We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy: A Very Oral History

Yael Kohen, Author
Yael Kohen. FSG/Sarah Crichton, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-28723-8
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-1-250-03778-7
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4668-2811-7
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Kohen, a contributing editor to Marie Claire, has assembled an engaging oral history of the evolution of women performing in comedy clubs and on television. The book is structured with italicized intros to excerpts from interviews with more than 140 standup comedians, writers, directors, producers, agents, club owners, and network executives. These interviews have been sliced and placed into chronological chapters. The book instead begins with Phyllis Diller (“the first female standup to garner mass, mainstream appeal”) and the “outré new voice” of Elaine May: “She was whip-smart and sexy; her sense of humor tended toward verboten aspects of modern life.” 1960s audiences saw Joan Rivers (“I was talking about things that were really true”) and the working-class characters of Lily Tomlin. Writer Merrill Markoe observed, “Women’s standup tended to be very self-deprecating,” noting that changed in the 1970s with the arrival of Elayne Boosler. While it’s disappointing to find only two brief quotes from Kristen Wiig, this is nevertheless an exhaustive, entertaining comedy chronicle. (Oct. 16)
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