Eight great moments in comedians mentoring comedians from We Killed: The Rise of Women in Comedy
In 1993, comedians Sarah Silverman and Melanie Hutsell were both fired from Saturday Night Live. At the end of their last day, Hutsell was ready to go home and crawl in bed, defeated. But Silverman insisted otherwise: It was time to party.
"We went out that night," Hutsell recalls in the pages of Yael Kohen's new book We Killed: The Rise of Women in Comedy. "[Sarah] had just found out that she wasn't picked up for the next year, and she got up and did her stand-up." Hutsell remembers watching Silverman onstage, awed: "I was like, 'That girl right there, she's going to go all the way.'"
MORE ON WOMEN IN COMEDY
We Killed, released this week, may tell the story of the integration of women into the mainstream comedy scene—from Phyllis Diller and Elaine May through Tina Fey and the Bridesmaids phenomenon—but don't be fooled by the title. Kohen's impressively assembled oral history illustrates that that the titular "rise" of women in comedy wasn't really a direct upward climb at all. Instead, as the Silverman anecdote suggests, it was a frustrating, decades-long, fits-and-starts process.
The second half of the 20th century saw such rapid, radical changes in the role of women in society that comedy's rules seemed to be changing all the time. Sometimes "funny like a guy" was a good thing; other times it wasn't. Sometimes funny women could be sexy; other times they couldn't. And sometimes, women were declared funny once and for all—then other times, exasperatingly, the revelation would reverse itself. (To this day, every so often another prominent, skeptical voice—Jerry Lewis, John Belushi, and Johnny Carson, to name a few—asks the question, "Are women funny?" as if it's surfacing for the first time. As recently as 2007, Christopher Hitchens addressed the question in his famously inflammatory Vanity Fair essay.)