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We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy Hardcover – October 16, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Kohen’s lively oral history traces female comedians in America during the last six decades, showing how women doggedly fought their way into what was considered a male arena and thrived. The chronicle begins with the late, great Phyllis Diller, whom Kohen interviewed before her death, in August. Diller turned her own life into comedy, offering up joke after joke about being housewife to a loutish husband. While Diller mastered rapid-fire stand-up, Joan Rivers got her start lamenting her single status, and Lily Tomlin created eccentric characters. When Saturday Night Live came on the scene in 1975, Gilda Radner’s caricatures of public figures and original creations made an impression. Men largely dominated the show until the mid–1990s, when Molly Shannon’s hyperactive Catholic teen, Mary-Catherine Gallagher, became a sensation, paving the way for funny ladies Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig to make it big in the next decade. Filled with recollections from comedians, comedy-club owners, and writers, this remarkable oral history is a must-read for entertainment buffs. --Kristine Huntley

From Bookforum

Kohen winds up presenting a sort of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride of female comedy, one that inadvertently advances the notion that sorting comics based on a pair of chromosomes makes more sense than, say, tossing them into one of two groups: Funny and Not That Funny. From the hot-pink cover to the emotional high five of a title, Kohen's book has that whiff of feminist rallying that renders so much of the for-women, about-women universe faintly uncomfortable. —Heather Havrilesky
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; First Edition edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374287236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374287238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
We Killed is like reading a good documentary film. It's organized roughly chronologically, from the 1960s to the present. The emphasis is on stand up comedy and TV. Author Yael Kohen introduces each chapter with a little background, then lets everyone speak for herself. Sometimes it seems as if there are several people in the same room, reminiscing and telling stories. Just as with the documentary film, the filmmaker, or in this case, the writer, is almost invisible to the viewer. Her questions aren't included and her remarks at the beginning of each chapter are brief.

At first, I thought the format was a awkward and I wanted a little more to connect the conversations, but then I forgot the format and was just enjoying reading about all these women (and a few men) talking about what it was like to write, perform, and get a foot in the door.

If you ever mistakenly thought that women aren't funny, you just have to read the lineup in this book to remind you of all the women who have made us laugh since the 1960s. Carol Burnett, Penny Marshall, Lily Tomlin, Mary Tyler Moore, and dozens more are all here. Even though Kohen includes a wide cross-section of women in comedy, you're bound to notice some of the women who aren't in the book, such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Betty White. The sheer number of notable women in comedy should prove the point that women are funny, and these are just the women on screen.

Reading about how some of my favorites got their starts was fun, but the real power of this book is in how the women dealt with the various degrees of sexism that existed in the 1960s and in many cases still exist today.
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Format: Hardcover
While I think this book is an important one, I wish the author had concentrated just on women in stand-up comedy, especially since her historical knowledge of other fields, like TV broadcasting history, is greatly lacking. She begins her look at women as a force in the sitcom genre with "Mary Tyler Moore" which didn't debut until 1970! ?She thereby erases many important women on the screen and behind the scenes who were on the air long before "MTM." After all what about Madelyn Pugh Davies, she wrote a little show called "I Love Lucy." Other early female comedy writers include Selma Diamond, Lucille Kallen (from "Your Show of Shows"), Gertrude Berg and Peg Lynch, just to name a few. Furthermore to state that sitcoms pre-"MTM" never featured any single working women beyond "school teachers" (like Eve Arden in "Our Miss Brooks") is inaccurate as well. What about Ann Sothern as a hotel manager on her second sitcom, "The Ann Sothern Show" or Gale Storm as a ship's cruise director on her sitcom? Such narrow historical recounting doesn't do any favors for the readers and certainly not for women.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This well researched and written book is filled almost exclusively with quotes. As I am an older adult, I am familiar with the work of early female comedians, but have begun to lose touch with all but the top names over the last ten years. To augment my understanding of everyone's talent, I copied the performer list from the book and have used it to find and watch videos of their works.

I read the book on a Kindle PaperWhite (I love this reader!), but on this platform, it is difficult to switch back and forth between multiple pages and track names. After reading it, I pulled the book into my desktop Kindle app, and copied the list of interviewees into a Word document so that I could continue my research (and laughing).

As time goes buy, it'll become more and more important to couple this book with performance videos, an activity that is exceptionally rewarding!

My takeaway is that what seems effortless requires an enormous amount of study and practice, but even more important is association with like-minded people. And I am impressed with the need by comedians for audience time! As a writer myself (and one who is now studying how to create informative videos), I, too, need feedback and friendship, or the act of writing becomes valueless. While a good stage today is the provided by the Intranet, a production by itself is not enough without eliciting a response.

If you are researching tips on how to be a better entertainer (or creative person), want to know more about many fabulously funny people, and be inspired by the progression of talents over time, this is the book for you.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Yael Kohen writes, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy at the time of and in response to Christopher Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair proclaiming women aren’t funny.

“Comedy has always reflected society- its values, taboos, norms. Surely, then, it only makes sense that the rise of women in comedy has run parallel to the rise of women in out society” (5). This is one of several hooks in the introduction, however I lost interest hereafter.

Kohen’s introductions to chapters are concise, consisting mostly of history with a sprinkle of her own observation.
The format of the book is awkward. Each paragraph is an oral account of club proprietors, writers, performers, producers, etc.- the name and profession in bold type followed by their personal story. The problem with this is, the book gave little indication of its format, thus confusing me right out the gate. Another reason this is troublesome is because it doesn’t move the history along. There is an abundance of information embedded in the oral accounts and I learned a great deal, but I felt like I had to hunt for the information. Not everything accounted for needed to be recounted.

Kohen’s book is well researched and surely informative. I loved learning how women dealt with sexism in each of their generations, past to present. I learned Phyllis Diller preferred to work gay clubs because they were chic; the audience had higher brow expectations for jokes unlike the vaudeville clubs.
I appreciate Kohen creating an inclusive environment in her book- men and women participate in the discussion- this is how feminism is thrives and paradigms begin to shift.

Kohen does a wonderful job researching and including so many wonderful people, but I feel there might be a few missing pieces.
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