Can Women Be Funny? – Role Models Who Made It In The World of Comedy

Quick, think of a famous lesbian! Who did you think of? If it’s Ellen DeGeneres, read on. If not, read on anyway.

Being a comedian is far from easy. Being a female comedian is even harder. In an industry dominated by men, they have to fight the stereotype saying women don’t have a sense of humour. But what’s the truth? Many have asked this question, and many have tried to explain why women are perceived as less funny. Women are guardians of the hearth: they have to be kind, caring and understanding, while men get to be funny and speak their minds. Societal expectations towards women go against their right to tell jokes, or to be funny or ironic. Still, ever since the feminist movements, the world started opening up to women.

Melissa McCarthy in The Boss


The first female stand-up comedian, Phyllis Diller chose comedy because her husband wasn’t able to support their family. "The reason women don’t play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public” and “a smile is a curve that sets everything straight” are only two of her most famous quotes. At first, female comedians mostly presented as housewives and mothers, but as more and more of them turned to comedy, the possible roles for them became more numerous as well.

Phyllis Diller, 1967.


This wave of funny women finally reached television in the 1990s, and since then, more and more comedies are made with women in the leading roles. Some examples for women who lead successful comedies are Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Lisa Kudrow, Sandra Bullock and many others. Some renowned female comedians are Melissa McCarthy, Amy Schumer, Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho.

Amy Schumer

Hungarian women had to wait longer to break into the world of comedy. The most popular - and for a long time, the only - female comedian is Szilvia Bach, who is most recently known as CBA’s Icuka. The first female stand-up comedians, Anett Tényi and Anett Kormos became known in the 2010s, but in the last few years, more and more women turned to stand-up comedy.


The most famous “funny lesbian”: Ellen DeGeneres

A favourite among lesbians, and everyone’s favourite lesbian is of course Ellen DeGeneres, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Her public coming out paved the way for funny women coming after her, but back then in 1997, it could have ended her career.


Ellen DeGeneres is currently one of the most well-known lesbians in the world. Her talk show (The Ellen DeGeneres Show) keeps winning Emmy Awards and fascinates millions of viewers, while her YouTube channel has more than 12 billion views as well. In her 15 years of running the talk show, Ellen has had guests as famous as Michelle and Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna or Adele.

That being said, Ellen’s career hasn’t always been so bright. She started receiving small TV roles towards the end of the 1980s after some successful stand-up performances. In 1994, she became known as the main character in the show The Friends of Mine, which was renamed Ellen in the second season. The most watched episode of this show was “The Puppy Episode” in 1997 - the story behind the title is that Ellen wanted an episode where her character comes out as gay, and ABC Channel suggested the character might get a puppy instead. Of course, Ellen went ahead with the original coming out idea anyway. After announcing her gayness in Oprah’s show, Ellen’s own TV show was cancelled the next year, and she didn’t manage to get any big roles in the following years.

Ellen on the cover of Time in 1997


In 2001, she started The Ellen Show where she only occasionally mentioned being a lesbian, but this show was still cancelled after 13 episodes. In 2003, she voiced Dory in Finding Nemo and made a comeback as the host of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The talk show’s success is of course based on Ellen’s unique style. She invites famous people, singers, actresses or even politicians, deals with different social issues, and even involves the audience in her jokes or games. Ellen’s career has been on the rise: she is more and more well-known around the world, not only for her show, but also as a renowned LGBTQ+ pioneer and icon. She regularly speaks up in favour of acceptance and equal opportunities, as well as against hate crimes. Her honesty, openness and humour captivates the audience. Ellen, thank you for everything you do!


Translated by Alexa Sebők

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