The Mike & Carla Morning Show

The Mike & Carla Morning Show

The Mike & Carla Morning Show

The Comedy Super Women Who Inspired Me

I believe laughter is universally one of the most amazing things on earth. The feeling you get from a full on belly laugh, or a laugh till you pee, laugh – it’s freeing. And it’s healthy.

Comedy: What’s Funny, What’s Not, And Why

It’s definitely easier to make some people laugh, than others. I mean funny is funny, But what is funny to one person is not to another. There’s an old joke among comedians: How many comedians does it take to change a lightbulb? Three. One to change it, and two to ask each other “how long is he/she going to be up there?” Might not make you laugh, because it’s kind of an inside joke among young comedians, who are fighting to get stage time.

How about this one, my psychologist friend told me: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb. Only one. But the bulb has to want to change. Funny!!

As a comedian, it’s about getting hundreds, or thousands, to laugh at the same thing. I’ve been doing comedy for 40 years, and that has never changed. But what is funny often changes, because of changing times, and attitudes. But to get a whole room of people laughing at what I am saying? Well, that’s my drug.

Comedy Super Women

Women’s History Month got me thinking about how I got my start in comedy, and the female comics who inspired me.

I knew I wanted to do comedy from the time I was about 8 years old. I would often wake up, and turn on the TV very low, and watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. That’s where I first saw that a woman could do exactly what a man could do – as a comedian. A woman name Totie Fields.

Even though I didn’t totally understand all of Totie Fields material at the time, she made me laugh hysterically! She was talking about things that women talked about at the time. And very honestly. Like no woman I had ever seen.  Then I saw Joan Rivers. And I knew.

My father was an entertainer, who actually used to work with some of these funny women. He, and my amazing mom, both encouraged me and supported me. Always telling me I  could be whatever I wanted to be

So I started writing material – or things I thought were funny – around 10 years old. I knew I was going to be a comedienne (the word for a female comedian. Which is rarely ever used anymore, because comedy is very gender neutral now – thank God).

For Comedians

I loved making people laugh! Probably some psychological reason for that, as an overweight kid – which I found out later in life. But it was good for me. And I’ve had such a great career because of comedy. And because I took a negative – kids picking on the chubby girl –  and turned it into a wonderful positive: making jokes about the bullies to their face – and they laughed. What a high!

It felt great the first time I got laughs on the playground, the first time I performed a set in high school in the talent show, and the first comedy club I worked. And on TV shows, and specials, and on radio. Even though radio is far less immediate in response, I have a radio partner, and producer, who are great laughers! And listener, who are a great audience.

Along with my amazing, and funny mom –  here’s to the women of comedy that inspired ME. I was lucky enough to work with some of them, and I am forever grateful!

  • 1. Totie Fields

    Totie Fields was hilariously funny. Her delivery, her attitude, her style – it was spot on. And at the time, she was a bit raunchy – and it was great! Ed Sullivan, Laugh-In, The Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Merv, Carol Burnett – you name it, she did every show. She was huge. And her panty hose bit. As a young woman – freaking hilarious!! She worked at The Sahara in Las Vegas regularly, and people truly loved her. Sadly, she was a diabetic, and at that time, it wasn’t quite as treatable as it is now. Totie had one of her legs amputated, but continued to perform. Breast surgery, phlebitis, heart attacks. She died at 48 years old. Many don’t remember her because she wasn’t with us nearly long enough. Ask any comedian – she was one of the best.

    The Sahara sign in Las Vegas, at night

     

  • 2. Phyllis Diller

    Not only was she funny, but Phyllis Diller made herself look funny, as well. The goofy outfits, the makeup. Her voice was that kind of scratchy, and when she laughed it was this hilarious cackle! She joked about marriage, her mother in law, and her husband “Fang.” It was the first time a woman had really done it the way she did. Biting, but loving. Oh, and that long cigarette holder – classic! She paved the way for more of those character comedians – like Judy Tenuta, Larry the Cable Guy.

    Black and white picture of Phyllis Diller looking silly from the side of a door.

     

  • 3. Elayne Boosler

    I saw Elayne Boosler on The Tonight Show for the first time, and thought “cool – comedy is changing for women!” She was so very real! But she wasn’t on with Johnny Carson. Legend has it, he didn’t like her the one time she did the show with him. Told his people never to have her on again. Elayne was the first “club comic” I really knew, and followed. She broke ground, as the time. for the REAL women of comedy. and she started with so many of the other comedy club greats: Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis, Seinfeld, Carol Leifer.

    Comedian Elayne Boosler in a white  tank tom

  • 4. Paula Poundstone

    Paula Poundstone was funny, and quirky – and I loved it! She gave off this free, and honest feeling onstage. And she has a cadence that pulls you in, and has you waiting for her next words. Paula was the first female to host a White House Correspondents Dinner. Her spontaneity is quietly mindblowing, and her material is so distinct, that you would often know it was Paula, even if you just saw it written out. Paula Poundstone is definitely one of my comedy (s)heroes!

    Paula Poundstone in suit with yellow tie

     

     

  • 5. Joan Rivers

    Everyone knew Joan Rivers. To me, she was probably the definitive “female” comic, at the time, and in many ways the definitive comedian. She made it ok to do any type of humor. She would sometimes pick on a physically disabled person. One once said that she loved it, because it made her feel just like everyone else! She came back after her husband’s very sad suicide, with a freshness. She never really had to change with the times – although she did – but it seems more like she changed the times, when it came to comedy. She got away with so much, because she was so strong in her material, and her delivery, and her conviction. She inspired a lot of comedians – female and male alike. She was one of a kind, and will forever be just that.

    Joan Rivers standing behind Carla Rea

     

  • 6. Kathleen Madigan

    Kathleen Madigan is a friend. I’ve known her for 30 years. There are some comedians that even another comedian will watch, and say, “why am I even doing this?” Madigan is so naturally funny, that it’s almost scary. There’s the expression “some people say things funny, and some people say funny things.” There is a difference – especially in comedy. But Kathleen has it covered. And she does both! I truly have never seen, or worked with another comedian who so easily makes everything funny. She inspired me from the first time I saw her, to now. And she helped me a lot along the way. Her material is non-gender specific, and she does it better than anyone!

    Kathleen Madigan and Carla Rea standing next to each other with arms around each others shoulders

     

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