Book Review Monday: We Killed

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy: A Very Oral History, by Yael Kohen

Book description: In January 2007, Vanity Fair published an essay by Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” It was incendiary, much-discussed, and—as proven by Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history—totally wrongheaded.

In We Killed, Kohen assembles America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy. We start in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself. Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America’s favorite frustrated ladies; the joke was always on them. The Sixties saw the appearance of smart, edgy comediennes (Elaine May, Lily Tomlin), and the women’s movement brought a new wave of radicals: the women of SNL, tough-ass stand-ups, and a more independent breed on TV (Mary Tyler Moore and her sisters). There were battles to fight and preconceptions to shake before we could get to where we finally are: in a world where women (like Tina Fey, or, whether you like them or not, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler) can be smart, attractive, sexually confident—and most of all, flat-out funny.

My review: I am not trying to be ironic when I say that I found this book to be kind of uninteresting. Nothing about women not being funny. Women are funny, anyone who is still having that conversation just needs to stop. I mean, has Tina Fey taught you nothing? But for all I adore these comediennes of today, I’m actually just not that interested in comedy history, as it turns out. Carol Burnett Show? Meh, I just don’t really care. Also, the book itself isn’t meant to be funny, it’s a serious look at the history of comedy over the past decades. It basically reads almost as a transcript of an interview, cleaned up of course, but I find I prefer a narrative style. Once again, it just came down to the fact that I didn’t really care that much. If you are totally into comedy, then I would suggest reading it, but otherwise I’d give it a pass.

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