13 Nonfiction Books About The Women Who Revolutionized Comedy In America
Even though what you're about to read is an entire list chock full of books about some of the most hilarious people in the world — who just so happen to be women — it still feels like the world just hasn't quite gotten the message that women are just as hilarious as their male counterparts. Just a quick look at the online backlash all-female remakes like Ghostbusters and the upcoming Ocean's 8 have received is proof-positive of that. But the truth is that women have been doing their part to revolutionize the comedy world for decades, from Moms Mabley in Vaudeville to Lucille Ball in television to Margaret Cho in stand-up. If you've been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, you already know that women have been hilarious, well... forever. It is undeniable that comedy would not be the same today without these hilarious women, and so many more.
So as we continue on with our efforts to raise the voices of women everywhere, including in Hollywood where the push back against sexual assault in the workplace and beyond has exploded this year, there is really no better time to learn more about some of the funny women you've missed. Though the books below could never offer a comprehensive look at every woman who had a hand in building, shifting and focusing the comedy world, this is a collection of such women and a great way to start your own funny education. Just try not to laugh out loud on the subway while you read them.
'The Girl in the Show' by Anna Fields
The Girl in the Show is an in-depth exploration of how comedy and feminism have grown hand-in-hand to give women a stronger voice in the ongoing fight for equality. From I Love Lucy to SNL to today’s rising cable and web-series stars, Anna Fields’ retrospective combines amusing and honest personal narratives—from interview subjects like Abbi Jacobson, Molly Shannon, Mo Collins, and Lizz Winstead—with the historical, political, and cultural contexts of the feminist movement.
'Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball' by Kathleen Brady
Lucille Ball is a legend in television and pop culture because she completely molded the way that sitcoms are made and received...and she did it all as a woman who was not only an actress but had a major hand in producing her own show along with her husband Dezi Arnaz through their company Desilu. This book details both her beloved public persona and complex private life, through a wealth of personal anecdotes and firsthand accounts.
'Here We Go Again: My Life in Television' by Betty White
At 95, Betty White has become one of longest working comedians in Hollywood, and her career has spanned decades of sitcom hits including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland. In Here We Go Again, White details her first five decades of work in television, with humor, candor and the eternal optimism we have come to expect from the living legend.
'In Such Good Company: Eleven Years Of Laughter, Mayhem, And Fun In The Sandbox' by Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett's long-running variety show is one of the most beloved of all time, and her combination of comedic and musical talent made her one of the most celebrated entertainers of all time. In her book, Burnett delves into little-known stories of the guests, sketches and antics that made the show legendary, as well as sharing the push back that almost kept the show from airing in the first place. It's a frank and funny look at one of the biggest and most influential shows to ever hit the small screen.
'Seriously... I'm Kidding' by Ellen DeGeneres
When Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1997, it was seen as a massive shift in Hollywood. Not only was DeGeneres the star of a popular television show at the time (in which her character also eventually came out, becoming one of the first openly gay characters on television) she risked the public's reaction long before shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family were widely beloved. In seriously I'm kidding DeGeneres shares stories of her long career in media, from her successful talk show to her short-lived stint on American Idol.
'We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy' by Yael Kohen
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 of women in American comedy. Starting in the 1950s with Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller and going all the way through to modern favorites like Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman, the book follows the waves of radical change in comedy through more than 100 interviews from the people who were there when it happened.
'The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation' by Melissa Rivers
Joan Rivers was a hugely influential comedian in fields ranging from stand-up to pop culture to fashion. This book, written by her daughter and close creative partner Melissa Rivers, goes behind the scenes of their private lives together, giving a more in-depth look at the personality that made a revolutionary feminist splash in comedy back in the 60s, to becoming one of the most controversial funny women of the modern era.
'I'm the One That I Want' by Margaret Cho
As a bisexual Asian women in comedy, Margaret Cho has spent her entire career breaking down barriers in the most hilarious ways possible. Her book, I'm The One That I Want, made a splash when it was published back in 2001 for Cho's unflinching response to the sexism, racism, and homophobia she had endured throughout her career trajectory, and how she managed to overcome and become one of the biggest comedians of her time.
'The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl' by Issa Rae
Issa Rae's webseries The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was one of the first, and most successful, of its kind, helping to usher in a whole new world of possibility for female creators. And with her HBO show Insecure, has become a huge mainstream creative force. Here first book delves into her early experiences as fodder for her work and into her inspiring creative journey as a black woman in comedy.
'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?' by Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling was hired as a writer on The Office when she was only 24 and became one of the first Indian women to have a lead role on a network television show with The Mindy Project. And her first collection of personal essays, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? talks about her early life, her pre-teen obsessions with SNL, writing her first Off Broadway show, and her groundbreaking work on The Office.
'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler was one of the biggest break outs of the early 2000s SNL cast, going on to become a movie star in her own right, as well as the lead in Parks & Recreation, an Emmy Award winning program that has become one of the most beloved of the 2010s. In her book she details her time working on both, as well as her early years in the Upright Citizens Brigade, her personal life, and inspiring tips for other women in creative fields.
'Bossypants' by Tina Fey
Another huge breakout of the SNL cast, Tina Fey has become synonymous with comedy in the U.S. since her critically acclaimed turn as the lead of 30 Rock, her roles in movies like cult-classic Mean Girls (which she also wrote) and her part in creating Netflix darling The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Her book has also become of the most widely read collections of comedic essays out there, detailing her television work, her friendship with fellow comedian Amy Poehler, and her struggles to juggle her career and home lives.
'The Last Black Unicorn' by Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish made SNL history in 2017, when she became the first black female stand-up comedian to host the show in its entire 43 season run. Her book The Last Black Unicorn is a collection of personal essays about growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles to her own inspiring come up as a successful comedian.