There’s nothing quite like laughing until your sides hurt but it can often be tricky to find good comedy shows, particularly female-led ones. There’s a common misconception that women aren’t funny – all jokes aside, we couldn’t disagree more.
Luckily, there are plenty of hilarious and fascinating women leading the way in comedy. Even better? So many of them are representing for the queer community! There are tons of lesbian comedians out there who are going to get you chuckling.
With a quirky way of seeing the world and well-developed funny bones, these women bring something special to the comedy table. I think we can all agree that the best comedy has a heart, has an opinion and doesn’t worry about conforming to ‘the norm’ – these lesbian comedians tick all those boxes.
While this has been true for years, it’s taken until Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special Nanette for this to be more accepted in the mainstream. We’ll talk more about its specifics in a bit, but the razor-sharp observations and self-deprecating humor of her show have demonstrated how brilliant lesbian comedians are and got us wanting more. You can see some of these fab ladies on lesbian TV shows and film, but they are most in their elements on comedy specials or live – if you happen to bump into them at a festival. But that’s a different story.
So, who are these fabulous queer women making us laugh?
In this article we will cover...
We know it might seem glaringly obvious, but there’s no way we can make a list of lesbian comedians and not include the queen, a woman so influential that she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s now best known for her chat show but she started out in the early 80s doing stand-up inspired by Woody Allen and Steve Martin.
Her subsequent growing profile changed, well, everything for lesbians in comedy. She was the first openly gay actress to play an openly gay character on TV (in sitcom Ellen she came out, in tandem with coming out on The Oprah Winfrey Show) and now she’s a one-woman powerhouse. Sure, she might not be pushing the boundaries of comedy, but she definitely did plenty breaking of the glass ceiling before.
So, to the woman who inspired this peace and brought witty, powerful lesbian stand-up into the mainstream – Hannah Gadsby. The Australian comedian had been working the comedy circuit for over a decade before the raw and hilarious Nanette on Netflix broke the internet. We love it not just for its dry humour, but also because she discusses gender and sexuality in an open and contemporary way (no labels here!).
She also unashamedly offers up a searing critique of powerful men getting away with misogyny time and time again though our glorification of celebrity. There’s no shying away from ugly truths; she doesn’t let it being ostensibly a comedy show stop her from pulling back the curtain. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be inspired to make change – what more do you want from stand-up?
This might sound a bit odd, but here is a comedian who doesn’t have an emphasis on making the audience laugh. Cameron Esposito walks her own path and doesn’t feel like she needs to cater to the whims of people listening to her – and we are totally here for it. She’s originally from Illinois and started stand-up in Chicago before breaking into TV shows and making her own BuzzFeed series.
Her content unashamedly focuses on LGBTQ content and championing marginalized communities. Her 2018 show Rape Jokes focused on sexual assault and earnings went to an anti-sexual violence organisation. We love this powerful stance combined with her warm humour. Her stuff – podcasts, specials, panel shows – is definitely worth checking out.
This fabulous lesbian comedian has been on the scene since 1979 – amazing, right? And her sharp wit certainly has staying power. Now she’s still fighting the good fight, and making us laugh too. From her big break being spotted in a comedy club in Long Island through years on daytime TV to her current project SMILF, she’s kept her passion and her funny bone.
Many of us might remember her more from film roles including The Flintstones Movie, but her stand-up routines make for great viewing.
Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon might actually be one of the funniest women on TV right now. Her hilarious (and dead-on) impersonations on the show, of a huge list of people including Hilary Clinton, Ellen herself and Justin Bieber, demonstrate her sharp eye and ability to pinpoint the funniest details about people.
She co-founded a comedy group while studying theatre at Colombia University which did musical improv comedy and it all went from there. From time in The Big Gay Sketch Show to her 6 years on SNL, she’s a gift that keeps on giving. She even starred in the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, bringing energy to every scene.
There is absolutely nothing we don’t love about Danish-British comedian Sandi Toksvig. For starters, she saved The Great British Bake Off when it lost Mel, Sue and Mary Berry. Then there’s her activist work which goes as far as founding The Women’s Equality Party in the UK. She’s also out and proud, without making a fuss.
Although she studied law, archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University, we’re glad that chance, luck and her work in Footlights brought her to the world of funny (and gay) women. Starting out in television, she was also part of an improvisational comedy troupe and was a panellist on British comedy shows from the early 90s before moving on to host them. She’s quick-witted, deadpan and warm – and her work with surreal Noel Fielding on The Great British Bake Off shows her to have quite the wacky side too.
‘Deadpan’ is a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing Tig Notaro. The moment that underlines that moment more than any other is the famous moment in 2012 when she started a gig in Los Angeles with the line “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?” Shocking, honest, hilarious. She’s always been that deadpan, but since her diagnosis of breast cancer her comedy has become more personal.
Two of her recent specials include Boyish Girl Interrupted and Happy To Be Here, both joyful routines full of her special comedy genius. She’s also well-known for her work on The Sarah Silverman Show as a lesbian policewoman and has appeared in shows like Community and The Office. Pretty solid comedy credentials, right?
Don’t hate us, we know that Margaret Cho is technically not a lesbian comedian as she is openly and sassily bisexual, but we still think she deserves her place on this list for her openness, courage and for being absolutely HIL-AR-IOUS! She began doing stand-up in a club next to her parents’ shop before rising to prominence with sitcom All-American Girl.
Her 2015 special PsyCHO is an excellent example of her explicit comedy, political commentary, bisexuality and her experiences as an Asian-American. A famous moment from the show is her stripping off to show her tattoos and explain their role in helping her reclaim her body for herself. She isn’t going to hold back and we love her for that, not to mention her tireless advocacy for LGBT rights.
Like Sandi Toksvig, British comedian Sue Perkins also went to the University of Cambridge, got her thirst for the stage in the Footlights and presented The Great British Bake Off (before Sandi). She’s also ceaselessly jolly, in a way that makes us want to hug her. There’s no negativity to her humour, which is a joy in cynical times.
Known for her creative partnership with Mel Giedroyc, ‘Mel and Sue’, she started with stand-up at Edinburgh Festival before starting to work in television. Hosting, presenting and participating in game shows, she’s spread her light-hearted humour throughout British TV and calmly states that “being a lesbian is only about the 47th most interesting thing about me”.
Virginia-born Wanda Sykes moved from contracting work at the National Security Agency into stand-up in 1987, and thank God she did! After getting plenty of practice at local Maryland venues, she moved to New York in the early 90s and got her big break opening for Chris Rock (she then joined the writing team on his show).
She came out as gay in 2008 after gay marriage became illegal in California and in the following year released a powerful – and hilarious – special called I’ma Be Me where she jokes that she “never had to come out to her parents as black”. It’s proud and open, while being an incisive commentary on sexuality and racism. Watch, now!
These amazing lesbian comedians show us that comedy doesn’t have to be just making fun of other people (or ourselves!) – it’s about taking on the world, as well as making it laugh!