The Funniest (Fictional) Women On-Screen in Recent History

“Women aren’t funny” is a phrase we’ve all heard too often. Audiences and industry executives tend to make this generalization, usually before they’ve even given a woman an opportunity to show off her comedic skills. Fortunately, the emergence of female-led comedies in recent years shows that this petty and ignorant opinion is beginning to wane.  

Lucia Aniello’s directorial debut, “Rough Night,” will joins this string of comedies this weekend. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz, the movie follows five best friends who gather for a bachelorette party in Miami. Although Rotten Tomatoes scorns the film, the critical census does admit that the leading ladies keep the audience laughing.  

Since the world is finally considering the possibility that women might actually be funny, it’s a good time to honor the women on screen who have been disproving the anti-women sentiment in comedy.

This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are innumerable hilarious women on the screen these days. Be sure to add anyone you feel is missing in the comments below.

Movie Characters

Cher Horowitz, “Clueless” (1995). Played by Alicia Silverstone.

Classic moment: “So like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, ‘What about the strain on our resources?’ Well it’s like when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I put ‘R.S.V.P. ‘cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that like like did not R.S.V.P. I was like totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you it does not say ‘R.S.V.P.’ on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much.”

The above quote may be from a film released in 1995, but the message and issue are still relevant today. Cher is simply an embodiment of the nineties, and a caricature of the spoiled valley girl type, often signified by the abnormal number of statements she makes that begin with “Daddy says…” Her naivete is often cringe-worthy, but makes for an excellent laugh.

Janis Ian, “Mean Girls” (2004). Played by Lizzy Caplan.

Classic moment: “Regina George is not sweet! She’s a scum-sucking road whore; she ruined my life!”

Everyone in “Mean Girls” deserves to be on this list, but there could only be one. Janis is the mastermind behind Cady’s plan to infiltrate the plastics. Ever furious at their leader, Regina George, for a past grievance, Janis is determined to make them suffer her fury. Her fury is pretty funny.

Miranda Priestly, “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). Played by Meryl Streep.

Classic moment: “Oh God. Get away from her, she’s useless. And unattractive. Ask for Ivan. Tell him we need 20 skirts for a reshoot.”

We have a bad habit of labeling assertive women as “bitchy.” Thank goodness for Miranda Priestly, who shows the world what a bitchy woman actually looks like. This hellish boss is a literal nightmare, and Streep’s biting and sarcastic portrayal of her has made Miranda an icon representative of horrible bosses everywhere. It’s no surprise that the performance earned her an Oscar nomination.

Juno, “Juno” (2007). Played by Ellen Page.

Classic moment: “I’m just gonna go ahead and nip this thing in the bud. Cause you know they say pregnancy often leads to, you know…an infant.”

Juno is arguably Ellen Page’s best performance to date. Aided by Diablo Cody’s witty script, Juno manages to make audiences laugh far more frequently than one would expect for a film about teenage pregnancy. Juno’s method for dealing with awkward situations is making jokes in her unique, deadpan style. As a bonus, she’s an intelligent high-schooler, which is somewhat of a rarity in film.

Olive Penderghast, “Easy A” (2010). Played by Emma Stone.

Classic moment: “Marianne Bryant is the secretary of the student council, chairman of the Orange Blossom Dance Committee, and president of the Cross Your Heart Club – a club dedicated to shoving their beliefs down people’s throats.”

The world first took notice Emma Stone in 2007’s “Superbad,” but her performance of Olive Penderghast in “Easy A” was when we realized that she’s something special (…and may even go on to win the Oscar for best actress). Olive is just the typical teenager, who lies about sleeping with people and becomes the most promiscuous girl at her school. Watching her untangle herself from the “he said, she said,” nonsense is made all the better by Olive’s witty commentary.

Fat Amy, “Pitch Perfect” (2012). Played by Rebel Wilson.

Classic moment: “I can sing, but I’m also good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing which is a little different. You usually start on the ground.”

“Pitch Perfect” is an all-around hilarious film, but there’s no doubt that Rebel Wilson steals the show with her Fat Amy performance. From her Australian accent to her unusual comments and her self-confidence, Fat Amy is an enigmatic presence in comedy. And the only reason to watch “Pitch Perfect 2.”

Mercedes, “22 Jump Street” (2014). Played by Jillian Bell.

Classic moment: “If you rat me out, I framed my psych prof just for giving me a B minus. He’s in jail now, so don’t fuck with me.”

It’s hard to describe Mercedes without also revealing some serious spoilers for “22 Jump Street.” Let’s just say she’s almost like that one socially inept roommate you had in college, but with the “awkward” factor significantly increased.

Susan Cooper, “Spy” (2015). Played by Melissa McCarthy.

Classic moment: “And fuck you for saying I look anything like that fucking beast…No wonder your dad never had the son he wanted; you fuck that monster once, and you just drop the fucking mike and walk out.”

Susan Cooper is a CIA analyst, which means she’s the in-office back-up for field operatives. When she’s unleashed from her desk to pursue the daughter of an infamous arms dealer, she turns out to be an operative equivalent to James Bond. Only much less graceful, more awkward, and due to the aforementioned traits, funny as hell.  

TV Characters

Elaine Benes, “Seinfeld” (1989-1999). Played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Classic moment: “Although one wonders if ‘War and Peace’ would have been as highly acclaimed as it was if it was published under its original name, ‘War: What is it Good for?’”

Elaine was essentially the only woman in sight on “Seinfeld,” and she was only added because NBC felt the show was too male-centric. Yet the neurotic and hot-tempered writer became an iconic part of the sitcom, due in no small part to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s performance, which earned her two Golden Globe nominations, six Emmy nominations and one Emmy award.

Phoebe Buffay, “Friends” (1994-2004). Played by Lisa Kudrow.

Classic moment: “You know, I run like I did when I was a kid because that’s the only way it’s fun. You know? I mean, didn’t you ever run so fast you thought your legs were gonna fall off, you know, like when you were running towards the swings or running away from Satan?”

In the style of “Friends,” the simplest way to describe Phoebe is “the one who’s really weird.” Known for her random and often nonsensical comments, Phoebe is the only person on friends who could possibly go head-to-head against Joey Tribbiani for the title of “funniest character.”

Kelly Kapoor, “The Office” (2005-2013). Played by Mindy Kaling.

Classic moment: “Ultimatums are key. Basically nobody does anything for me anymore unless I threaten to kill myself.”

As Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s key customer service representative, Kelly is a chatterbox and drama queen through every part of the show. She sports a knack for one-sided conversations about trivial topics, and working with her is probably what it would be like to work with a 16-year-old girl. The funniest part, though, is that adults like her actually do exist.

April Ludgate, “Parks and Recreation” (2009-2015). Played by Aubrey Plaza.

Classic moment: “Can you Photoshop your life with better decisions, Jerry?”

April spent most of her time on “Parks and Rec” as the park department’s intern. Her unenthusiastic attitude pleases the misanthrope in all of us (I don’t care what you think; we’re all at least a little misanthropic deep down!). April is the character who says everything you’ve ever wanted to say to an annoying coworker. Of course, we know that she’s actually a sweetheart, so her more deplorable actions are forgivable.

Gina Linetti, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (2013-present). Played by Chelsea Peretti.

Classic moment: “I’ll distract the file clerk. Apparently, he’s really into birdwatching, so talking to a woman should blow his mind. And talking to this woman…it could kill him.”  

If you don’t know Gina, the best way to define her is as the queen of sass. As the civilian administrator for Brooklyn’s 99th precinct, Gina easily and remorselessly mocks anyone and everyone she works with, while never looking up from her smartphone.

Ilana Wexler, “Broad City” (2014-present). Played by Ilana Glazer.

Classic moment: “The ‘va-yine-ya’ is nature’s pocket. It’s natural, and responsible.”

As one of the leads for the webseries-turned-TV-show “Broad City,” Ilana is literally blazin’ a trail in the stoner comedy genre. While most stoner comedies are full of laziness and penis jokes, we usually don’t get to enjoy the same type of humor from female characters in the genre. For Ilana, no topic is taboo. Watching her endlessly babble about her vagina, her sex life and her weed (to many strangers’ chagrin) is what drives the laughter for “Broad City.”

Rebecca Bunch, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (2015-present). Played by Rachel Bloom.

Classic moment: “Here is a list of all of the objects that I can hold under my boobs: stapler, ten pencils, paperback copy of ‘Arabian Knights,’ dog bone, remote control, hardback copy of ‘Wuthering Heights.’”

At the start of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Rebecca is an intelligent, respected and successful lawyer in New York City. However, when she’s offered a partnership at her law firm, she panics, deciding to quit and move to West Covina, California in pursuit of her first love. Although the CW show has suffered from low ratings, Rachel Bloom’s performance has not gone unnoticed by critics, who have deemed the show a “charming, eccentric commentary on human relationships.”

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