“I’ve always loved independent women, outspoken women, eccentric women, funny women, flawed women.”
So begins Diane Keaton in her book of essays Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty
Diane fits effortlessly into the eccentric and outspoken categories, and I place myself dead center as a flawed woman. Hub says he married me for my quirky sense of funny and my independent spirit.
Diane and I – we’ve got it covered.
Diane writes of her admiration for women in the entertainment arts who thrive without becoming slaves to our beauty and youth-obsessed culture. She celebrates groundbreaking female comedians Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. Each made her mark using satire to deride her own physical flaws or multiple cosmetic surgeries.
I thought about which female comedians influenced me as they had Diane – women not deemed beautiful by societal norms who exaggerated their own physical features, using their comedic timing to create caricatures we could simultaneously laugh at and love.
In the late ‘60s, Carol Burnett and Ruth Buzzy set the gold standard for Caricature Comedic Beauty.
Carol Burnett’s comedy-variety show ran from 1967-1978. She and sidekicks Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and Vickie Lawrence entertained us with side-splitting skits of sass, silliness and unexpected improvisation. I don’t know who laughed harder – them or us!
Carol’s face was born to comedy – her wide, round, slightly protruding eyes; her too-large mouth with horsey teeth and generous lips, and her booming voice with her signature Tarzan yell. She used those assets, along with her wit and unabashed showmanship to create characters who became real in the eyes of her adoring audience.
Ruth Buzzy is best known for her 1968-1973 stint on Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. Like Carol, Ruth was a master at manipulating her facial features – doleful brown eyes, prominent nose and overly wide grin with big, white teeth – literally twisting herself into the physical embodiment of her character’s personality.
Who can forget Gladys Ormsby – the downtrodden park benchwarmer with the perpetually sour expression? Dressed in a dull brown sweater; sleek hair swept into a bun and covered with a black hairnet knotted in the middle of her forehead like a scary spider’s web. Her thick nylon stockings were rolled up to her kneecaps above her clunky, black tightly tied shoes.
Harmless and docile until a passing pervert incurred her wrath by daring to sit or speak, she’d grasp her purse in both fists, bringing the full force of her lethal weapon down upon that lecherous sap.
Two other female comedians made lasting impressions on me.
Goldie Hawn, another Laugh-In regular, represented Intellectual Parody Comedic Beauty. Sure she garnered attention for giggling and gyrating to funky music in her striking bikini cameos revealing her full body, psychedelic tattoos (risqué for ‘60’s tv). But beyond that titillation, what struck me was Goldie’s willingness to be the quintessential airhead blonde.
The late 60’s were dead-serious years for women when feminism and the sexual revolution gave rise to female voices clamoring not only to be heard, but to be accorded the same rights, opportunities and rewards as males. Goldie’s ditzy act taught 18-year-old me that even in the midst of taking ourselves seriously, humor is a healthy human counterbalance.
Lastly, two decades later, Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Elaine Benes in Seinfeld – taught me Obnoxious Comedic Beauty.
Growing up, and even into my adult professional life, I got the message that women could be a lot of things, but obnoxious wasn’t one of them. Females put the reins on ourselves. Whether it was my workplace where men outnumbered and outranked women – often jockeying with each other for badass boasting rights – or in a group of women where there was subtle pressure to fit in, I often came home thinking, “God, I hope I didn’t come across as an asshole when I …”.
Elaine, my Asshole Female Hero, behaved just as obnoxiously as Jerry, George and Kramer. And best of all, she didn’t give a shit.
I can’t say I ever intentionally behave as badly as Elaine, but I’d like to. Just once in awhile let that Asshole Comedic Beauty rip loose. Without consequences other than a laughing audience!
Comments on: "The Beauty of Female Comedians" (40)
Even the photos made me smile thank you Sammy 🙂 We have our share of female comedians here in South Africa. Perhaps the most famous of them is Evita Bezuidenhout, who is actually Pieter Dirk Uys in drag whose shows always poke at our politicians.
Yay for we baby boomers who our proud of our years and fit ever more comfortably into our skins!
🙂 thank you Susan. I will have to google your comedian
I think there is a high correlation between fitting comfortably in our skins and not being able to find clothes that fit comfortably 😊
Reblogged this on tmgrigg.
Fabulous post! All these women paved the way for a lot of current comedy, I love looking back at these trailblazers, my personal fave is Madeline Kahn….she was hilarious 🙂
Oh I loved her, too!!! She’s one it would have been fun to have dinner with. And Gilda Radner. Both taken from us way too soon.
Thanks for adding smiles with memories of beautiful comedians 💥
Whoa! Did you ever bring up memories!! Dryfus was never one of my favorites – I would have substituted Lilly Tomlin, her ‘Is this the party to whom I am speaking’ routine is a classic!!
Yes, Lily is a classic – comedian AND woman. Did you ever see her one-woman show In Search of Signs of an Intelligent Universe? One of the best ever!
Thanks for suggesting her 😊
I’ve only seen a short clip of Lily’s show on TV way back when she first came up with the idea. I’ve enjoyed anything she does!!
Loved it — both that show and her wit. A modern Dorthy Parker?
“One ringy dingy, Two ringy dingy”, I have to give a shout-out to Lilly Tomlin too.
There was often a double standard for female comedians (and maybe there still is) that they couldn’t be pretty and funny both. It had to be one or the other. I think with some of the new ladies of funny, like Kristin Wiig, that’s starting to change. At least I hope so.
I think so. I’m not familiar with Wiig; will google her. We saw a local female comedian recently who was beautiful and hilarious.
I’m not a fan of caustic standup comedians of either gender, but I do understand their place in nudging society and politics. I prefer belly laughs to prickly pokes.
What a great post Sammy. You made me laugh and you made me think. You triggered memories, particularly of the Carol Burnett Show (which was about as funny as funny can be). I think comedy was one of the few areas where women were free to compete. I think you’re right about Elaine, but I’ve met a few in business and some of them were welcome sights at the time.
Thanks, Dan! Wasn’t Carol fun? The foibles and spontaneous lines were hilarious!
I needed a stronger female role model in the Big 8. As you can appreciate, they didn’t (yet) exist. When I switched to venture capital, I was very fortunate because it was such a new industry, at the time, men and women worked as peers and it was all blazing trails. Deals made on reputations and handshakes rather than lawyered-to-death contracts and number-crunching analysis. Fun times! No one needed to be obnoxious 😄
The strong females I remember from the Big-8 were closer to Elaine than Carol. See what I mean about not making people mad? That was a tough environment for guys when I was doing time there (81-88), I can’t imagine how it must have been for women.
I think that the best thing that Carol did was to assemble that crew of knuckleheads. Harvey couldn’t even get through most sketches with Tim Conway without cracking up.
The conversation is always about how hard it is for women in the workplace. It is.
But why do we assume it’s any easier for men?
That’s the part of feminism that has always made me uneasy – it often feels like punishing men is more important than win win opportunities.
Thanks for this walk down memory lane. My husband always told people that what drew him to me was my fierce independence and strong personality. There were times though that I think he wanted to tone me down. Loved all of these same comedians!
Thanks, Paula. I’m sure there are times Hub would rather I’m not quite so … Independent!!
I have no doubt Richard was well-served by your strength, including your personality. At least he always knew you were a straight shooter 😊
Carol Burnett rocks. Not a Goldie fan, but Phyllis Diller…love her. Also, Elaine, who could forget the Elaine dance (hubby says I dance like her.)
LOL yes, her dancing 💥 i can see you now!
Strong, funny, and opinionated — all of them. And in many cases, all those things plus sexy. I like it when a woman can keep her strength and sexiness about her, as more and more feel they have to be un-sexy to be professional, especially in the corporate and publishing world. But … just look at Goldie, and many others. I love them all.
You are so right (as usual!) and you can quote me to your hubby if you need to 😍
haha. Will quote you for sure. 🙂
Great post, Sammy! Just the thought of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway started me giggling. They were hysterical. I recently showed the old Korman/Conway dentist skit to my kids and had them in stitches, too. And I’ve always liked the Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase movie Foul Play. Thanks for the laughs. 🙂
Thanks, Lori. Goldie’s Private Benjamin and Overboard are 2 of our favorites. Now I’ll have to dig up Foul Play. Chevy Chase is always good for a laugh!
Golkie Hawn may have been influenced by the wide-mouthed blonde who did “Diamonds Are a Girls’ Best Friend” — dang what is her name? She was ancient (40-ish) when I was a kid!
What a fun post – thanks for all the memories!
Thank you, Laurel!
There are a few you mention that I don’t know – but I love the sound of Gladys Ormsby, I’m going to have to look her up!
Two of my favourite commediennes are Tina Fey and Miranda Hart. Their humour is as different as night and day but they’re both laugh out loud funny. Nothing quite like a good belly laugh to brighten up a day!
I love Tina Fey too! I don’t know Mirand Hart so will look her up! Always fun to find new chuckles 😍
What a wonderful swing down memory lane!! Carol, Ruth, Goldie were all amazingly funny. Also Lili Tomlin, Madelaine Kahn, and Gilda Radner as mentioned by others in the comments. These wonderful women gave us female humour … which isn’t quite the same as male humour.
Great post … absolutely loved it 🙂
Thank you, Joanne. All those women enriched our lives far beyond the belly laughs.
I’m not too familiar with the American comediennes you mention, Sammy (apart from Joan Rivers- nobody could not know her! 🙂 ). It’s so not an easy job. I rather like Victoria Wood- she’s sharp and to the point but not too waspish. She and Julie Walters made a great team, and I loved Ab Fab- though you wouldn’t think of Joanna Lumley in the role of comedienne.
Thanks Jo – i don’t know yours other than Ab Fab which is, of course, Fab 🙂
This was great. Burnett’s comedy really is timeless. I was just watching the show All in the Family the other night on that old classic TV station and thought, wow, this is still funny! That is a comedy of a special sort, many female comedians tap into that. I can just look at Tina Fey dressed as Palin and smile, she doesn’t even have to say anything.
Thanks for visiting. I agree, as a society we’re all better off if we’re able to laugh at oirselves a little and soften the posturing. Tina is a gem.
I just read Then Again by Diane Keaton. I loved it. I read it in an afternoon.
I loved all these women. My mother reminds me of Carol Burnett. She hates it when I say that, but she does.
I’m sorry your Mom doesn’t take that as a compliment. I admire Carol for many reasons – i have her autobiog, but haven’t read it yet.
Wouldn’t an evening with either Diane or Carol be one to treasure?!?
I’m independent, eccentric, and flawed, but, sadly, I’m not really that funny. Witty, I guess, but not funny. I have horrible timing and delivery. I have a quirky and fun sense of humor though, which is, in part, why I was attracted to my husband. He is definitely the funny one in our relationship.
Great post! I loved Carol Burnett too. What an amazing lady!
Well I don’t know about your humor, but you are eloquent and certainly your quirk shines through in your ability to re-vision your reality. I love reaing your writing and peering into your complicated world. Thank goodness for hubbys who bring what we need to our marriages!
Hang in there through the holidays – healthy, deep breaths, and taking care of yourself (remrmber, oxygen mask goes on you first!)