Just a few years ago, you could count big-name comediennes on two fingers of one hand—Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr. Stand-up comedy was as 100% male as the boys locker room, and pundits thought the spotlight and microphone forever would remain the boys’ domain because laugh-out-loud funny supposedly requires decadence, profligacy, irreverence, and flat-out nastiness that “nice” girls never develop. As usual, the pundits and the boys are wrong. Perfectly nice girls—some even with families—are selling-out major arenas and dominating the television ratings.
1. Chelsea Handler
Few basic cable shows can count more than a million viewers every week. Chelsea Handler’s irreverent look at celebrity news boasts well over one million viewers every night. Chelsea herself is the main attraction—a lot like the irreverent, plain-speaking, tough-talking, very quick-witted surfer girl next door. But she is wise enough to surround herself with equally quick-witted “round table” participants who keep a live audience and an at-home audience belly laughing for a solid half hour. Even competing head-to-head with Conan O’Brien, Chelsea has held her audience and barely missed a beat. In addition to owning E! television, Chelsea also writes wonderfully funny best-selling books and collections of stories.
2. Kathy Griffin
Most viewers have forgotten that Kathy Griffin made her television debut on Brooke Shields’s old show “Suddenly Susan,” where she played Vickie Groener, Susan’s smart-mouthed colleague. In those days, few people knew that the part challenged Griffin simply to play herself. Since then, Griffin has parlayed her reality show, “My Life on the D-List” to a Bravo ratings bonanza, collecting two Emmy Awards and legions of loyal fans along the way. Her stand-up performances, scathing satires of big-time Hollywood celebrities, sell-out big arenas around the country; and her comedy albums and DVDs score huge sales in stores and via download. Griffin has elevated being a dork to the status of art.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
A trailblazer for women in comedy, Ellen DeGeneres seldom goes out on the road or plays Las Vegas any more, but she remains the woman most rising comedy stars credit with their inspiration and courage to take the stage. DeGeneres carved-out a permanent place for herself in show business history when she publicly declared her lesbianism and began openly dealing with gay issues in her routines. The quality of her work, however, has sustained her popularity. Her daytime television program has won twelve Emmys, and she won a Saturn Award for her voice-over work in Disney’s Finding Nemo. She shows she still has the old comic flair, making guest appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” For one season, she served as a judge on the Fox Network hit American Idol, but she politely withdrew at the end of one season, agreeing with Fox programming executives that “it was not a good fit.”
4. Jen Kirkman
Arguably the best of the rising stars in comedy, Jen Kirkman worked her way up through the ranks at open-mic nights and doing weekend stands at the country’s better comedy clubs. She landed her first steady comedy gig as a writer and roundtable regular with E! Television’s “Chelsea Lately,” the late-night comedy-talk show that has become a springboard for many of comedy’s most promising young woman stars. With Chelsea and company, Kirkman worked as a writer and regular roundtable participant, winning the notice of producers at HBO and Cartoon Network, who hired her for voice-over work. Kirkman still tours regularly, headlining major venues around the country.
5. Lonnie Love
Before settling into her comedy groove, Lonnie Love was an auto worker and an electrical engineer at Xerox Corporation. Well-known at comedy clubs in the greater Los Angeles area, Lonnie gained nationwide notoriety as a finalist on “Star Search” in 2003; she ultimately placed second in one of the closest votes in the program’s history. In 2009, both Comedy Central and Variety magazine included her in their prestigious lists of “Top 10 Comics to Watch.” In May, 2010, Love did her first hour-long special on Comedy Central, titling it “America’s Sister” and winning critical acclaim for her performance.