The story of a group of unforgettable women who knocked down the doors of stand-up comedy so other women could get a shot. It spans decades, from Moms Mabley's rise in Black vaudeville between the world wars, to the roadhouse ribaldry of Belle Barth and Rusty Warren in the 1950s and '60s, to Elaine May's co-invention of improv comedy, to Joan Rivers's and Phyllis Diller's ferocious ascent to mainstream stardom.
... a breezy tour ... Spanning roughly the decades from the 1930s through the 1980s, Levy touches on the general comedy trends intertwined with several of the women’s careers...But he keeps his focus on the women’s individual stories, dividing the book into eight chapters that serve as mini profiles of each comedian ... Levy doesn’t delve too deeply into any individual story. But the overview serves as a useful starting point for comedy buffs wanting to learn more about each of these trailblazing comedians.
What’s novel and valuable about Shawn Levy’s new book is that Joan Rivers is the end point, not the beginning ... Levy wants to celebrate the women who came before her—the lonely pioneers who had almost no models to draw on, fought for attention in a male-dominated industry, and even today are not sufficiently appreciated ... Levy profiles each in affectionate, well-judged, thoroughly researched detail ... Levy has done an admirable job of resurrecting a band of unique, unjustly neglected performers. Much of their comedy may seem retrogressive, politically incorrect, even demeaning today. But Ali Wong would be nowhere without them.
Levy has done a sensitive job telling the stories of nine pioneering women he has designated as those who cracked the glass ceiling of comedy ... demonstrates how tough the work was — incessant travel, leaving one's family for weeks at a time just to get heckled onstage or fondled backstage, doesn't seem so fun. Levy spends too much time calculating what a 1959 paycheck would be today. We get it: inflation ... Of his nine exemplars, only one is still alive: Elaine May. I was so looking forward to reading Levy's interview with her and disappointed that her profile was written without her input. At the end of his book, Levy does list some of the more successful working comics who are women. They are not funny despite being women, and they are not funny because they are women. They are funny. Here's looking at you, Amy Schumer.