American Horror Story: Asylum recaps for Vulture, the only works of TV criticism to ever make me do a spit take. She’s also done a stint as GQ‘s sex columnist (“Yes, Dad, I’m still only getting a Ph.D. in Musicology, but this is Ellen, she’s picked out obscure jazz-musician baby names and is very aware that her fertility is already in decline”) and can be found regularly at xoJane. But even in the overcrowded world of Comedy Twitter, Smolinski deserves recognition, right down to the punny handle to end all handles: @BoobsRadley.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality of that torrent of “Shit ______ Say” YouTube trend from a while back was Ramsey’s scene-stealing contribution, “Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls.” The razor-sharp racial satire currently boasts upwards of ten million views, but it’s only the most well-known in a six-year-long career on the video site. Ramsey’s one of a growing cohort of performers, like wunderkind Bo Burnham, who’ve climbed the ranks through self-made videos rather than the club circuit.
Those of us who regularly mine the depths of Netflix’s stand-up section may recognize Murphy’s name; her special Irish Goodbye can be found alongside the likes of Aziz Ansari and John Mulaney (and boasts one of the few non-sexualized cover images of female standups there). One of the original staff writers for Jimmy Fallon’s iteration of Late Night, Murphy went on to Jimmy Kimmel Live before landing her current gig at 2 Broke Girls, the sitcom responsible for our weekly dose of Kat Dennings.
Remember the surly Staples-knockoff employee who gave Ilana and Abby a gift card in return for stolen office supplies on Broad City? Yeah, that was Phoebe. A writer for MTV’s Girl Code, she’s also the mastermind behind Blaria, a blog whose title is a portmanteau for — you guessed it — Black Daria. Not one to shy away from politics, Robinson’s a must-follow for her mix of comedy and shrewd analysis, but most importantly, she’s the genius in charge of Glamour‘s weekly Pretty Little Liars recaps.
Hughes bills her webseries DIY, Dammit! as “the show where I make crafts you see online so you don’t have to.” Projects thus far include dinosaur planters and something called a “spoon votive,” tackled with a sunny disposition, guest stars pulled from the cream of the YouTube crop (Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart, etc.), and best of all, Hughes’ dog Jones. Hughes also does stand-up and writing work, but be sure to follow her on Twitter, where readers are treated to her adventures in drinking alone at PF Chang’s, getting lost at the Mall of America, and brainstorming ideas like “making a spinning tea cup ride but with The Voice chairs.”
Mike Birbiglia isn’t the only comic who’s made his name on a health issue. What Birbiglia does for sleepwalking, though, Benincasa does for agoraphobia, documenting her personal experiences with it in her one-woman-show-turned-first-book Agorafabulous! Since then, Benincasa’s turned to YA; her first novel, which she describes as “Gatsby-inspired lesbian love and drama,” comes out this spring. (If that sounds a little light for your tastes, her next one is based on Lord of the Flies.) In the meantime, you can find her very funny, very wise commentary in various places across the internet, including Jezebel’s Friendzone column.
You know you’re making waves when you get a cease and desist letter from The New York Times. Friedman’s 2010 parody video “Ted and Gracie” invoked the Gray Lady’s ire for spoofing its highly spoof-able Vows section, spotlighting a physical therapist and a murder fugitive/locksmith gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Undaunted, Friedman simply made a web series under the name Newark Times Weddings. She currently works as a field producer for The Daily Show, and you can find a sampling of her standup work on her website.