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Ten Funniest Women in Modern Comedy

“It’s a man’s world.” It’s a phrase that’s stuck around for a while, especially in show business. Fortunately, there are those in the world who challenge such a statement.

Many argue that the phrase very much applies to the world of comedy, where men often seem to have the upper hand. Comedians like Adam Sandler can lead humor-oriented flicks to phenomenal success, when comedic talents of the opposite sex – who pack more comedic heat – have trouble doing the same.

In 2009, Todd Phillips released
The Hangover with Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galfianakis, and Ed Helms in the primary roles. The film focused on four men who get themselves into a mess while having a bachelor party in Las Vegas. The comedy Bridesmaids hits U.S. cinemas tomorrow. Like The Hangover, this feature focuses on disastrous pre-wedding events, but as you might be able to guess from the title, there’s a noticeable difference between the two features.

Saturday Night Live alums Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig head the feature as a bride-to-be and her maid of honor; Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, and Wendie McLendon-Covey co-star as bridesmaids. Reviews are currently strong, and I’ll be letting you know what I think of this comedic venture tomorrow, but will it eventually stand as a triumph alongside The Hangover? Furthermore, will the ladies of Bridesmaids find themselves becoming some of the most sought-out talents in comedy? We don’t know just yet, but in honor of the acclaimed comedy, here are ten women that are hugely revered in the world of laughter.

10. Chelsea Handler

With her roundtable discussions and “sidekick” Chuy, Chelsea Handler hosts the late-night talk show Chelsea Lately weeknights on E!

She hasn’t appeared in too many features, but despite her lack of appearances in mainstream films, which is why she only ranks at number ten, but she’s one of the funniest women in the business today. She’s starring with Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy in the romantic comedy This Means War, playing Witherspoon’s sassy friend. If the past few years have taught us anything about romantic comedies, we’re likely to see Handler spit out some choice one-liners if nothing else during the course of the feature, and if one’s ever seen Chelsea Lately, she’s terrific at delivering singular lines of caustic comedy.

9. Maya Rudolph

She’s the daughter of famous “Lovin’ You” singer Minnie Riperton, but Maya Rudolph made a name for herself in a completely different realm of the entertainment industry.

Rudolph came to prominence starring on Saturday Night Live, particularly notable for her work as Bronx Beat co-host Jodi Dietz. It’s loud, it’s brash, and it’s inescapably hilarious, particularly due to how Rudolph conquers it. Instead of simply achieving over-the-top levels of loudness, she holds herself in a semi-distinguished manner, which makes the bombastic nature of the character that much funnier. Oddly enough, it’s a perfect example of what many refer to as method acting.

She stretched her acting muscle with Sam Mendes’s dramedy Away We Go with The Office’s John Krasinski in 2009, and while the film as a whole failed to do much other than annoy, Rudolph escaped scratch-free thanks to her balanced and ultimately brilliant portrayal.

8. Jenna Fischer

Coming in at number eight is Jenna Fischer, who fits into the dry and strangely gut-busting world of NBC’s The Office perfectly. Stilted line readings and a highly naturalistic chemistry with John Krasinski result in an exceptional performance that has ranked as one of modern television’s most highly lauded.

She brought some comedic justice to the otherwise flat comedy Hall Pass with fellow Emmy Award nominee Christina Applegate. Unlike her work in The Office, Fischer expresses a more vibrant side of herself as the somewhat distraught wife attempting to deny her emotions during her husband’s “hall pass” period. Here we see her in a much more reactive, less restricted form than in The Office.

7. Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz first wowed moviegoers with her work in The Mask as the alluring and seductive love interest. There wasn’t too much to the role, but she completely nails the sensuality of it. Little did audiences figure that she’d go on to become one of the most revered women in the comedy industry.

She has lots of campy fun in the Charlie’s Angels features, and she even gets to display a more cautionary, relatively unseen side of her comedic self with Being John Malkovich, but her brightest moment in comedy comes in There’s Something About Mary. She perfectly nails both the teenage and adult years of Mary, perfectly playing up to the character’s unassuming nature about the beauty that everyone else notices. She also made hair gel iconic in one of modern comedy’s most memorable scenes.

She loses out a bit on this list because she hasn’t been too prominent in comedy lately, but hopefully she can regain such respect with the R-rated comedy Bad Teacher with Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel this summer.

6. Anna Faris

Anna Faris came onto the scene as Cindy in the Scary Movie series. The series stumbles heavily in its last two features, but Faris capably handles the heroine who’s never fully there. She plays the airheaded Cindy with a peculiar lightness and savoir faire that makes her ditzy behavior completely believable. Oddly enough, she perhaps shines most in those latter two Scary Movie entries because she has to rise to the challenge of successfully carrying them on her own.

Proving that a woman with a funny bone can also be alluring, she gave her most memorable performance to date in The House Bunny. Expelled from the Playboy Mansion due to her age, Faris becomes the mother of a sorority as Shelley. Much like Cindy in the Scary Movie features, there’s something mentally afloat with her. However, it all has to do with her sheltering from how things are in “the real world” and nothing to do with an innate quality. She juxtaposes the dopey qualities of Cindy with a flirty and precocious edge that works surprisingly well.

She’ll be starring the upcoming comedy What’s My Number? with Chris Evans later this year.

5. Reese Witherspoon

She might have an Oscar for a dramatic film, but Reese Witherspoon is most well-known as a comedic spitfire. She first picked up mainstream attention in the 1998 fantasy comedy Pleasantville alongside Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and Tobey Maguire. In that film she plays the bad apple of the family who is able to transition to stability once in the world of an old television series. She has her moments in this feature, such as when she’s about to explain sex to her “television mother,” but we’ll jump ahead just four years to see just where her comedic talents shine most brightly.

In 2002, she led the comedy Legally Blonde as perky sorority queen Elle Woods. When her boyfriend dumps her and leaves for Harvard Law School, she decides to copy his educational endeavors and follows him there. It’s here where Witherspoon truly shines and gives her best performance to date. A spunk and Valley Girl-esque twist on her already bright way of speaking help to accentuate her humorous naivety, and her quick explanation of the “bend and snap” technique is comedy gold.

Her most recent comedic endeavor was the disappointing James L. Brooks feature How Do You Know opposite Paul Rudd, but we’re hoping that Reese can find herself in another comedic classic soon. We’ll see her next in This Means War with Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and the aforementioned Handler.

4. Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch has become a household name thanks to her role as Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester on Fox’s hit comedy series Glee, which also functions as her best comedic work. Season one of the popular comedy series saw Lynch flippantly delivering fiery one-liners in a serious and casually hysterical way. Season two hasn’t been quite as kind to her with the jokes – they just aren’t as funny now, but she still manages to pull some huge laughs whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Those revisiting comedies The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard or Role Models will probably be surprised to find Lynch there, but she was doing the same thing in impressive fashion that she does so well on Glee.

She’s also worth catching in the brilliant ensemble comedy Best in Show, which focuses on the chaotic world of dog pageantry, alongside Jennifer Coolidge. The style of the film helps Lynch to tap into her less bombastic, more restrained style of commanding comedy while playing one of the featured dog trainers.

3. Betty White

Betty White, an iconic presence in the acting industry since acting became a profession, but it wasn’t until recently that she hit the most popular phase of her career with the 2009 romantic comedy The Proposal as Grandma Annie. She is an incredible 89 years old.

However, her television ventures make up the majority of her work, the most notable of which is The Golden Girls, which also makes for her best work to date. Playing the delightfully out-of-tune Rose alongside late greats Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan, she brings a certain curiosity and inquisitiveness to the character that’s missing from many of her other roles.

She can be seen on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, her fiery performance for which she recently won a Screen Actors Guild Award.

2. Kristen Wiig

Coming in at number two is Kristen Wiig. Initially making an impression on the Spike TV satire The Joe Schmo Show, she later come on board to star on Saturday Night Live and has since become one of the series’ most respected actors. She’s received a Supporting Comedy Actress nomination at the Emmy Awards for every year that the show’s been eligible for regular acting nominations.

She gives a spirited, slightly dramatically nuanced performance in Whip It with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore, and she continues to impress us every week on Saturday Night Live as a variety of kooky characters, but it’s her extremely subtle work in the indie comedy Adventureland that currently ranks as her comedic best thus far. Playing most alongside fellow "SNL" star Bill Hader, she hardly ever changes her facial expression and delivers her lines in such a deadpan delivery that it’s – ironically – nearly impossible to keep a straight face.

1. Tina Fey

Tina Fey tops our list. Sure, it’s a bit expected, but when you’re as top-notch as Tina Fey, expected isn’t such a bad thing.

She’s perhaps best known for her stint on Saturday Night Live. Before starring on the long-running sketch series, though, she helped write the sketches. After signing on to act in the series, her name became synonymous with comedy. As her star rose, so did other opportunities in the industry. She wrote and starred in Mean Girls, one of the few mainstream comedies over the past several years to be met with widespread acclaim. Fey even earned a Writers Guild of America nomination for her script.

She left SNL to lead another NBC series, the Thursday night comedy 30 Rock with Alec Baldwin. The quirky and very eccentric yet oddly accessible series derives much from Fey’s experiences working on "SNL." As such, she often lends a hand to writing some of the episodes. During her stint on this series, she’s also found time to star in several features, including the action-comedy Date Night, Baby Mama with fellow "SNL" alum Amy Poehler, and the animated hit Megamind. She even recently topped the New York Times’s Bestseller List for Hardcover Nonfiction with her new book Bossypants.

Though Tina Fey has furthered her iconic status in comedy with her 30 Rock refrain “I want to go to there,” her funniest moment thus far has been coming back to play Sarah Palin on "SNL." Her portrayal of the infamous celebrity politician is an eerily spot-on one. Instead of opting to play Palin in an ostentatious manner, she interprets her exactly as she is, which is what helps to make it all so hysterical. Her as-a-matter-of-fact delivery about mavericks and seeing her house from Russia are genuinely priceless. A Saturday Night Live classic came while she played Palin being interviewed by “Katie Couric” (portrayed by Amy Poehler) where she quoted the actual interview.


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