Can I be Dorothy Parker 2.0?
October 24, 2010 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I want to be a sharper, wittier writer and conversationalist like the O.G. Dorothy Parker or, hey, even Coketalk. I admire funny, confident women, and while I think I'm moderately funny in person (years of low self-esteem will do wonders for your self-deprecating humor skills once you come out of it, go figure), I'd like to beef it up a bit, as well as learn how to express that more in my writing.

So, hivemind: Who should I be reading? Which female comedians should I be listening to? (Contemporary suggestions would be greatly appreciated, but I'd love to familiarize myself with older stuff, as well.) How can I add more female funniness to my culture diet, and cultivate a general air of wittiness about me? Or can this even be learned? Thanks!
posted by themaskedwonder to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Erma Bombeck?
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:13 PM on October 24, 2010

Maria Bamford is one of the funniest comedians of any gender out there. Ellen DeGeneres has made me laugh harder than anyone else, though I find her stand-up pacing uneven. There is some good stuff in The Queens of Comedy, especially Adele Givens. Margaret Cho--either you love her or you don't love her, and I love her; same with Chelsea Handler.

If you can get your hands on video of Carol Burnett's old stand-up, I suggest you do; Joan Rivers was also great in her stand-up days if you have a good filter for the self-deprecation.

As for reading, Fran Lebowitz is ye olde bomb diggity; I also have a soft spot for Cynthia Heimel and for Merrill Markoe. Lopsided by Meredith Norton is laugh-out-loud funny, a particular triumph seeing as it's a memoir of her experience with breast cancer. Speaking of funny ladies and breast cancer, Molly Ivins.

Dorothy Parker's contemporary, Dawn Powell, was one of the wittiest novelists in the American tradition. There's also some deeply funny shit in Barbara Pym. Ada Leverson's writing for Punch is hard to get hold of, but her novel The Little Ottleys gives you some flavor of why she was Oscar Wilde's bestie.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Tallulah Bankhead was a veritable font of wit.
posted by griphus at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Erma Bombeck was sweet and sometimes funny, but for 20th-century household humor, let me recommend Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson (yes, "The Lottery" Shirley Jackson).
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2010

Mary Roach
posted by Elsie at 4:26 PM on October 24, 2010

In the early nineties, Anka's sex-columns in Details magazine made me run to the newsstands every month.
posted by ouke at 5:10 PM on October 24, 2010

I'm puzzled why you think you should listen only to funny women.

However be that so - Florence King is a very funny writer. Sara Vowel is as well. Nancy Mitford had some wit.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:40 PM on October 24, 2010

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King.

Cintra Wilson

Seconding Fran Leibowitz, Merrill Markoe, Dorothy Parker.

Rent Jennifer Saunder's Absolutely Fabulous BBC sitcom on dvd if you've never seen it.
posted by applemeat at 5:55 PM on October 24, 2010

Decca Mitford's letters. And Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. (Also comes in watchable form, with Rufus Sewell as the hotness and amusing cameos by Stephen Fry and Ian McCellan.
posted by Diablevert at 8:07 PM on October 24, 2010

I'm puzzled why you think you should listen only to funny women.

I am not themaskedwonder, but given the amount of prejudice a la "women aren't funny" that is out there, it is edifying to see how funny women do it. And given the amount of prejudice a la "women aren't funny" that is out there, it is often not so easy to find the work of funny women.

(Also, themaskedwonder said "add more female funniness to my culture diet," not "remove all male funniness from my culture diet.")
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:56 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Molly Ivins!

That's her column archive; here's her take on breast cancer. "Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that."
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:52 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lorrie Moore, Tina Fey, Sarah Haskins, Maureen Dowd, Mindy Kaling

For witty female characters, seek His Girl Friday, The Lady Eve, The Thin Man, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
posted by marco_nj at 6:43 AM on October 25, 2010

Seek out Madeline Kahn flicks. The women of Saturday Night Live in the 70's, like Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin. Actually, all four of those women are in an episode from Season One, and it is divine.

Speaking of Divine, you might want to check out some gay comedians/personalities, too, if you admire Dorothy Parker's deadly aim with poison barbs. Stephen Fry, for example. Some drag queens are particularly adept at self-deprecating witticisms. Try watching Drag Race with RuPaul.

Bernadette Peters. Catherine O'Hara. Goddesses!
posted by Lieber Frau at 7:53 AM on October 25, 2010

(Also, themaskedwonder said "add more female funniness to my culture diet," not "remove all male funniness from my culture diet.")

It would be impossible for me to remove any male funniness from her culture diet. Assuming I would even want to. Which I don't.

But her stated purpose was to up her own funny, not to rebut Christopher Hitches at his silliest. My haze was, if you want to learn, why discriminate? Go for the best of all types. Last week, Mrs Jones - a very funny woman herself - discovered Eddie Izzard for the first time. I haven't seen her laugh that hard in ages. OP could presumably learn a lot from him, and the world will be a better place if she does.

Moms Mabley deserves a nod as one of the early greats. Widely available on youtube. No mention yet of Kathy Griffin I see.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:52 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Hey, OP here. I suppose I might have phrased my question a little oddly. The thing is, I already listen to/watch/otherwise consume a TON of comedy performed by males, and typically when a comedy question is thrown out into the green people recommend male performers. I just wanted to round out my comedy education, is all. Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions! If you have more, feel free to send me a message or add more comments!
posted by themaskedwonder at 10:32 PM on October 25, 2010

Off topic slightly, if you want to be Dorothy Parker, fake it until you make it.
posted by talldean at 7:28 PM on October 26, 2010

Got it.

Check out Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times. Fine sense of the absurd in modern corporations. Does not suffer fools, but, remarkably, does not come off as mean spirited.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on October 30, 2010

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