Self-deprecatory Humour and the Female Comic:


  • Danielle Russell York University


Humour, female comics, gender and comedy


This study explores the stance of women in comedy and in particular the assumption that self-deprecatory humour is the domain of female comics. Examining the standup routines of eighty-six performers--twenty-two female, sixty-four male--from the mid-1980s to the 1990s comedic strategies are isolated by type and the gender of the comedian. The transcripts of the routines are specifically analyzed in terms of the targets of the satire and the degree of hostility (whether self or socially directed) involved. Context for the analysis consists of a section on three comics well-known for self-putdowns: Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, and Rodney Dangerfield. The results of this study reveal that female comics are no relying on self-deprecation as a sustained style. It is no longer the survival strategy it once was for women in comedy. As the presence of female comics increases the need to assuage audience fear/hostility decreases. The mask of self-loathing is removed and the comedic observations are given full voice.

Author Biography

Danielle Russell, York University

Danielle Russell is a Ph.D. student at York University in Canada. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled "Between the Angle and the Curve: Mapping Gender, Space, and Identity in Selected Writings by Willa Cather and Toni Morrison." Other areas of interest include women and conversation in the eighteenth century; language, gender and power in twentieth century fiction; and the relationship between space and identity in women's writing.