Comedy is all about pushing boundaries and testing the limits of ideas, and when the comedian in question is a woman, things can get even more heated.
Some brave women have taken on the establishment, social norms and cultural taboos in recent years, smashing the glass ceiling on stage and in shows like Insecure, Fleabag and 30 Rock. Below are 10 of the most daring female comics out there, whose work pushes the boundaries of taste and propriety as far as they can go.
1. Michaela Coel
BAFTA award-winning sitcom Chewing Gum challenges stereotypes about working class life, race and female sexuality. It was based on a play by Michaela Coel, who also wrote and starred in every episode of both seasons, as well as writing and performing its infectious theme song. Mark our words, this funny lady is going places.
2. Tig Notaro
In August 2012, stand-up comedian Tig Notaro stepped on stage at L.A.’s Largo and greeted the audience with the deadpan phrase, “Good evening. Hello, I have cancer. How are you?” It took a while for everyone to realize she wasn’t joking, but when they did, she launched into a heartbreakingly honest routine that quickly set a new standard for what comedy could be. That night, Tig pushed the limits of what’s funny by covering her recent break-up, a life-threatening hospital stay, the death of her mother, and the breast cancer diagnosis she received the day before.
3. Margaret Cho
Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to Margaret Cho‘s comedy. She happily covers personal topics like race, Asian stereotypes, substance abuse, her family, and bisexuality, while her classic 2000 show I’m the One That I Want showed she had no qualms about discussing the darker side of life too. On stage she proclaimed “sl-t pride” for all women with a sexual appetite: “I went through the whole thing thinking, ‘Am I gay? Am I straight? And I realized, I’m just slutty … Where’s my parade?’ ”
4. Sarah Silverman
“There are jokes I made 15 years ago that I would absolutely not make today,” Sarah Silverman told the Guardian last year, in reference to one of her most famous lines in 2005 stand-up special Jesus is Magic. That’s not to say she doesn’t still court controversy; her most recent foray I Love You, America tackles political issues and sensitive topics with a red-hot, albeit less caustic, honesty.
5. Ayesha Hazarika
Some comics — like Al Franken or Eddie Izzard — turned to politics. Not British comic Ayesha Hazarika. She began her career as a senior advisor to MPs Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband, and now she’s a standup comedian whose routines tackle feminism, the Labour party and who has the power in politics. Let’s just say recent developments in the Houses of Parliament have provided her with plenty of Thick of It-style material.
6. Maria Bamford
A show-within-a-show, 1980s Duluth, talking pugs, and bionic women: the second season of Lady Dynamite certainly pushed the boundaries of making any kind of sense whatsoever. Its star Maria Bamford wrote the series based on her recent stay in a psychiatric hospital, having always been open about her struggles with anxiety and bipolar disorder.
7. Wanda Sykes
A veteran of The Chris Rock Show‘s writing room, Wanda‘s blend of confessional and street smarts has led to a recurring role in Curb Your Enthusiasm and the rebooted (then canned) Roseanne. Her live stand-up shows are testament to her acerbic wit, leading some to wonder if she’d tone her act down when in 2009 she became the first African-American woman and first openly gay person to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner. She didn’t.
8. Samantha Bee
The Daily Show‘s longest-serving contributor Samantha Bee broke new ground with her late-night show Full Frontal: first, she didn’t sit behind a desk, and second, she wasn’t a man — two rarities for late-night TV. She brought an avowedly female-centric approach to the news, one she freely admits sometimes crosses a line and even gets her in some serious hot water, but it’s a line many other commentators are afraid of even approaching.
9. Aditi Mittal
This trailblazing stand-up comic from Mumbai became the first Indian woman to get her own Netflix special, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say, based on her popular live set. She regularly confounds expectations by talking frankly about being single, wearing thongs and the awkwardness of Indian movie ratings.
10. Michelle Wolf
This Daily Show alum had been tackling tricky topics long before she split the room at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, though her razor-sharp barbs are sometimes belied by her high-pitched voice and smiling delivery. After writing for Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah, her new Netflix show The Break with Michelle Wolf finally gives her center stage.
Tell us: which funny women would you add to our list?