We Killed

The Rise of Women in American Comedy

Yael Kohen

Sarah Crichton Books

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No matter how many times female comedians buck the conventional wisdom, people continue to ask: “Are women funny?” The question has been nagging at women off and on (mostly on) for the past sixty years. It’s incendiary, much discussed, and, as proven in Yael Kohen’s fascinating oral history, totally wrongheaded.

In We Killed, Kohen pieces together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy, gathering the country’s most prominent comediennes and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them. She starts in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself; when Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America’s favorite frustrated ladies; when the joke was always on them. Kohen brings us into the sixties and seventies, when the appearance of smart, edgy comedians (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 arrive in a world in which women like Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, and Tina Fey can be smart, attractive, sexually confident—and, most of all, flat-out funny.

As the more than 150 people interviewed for this riveting oral history make clear, women have always been funny. It’s just that every success has been called an exception and every failure an example of the rule. And as each generation of women has developed its own style of comedy, the coups of the previous era are washed away and a new set of challenges arises. But the result is the same: They kill. A chorus of creative voices and hilarious storytelling, We Killed is essential cultural and social history, and—as it should be!—great entertainment.

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1
 
Mothers of Invention
 
 
Among the politically charged, foulmouthed, and confessional comics who revolutionized the entertainment establishment in the 1950s and early 1960s were two women who upended the image of the traditional comedienne: Phyllis Diller and Elaine May. In style and substance, neither woman had much to do with the other. Diller was a stand-up who built her act around seemingly trivial husband barbs and self-deprecating housewife jokes; May was an improvisational sketch artist who injected her vignettes with highbrow intellectualism and sharp,

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All the Funny Ladies

Here's what 50 years of iconic female comics looks like.

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In the Press

Yael Kohen's 'We Killed', stars women who broke the glass laugh ceiling | cleveland.com
Yael Kohen's "We Killed,"is a book filled with the voices of female comics and their colleagues, it's apt to raise more questions than it answers.
- The Plain Dealer

Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Remembering Phyllis Diller
By Yael Kohen Before I was led into the receiving room of Phyllis Diller’s 10,000-square-foot, gated Brentwood home, I was told the legendary comedy queen, who died Monday at the age of 95, preferred to be called Madame Diller.
- FSG's Work in Progress

What Funny Women Teach One Another (and Robin Williams) - Ashley Fetters - The Atlantic
Eight great moments in comedians mentoring comedians from 'We Killed: The Rise of Women in Comedy'
- The Atlantic.com

New In Paperback: 'We Killed,' 'Lost At Sea,' 'In Sunlight And In Shadow,' 'The Cursing Mommy' : NPR
In softcover fiction, Mark Helprin sets a romance against the backdrop of midcentury New York, and Ian Frazier presents the journals of a mother who swears an extremely blue streak. In softcover nonfiction, Yael Kohen collects an oral history of women in comedy, and Jon Ronson gathers some funny stories of his own.
- NPR Books

What Women Comedians Want: Yael Kohen’s ‘We Killed’ - The Daily Beast
Yael Kohen’s new book on female comics show they’ve had to battle hecklers who only wanted ‘titties, and boobs, and dancing girls,’ and TV execs who only saw talent in the most beautiful women. Allison Yarrow speaks to the funny ladies to find out what they’ve had to put up with.
- The Daily Beast

Book Review: We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy
BUST Magazine, the magazine for women with something to get off their chests. Rocking your world since 1993. With an attitude that is fierce, funny, and proud to be female, BUST provides and uncensored view of the female experience. BUST tells the truth about women's lives and provides a female perspective on pop culture.
- Bust

An Ode to Phyllis Diller, the First Female Comic to Joke Like a Man - The Cut
In an age of June Cleavers, she was the first serious female stand-up.
- New York magazine, The Cut

Yael Kohen’s We Killed, history of women in comedy, reviewed. - Slate Magazine
The crowd at that East Village stand-up show in February of 2011 was small but the host riled them up. By the time I got on stage for my eight-minute set, the audience was loose, so I riffed a bit about the comics who’d gone before. I engaged one audience...
- Slate

Chelsea Handler Interview - Chelsea Handler at Work - Marie Claire
How the audaciously funny Chelsea Handler parlayed a successful cable talk show into a money-minting media empire. And she's only just begun
- Marie Claire @ Work

'We Killed': Women In Comedy, From Stand-Ups To Sitcoms : Monkey See : NPR
A new oral history of women working in comedy includes stories from the world of stand-up, the world of late-night, and the world of comedy. Not all of it works, but author Yael Kohen explores some difficult choices the women she profiles have faced, and she gets some pretty good stories, too.
- NPR.org

New In Paperback: 'We Killed,' 'Lost At Sea,' 'In Sunlight And In Shadow,' 'The Cursing Mommy' : NPR
In softcover fiction, Mark Helprin sets a romance against the backdrop of midcentury New York, and Ian Frazier presents the journals of a mother who swears an extremely blue streak. In softcover nonfiction, Yael Kohen collects an oral history of women in comedy, and Jon Ronson gathers some funny stories of his own.
- NPR Books


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About the Author

Yael Kohen

Yael Kohen is a reporter and editor in New York City. A contributing editor at Marie Claire, she covers books, pop culture, and issues important to working women. She has written for New York magazine, Salon, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, and The New York Sun.

Yael Kohen

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Yael Kohen

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Available Formats and Book Details

We Killed
The Rise of Women in American Comedy
Yael Kohen

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Sarah Crichton Books
October 2012
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781466828117
ISBN10: 1466828110
336 pages, 16 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations
$9.99

Hardcover

Hardcover
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Sarah Crichton Books
October 2012
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780374287238
ISBN10: 0374287236
6 x 9 inches, 336 pages, 16 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations
$27.00

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Picador
October 2013
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250037787
ISBN10: 1250037786
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 352 pages, Includes two 8-page black-and-white photograph sections
$16.00
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