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8 Women Who Changed Comedy Forever

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Today’s entertainment world is packed with brilliant female comedic minds. But it wasn’t always so easy for women to make their mark in the boys’ club of comedy. Comediennes of today stand on the shoulders of many hilarious women that came before them. Here’s a look at just a few of the ladies who made an indelible mark on the American comedic landscape.

1. Fanny Brice

It’s fair to say that without Fanny Brice there might very well never have been a Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. Born in 1891, Brice left school at an early age to become a burlesque performer, which is how she was eventually discovered by legendary entertainment impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. After skyrocketing to stardom in his Ziegfeld Follies, Brice went on to star on Broadway and in numerous motion pictures. She has been referred to as “America’s first female comedy superstar.” Years after her 1951 death, Brice was portrayed in the Broadway and film productions of Funny Girl, the latter of which won Barbra Streisand a Best Actress Oscar in 1969.

2. Lucille Ball

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Lucille Ball (along with her then-husband Desi Arnaz) deserves much of the credit for the television sitcom as we know it today. No television program before I Love Lucy, which ran from 1951 to 1957, had ever used a three-camera setup or filmed in front of a live studio audience. So those crowd reactions during iconic moments like the candy conveyor belt or grape-squashing scenes? Those are actual human audience members screaming out in laughter for one of the first times in television history. I Love Lucy was also one of the first TV shows ever to be sold into syndication, which is why you can still regularly catch reruns of the iconic sitcom today, over 60 years after its premiere. Back in 2012 it was reported that CBS was still making around $20 million annually from I Love Lucy syndication deals.

3. Phyllis Diller

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Long before Roseanne ever made the jump from housewife to comedy superstar, Phyllis Diller did the exact same thing—and blazed a trail for every female comedian who followed. Often cited as the very first female standup celebrity, Diller was widely known for her trademark wild hairstyle and off-the-wall outfits. But when it came to her material, Diller was serious business. Rather than performing song-and-dance routines or other flashy gimmicks like many other female performers of the day, Diller simply told jokes. And she told them so well that Guinness once recognized her comedic volume by conferring on her the world record for most laughs per minute. Countless fellow comedians, like fellow icon Joan Rivers, list Diller as an influence, which explains why she’s often referred to as the “Queen of Comedy.”

4., 5., and 6. Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Anne Beatts, and Rosie Shuster 

Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Anne Beatts, and Rosie Shuster’s names may not ring an immediate bell, but their work certainly does: They were the lone three female writers during the first season of Saturday Night Live, helping to shape the formative first year of what would become a comedy institution.

In addition to SNL, Miller also wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the award-winning Lily Tomlin television special, Lily. On Saturday Night Live she helped created the Festrunk Brothers (a.k.a. “two wild and crazy guys”) and some of Gilda Radner’s most popular characters. Beatts also spent time writing for National Lampoon magazine, one of the most revered publications in the history of American humor. Miller, Beatts, and Shuster helped pave the way for later SNL scribes like Tina Fey, who in 1999 would become the show’s first female head writer.

7. Whoopi Goldberg

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Don’t let The View be the thing that springs to mind when you hear the name Whoopi Goldberg. She began as a masterful live stage performer, using character-based monologues to simultaneously generate laughter and introspection about modern society. After starring on Broadway she was recruited into the world of motion pictures by none other than Steven Spielberg to star in his 1985 film adaptation of The Color Purple, and earned an Oscar nomination for her work in the film. In 1991, Goldberg became the first African American woman in more than half a century to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Ghost. That award serves as just one component of her lifetime honors; she is one of only 12 people to ever “EGOT” (a.k.a. to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) and she was the first woman ever presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

8. Mitzi Shore

By The Comedy Store [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Though she isn’t a performer, Mitzi Shore has helped launch the careers of some of the most famous comedians of the last 50 years. As the co-founder and operator of the Los Angeles standup club The Comedy Store, Shore has helped introduce the world to the likes of Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Sam Kinison, and dozens of other A-list names. She also worked to break the comedy glass ceiling by creating a special standup venue that only allowed female comics on stage, and launched comedy nights designed specifically for LGBT performers.

After the club’s frequent acts banded together to go on strike requesting to be compensated for their performances, Shore began paying performers $25 per show. The decision had a nationwide impact on the standup comedy profession. An article in TIME noted that:

The strike's impact was far-reaching. Comedy clubs in New York City began paying their comics as well. Clubs that were springing up around the country were then forced to boost their fees too, to lure more top comics out on the road—launching the comedy club boom of the 1980s.

As of a few years ago, Tom Hanks’s film production company was working on a film based on Shore and her famous Comedy Store. (Yes, she is also Pauly Shore’s mom.)

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

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