One of the worst takes in modern pop culture is the idea that women aren’t funny. Men have been saying this, jokingly or otherwise, for many years. And despite being proven false time and time again, the stereotype still exists. But lately, things have been turning around. See, hilarious comediennes on TV date back to the very beginning of the small screen, but they didn’t start getting recognition for this for decades. And even still, the number of men in comedies always seemed to outnumber women. Despite this unbalance, ladies on TV have outshone their male counterparts time and time again. These are the women who have made us laugh no matter what. Any they’ve done so more than the men they’re acting opposite of. They’ve proven that more often than not, women are not only funny but are the best part of the show.
17. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld)
This ‘90s comedy has gone down in history for its nondescript premise and memorable bits. Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are New Yorkers. They spend their time whining at a diner booth and getting themselves into strange predicaments. If you weren’t a fan, you undoubtedly know someone who was. But interestingly, of the four main characters, it’s the only woman who has gone on to have the most successful career. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has helmed not one, but two popular comedies since Seinfeld went off the air in 1998. And she has the accolades to prove it. Louis-Dreyfus has won eight Emmys — tied with Cloris Leachman for the most of any performer. The show may have been named after co-creator and star Jerry Seinfeld, but it was Elaine who captured our hearts.
16. Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Saturday Night Live has a long history of putting white men before everyone else. It wasn’t until Tina Fey became the show’s first female head writer in the late ‘90s that things started to change just a little. There have, of course, been many, many amazing women on the show. But Kate McKinnon is a standout among the rest. The sketch comedy show was in a bit of slump in the post-Tina Fey era. But things began to turn around in 2013 — which is, not coincidentally when McKinnon began her tenure as a regular cast member. Her Hillary Clinton impression may be what she’s best known for and became a staple in almost every show during the politician’s 2016 presidential campaign. McKinnon also has the hype to back up her talent. She has been nominated for the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmy four years in a row. Not only that but when she won in 2015, she was the first SNL performer to do so in over 20 years. There’s just no denying she’s the funniest one on that stage.
15. Mila Kunis (That ’70s Show)
Actress Mila Kunis is now known as an A-list comedic star. But just like everyone else in the biz, she had to work her way up. Perhaps still her best-known role is as Jackie Burkhart on That ’70s Show, where she met her future husband, Ashton Kutcher. For eight seasons, the ditzy, princess character grew up before our eyes, as did Kunis herself. After all, the actress was only 14 when she nabbed the role, which she did by lying about her age. So it’s doubly impressive that she managed to be a standout on the sitcom. Now Kunis (along with Kutcher) boasts the most successful career of any of her castmates, with a number of starring film roles under her belt. She’s also teamed up with Kate McKinnon for her upcoming comedy. There’s just no stopping this impressive entertainer.
14. Megan Mullally (Will & Grace)
Today, Will & Grace is yet another rebooted sitcom from the days when multi-cams were still good. But at the time of its original run, it was actually fairly revolutionary. Not only did the show star two gay main characters, but it did so in a respectful way, depicting them as people rather than stereotypes. The eponymous characters of the series were funny, yes, but they typically played the “straight man” role to Jack and Karen. And Karen, portrayed by Megan Mullally, was especially hilarious. From her high-pitched voice to her outlandish comments, Mullally was always on, and delighted viewers endlessly. The role was Mullally’s first major one. But despite this, she was nominated for the Supporting Actress Emmy seven times in a row, winning her first and last times. She’s acted steadily ever since and, of course, came back for the revival of the show that put her on the map.
13. Claudia O’Doherty (Love)
Despite having just finished up its three-season run on Netflix, Love hasn’t been a major part of the pop culture conversation for some time. In fact, it never really was. The series, which was co-created by the guy’s guy of rom-coms, Judd Apatow, had a premise that was somehow both too specific and too general, as it followed millennial residents of Los Angeles as they tried to connect and find lasting romance. While it managed to be poignant much of the time, it definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy. Except in one case. The Australian roommate of the main female character, Mickey, Claudia O’Doherty’s earnest Bertie delights at every turn. While Gus and Mickey play games and make the audience cringe, O’Doherty’s perfect comedic timing and wholly wonderful character makes the series worth watching.
12. Bitty Schram (Monk)
One doesn’t have to be an award-winning actress to surpass their co-stars where it counts. For three seasons, Bitty Schram played Sharona Fleming on Monk opposite the incomparable Tony Shalhoub. But while the eponymous character stole our hearts, it was Sharona who brought the laughs. Schram isn’t known for much else aside from her role on the procedural. She hasn’t been seen on screen a lot either. In fact, over the last decade, she’s only appeared in one film and one TV episode. Even if she doesn’t make a resurgence on the big or small screens, we’ll always remember her for the times she left us chuckling.
11. Jessica Walter (Arrested Development)
With an impressive ensemble cast, it’s nearly impossible to stand out. Arrested Development is certainly one of those casts, featuring the likes of Jason Bateman, David Cross, and Jeffrey Tambor. But time and time again, Jessica Walter is a scene stealer. Walter’s Lucille Bluth is everything a mother shouldn’t be — cold, selfish, and almost always drunk. That’s where most of her laughs come from: her sheer ineptitude as a mom. But the matriarch has more depth, and those are the moments in which she truly shines. Few could forget the gag where Lucille is shocked by private investigator Gene Parmesan in costume. Or her complete inability to wink. While doubled over laughing at these moments, it’s easy to see why the actress has had a long and impressive career.
10. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911)
Improvisational comedy is not easy — anyone can tell you that. But somehow, Wendi McLendon-Covey makes it look like a breeze on Reno 911. The actress starred on the mockumentary series for five of its six-season run. And she knocked it out of the park again and again as Deputy Clementine Johnson. The trashy blonde Clemmy may be the most memorable of McLendon-Covey’s roles, but it may not even be her best. She held her own alongside Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, and currently stars on The Goldbergs as the overly protective matriarch, Beverly, a very different character than the one that made her famous.
9. Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)
She’s now an international movie star, but once upon a time, she was just Sookie on Gilmore Girls. She made us laugh a lot in on that show, for sure, but as for gigs opposite a man, it’s starring role on the long-running sitcom Mike & Molly that proves she’s funnier than the boys. The series is a simple one about a couple living in Chicago, but it was clear from the very beginning that McCarthy was the standout. Not only did she win an Emmy for her performance, but it was right around this time that she began to land the film roles that shot her to superstardom. By the time the series ended, McCarthy had proven she could balance big-budget movies and a starring TV role all at once, and she hasn’t slowed down since.
8. Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope)
Looking back, Raising Hope was kind of a fluke. Who would want to watch a show about a twentysomething who, while still living at home with his parents, has to raise his infant daughter after her mother is executed on death row for being a serial killer? On paper, it seems ridiculous, but the heartwarming comedy about growing up and making ends meet as a family was wholly entertaining and underappreciated. Everyone in the cast was hilarious, but Martha Plimpton’s Virginia Chance was both relatable and completely absurd. She had to take care of everything, the way so many mothers do, but ultimately, she was just as lost as those around her. Plimpton was nominated for an Emmy for the role, so clearly, she stood out.
7. Tina Fey (30 Rock)
While most of these women were standouts in ensemble casts or as supporting roles, Tina Fey was always meant to be the star of 30 Rock. After all, it was her show from the ground up: concept, creation, writing, and starring. The character of Liz Lemon was all at once grounded and outlandish — quintessential Fey. But she filled her supporting cast with incredible supporting characters, all of whom held their own, and then some. Of course, none could top her — her various awards and all of the memes inspired by Liz Lemon certainly prove that. Fey is a seamless performer, and the character of Liz — which was inspired by another actress on this list, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — is probably her greatest ever.
6. Aisha Tyler (Archer)
Vocal performances have a place here, too. Some of the greatest comedies in today’s landscape are animated. And among the cream of the crop is the long-running FX sitcom, Archer. H. Jon Benjamin’s eponymous character is, of course, hilarious. But it really is the ladies of this cast that bring the funny. Chief among them is Lana Kane, voiced by underappreciated Aisha Tyler. Despite playing the straight man comedy character, it’s her relationship that Archer (and all of her colleagues, really) that shows off her skill. Comparable to her is Archer’s mom, Malory — but it wouldn’t be fair to give Jessica Walter another slot on this list.
5. Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl)
Before there was Raising Hope, creator Greg Garcia had My Name Is Earl, another surprisingly delightful sitcom about a family in a small, rural area. And while the series is named after Jason Lee’s character, it’s another actor that takes the cake in the humor department. Jaime Pressly is Joy, Earl’s ex-wife and, well, kind of a jerk. She’s money-hungry and lies quite a bit, but in the end, she’s trying to be a good mom to her children. Pressly is another actress who often flies under the radar, but her exceptional acting on the show was recognized with an Emmy, so at least she is appreciated where it counts.
4. Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish)
At this point, anyone who isn’t watching Black-ish has at the very least heard about the series. The sitcom follows Andre Johnson, the patriarch of an upper-middle class family living in Los Angeles, who struggles to balance the charmed life he leads with the lessons learned during his very different childhood growing up in Compton. Alongside him is his wife, Rainbow, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Rainbow manages to raise five children while working as an anesthesiologist, and she knows how impressive that is. She’s smart, outgoing, and flawed — but in such a way that the humor that comes from that realization isn’t demeaning to her. Ross has been recognized for her role with a Golden Globe, and it’s likely she’ll continue to make us laugh as Rainbow for years to come.
3. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat)
Another groundbreaking comedy that looks at race is Fresh Off the Boat. The sitcom depicts an American family in ‘90s who move to a community where they are among the only Asian people. The family consists of three boys, their father, and their mother. And once again, the primary woman is the most entertaining character. Constance Wu’s Jessica has layers. She has to, as a tough but loving mother tasked with keeping everyone else in line. Her performance is delightful, and she has been twice-nominated for both a TCA and a Critics’ Choice Award. So she’s obviously doing something right.
2. Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers)
Actress Kristen Schaal currently stars on not one, but two series. She voices spunky daughter Louise on Bob’s Burgers and she stars as the nutty but lovable Carol on The Last Man on Earth. Schaal has cracked us up since she first appeared as Hazel Wassername on 30 Rock, and has been acting steadily ever since. On Last Man, Schaal is definitely one of the best in the cast. But it’s Bob’s Burgers where she really stands out. Louise is the intelligent, scheming youngest child in the family of five, and is without a doubt the best part of almost every episode she’s in. Though the Fox series hasn’t brought her any individual awards, Schaal was nominated for an Emmy for yet another voice-acting role, this time for her guest spot on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. Is there anything she can’t do?
1. Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy)
Saving the best for last, Lucille Ball could be called the First Lady of comedy. The physical comedienne starred in several sitcoms (all of which she also produced), most notably the legendary I Love Lucy. It’s no secret that Ball was the star of everything she did, both in name and in talent. She won four Emmys in her lifetime, and received multiple lifetime achievement awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, both before and after her death in 1989. Ball continued working up until she passed, but she’ll always be best known for lighting up our TV screens on I Love Lucy.