Four women comedians

By Caitlin Kelly



It’s been a rough summer: illness, too many friends dying, lost work…

So I’ve been watching comedy specials on television, most recently three women: Tig Notaro, Hannah Gadsby and Michelle Wolf.

Tig, who’s gay and married and a survivor of breast cancer, is the oldest at 47, and her show is radically different from the hyper, smiling Wolf — who’s 33. Notaro, halfway though her hour-long TV special filmed in Boston, removes her elegant navy blazer and crisp white cotton shirt — and performs the second half naked from the waist up.

Her delivery is slower, more thoughtful, less frenzied. She’s angry, but in a quieter and more moderated way.  You can tell she’s been doing comedy a long time, and feels in control.

Wolf is wild and dirty — with endless references to penises and periods. She grins a feral grin.

Gadsby is the outlier, Australian, earnest, furious. What begins as comedy morphs into something deeper and much more personal:

From The New York Times:

Ms. Gadsby, an Australian comedian, is the creator of “Nanette,” a stage show turned Netflix special that is lacerating in its fury about how women and queer people like her, and anyone else who might behave or look “other,” get treated, dismissed and silenced. She is unflinching about the abuse that they — that she — endured, and the cultural norms that enabled it. She calls out men, powerful and otherwise.

In stark personal terms, she reveals her own gender and sexual trauma, and doesn’t invite people to laugh at it. “Nanette” is an international sensation, the most-talked-about, written-about, shared-about comedy act in years, exquisitely timed to the #MeToo era. And in its success Ms. Gadsby has perhaps pointed the art form of stand-up in an altogether new direction, even as she has repeatedly vowed, onstage, to quit the business.

“I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says in the special. “Because do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

The fourth is a British woman, Viv Groskop, (a coaching client of mine), who  recently played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, who writes an advice column and who has a new book — pictured above.


Viv, of course, is Cambridge educated and speaks fluent Russian.


Do you have a favorite female comedian?


17 thoughts on “Four women comedians

  1. I’m sad that Michelle Wolf’s show on Netflix was cancelled. Granted, I never tuned in (too many horror shows and anime to watch), but when I did see her work, she was hysterical.

    I like Jessica Williams. Whenever she showed up on The Daily Show, I know I was in for a good time. And for the longest time, she was the youngest member of the cast, so I identified with her a lot (I think she’s only a couple years older than me, actually). From what I hear, she’s still doing well, so I’m glad for her. I hope maybe to see her live someday.

    Hope you’re feeling well these days. I know life can get tough sometimes.

  2. cadencewoodland

    I loved Allie Wong’s specials recently (dirty, irreverent, the id of a pregnant woman who’s irritated and not going to hide it), and just found Iliza Shlesinger via Netflix who talks about the millennial female experience. But an ELDER millennial, the title of one of her specials.

    Jessica Williams, formerly of The Daily Show now of the Two Bossy Dames podcast is a riot, as is her cohost Phoebe Robinson.

  3. I was looking forward to this post, Caitlin! Humor, I think plays a very important role in our lives. Especially these days. I watched “Nanette” and was simply blown away. I appreciate you referring to her as “earnest”; I agree with that. Her authenticity is so refreshing. I’m quite curious as to what she will do after the success of this show. And regarding Michelle Wolf: My husband and I enjoyed watching her show this summer, though I think she is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some of her jokes went too far for me, to the point they were not funny but just disturbing (specifically ones made about the boys from Taiwan who got stuck in that cave and the potential movies that could come from that). But mostly she made me laugh. I haven’t seen Tig Nataro do stand up yet, but we did try watching a show she did (for Netflix?) a while back and found it pretty morbid and just not that funny. Maybe she’s better doing stand up. As far as recommendations go..I have so many favorites! I really ought to do a blog post about them. The newest one I’ve seen is Iliza and she is comedically gifted in my opinion (google elder millenial). I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for sure, but also Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler. But the very best, to me, is Samantha Bee. We watch Full Frontal every single week. Samantha Bee is an American, feminist, comedic treasure. Sorry for the rambling, this is a topic I seem to have lots of opinions about 🙂

  4. i’m still a tina fey fan, as well as kristin wiig. i find them both to not only be funny and multi-talented, but they were each able to overcome the system to find their own success. i’m sure most all female comedians have had to deal with this on some level.

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