Celebrating SNL's Funniest Women

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There’s a highly anticipated star-studded event coming up—and no, we’re not talking about the Oscars or Fashion Week. The 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live is this weekend. The show has introduced the world to some of the best comedians in history—including some of the funniest women ever, such as Joan Cusack, Jane Curtin, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

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Jane Curtin challenged boundaries as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

It used to be that female entertainers could be funny or pretty—you couldn’t be both. In 1929, Lucille Ball began her career in show business as a model. Phyllis Diller, on the other hand, wore cartoonish costumes and outlandish makeup while performing, but when the Playboy editors thought it’d be funny to get an unsexy woman like her to pose on the centerfold, the joke was on them: the photos had to be scrapped because underneath the hideous costume, Diller was a babe. She was too sexy for Playboy: “I was hot as a pistol in the ’60s, and they thought I was skinny. Well, I never was bony-ugly skinny — I was shaped like a lady, and I actually had big t-ts! — so I wasn’t what they were looking for at all,” she told TVGuide.com in 2006. It’s no surprise that Joan Rivers once said, “Men find funny women threatening. They ask me, ‘Are you going to be funny in bed?’”

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Gilda Radner playing recurring character Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live.

When Lorne Michaels created SNL in 1975, the female cast members—with Gilda Radner as the first female hire—were more of the supporting players. Oftentimes, when the sketch needed a female character, a man in drag was used instead. Tim Meadows portrayed Oprah Winfrey, Kenan Thompson was Whoopi Goldberg, and who can forget David Spade, Chris Farley, and Adam Sandler as the Gap girls? Many of the female-led sketches enhanced their frumpiness rather than their looks. Gilda Radner’s infamous Roseanne Roseannadanna character was brash, unabashedly revealing about body functions, with garish makeup and hair that looked like she put her finger in a socket. 

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But the scales were tipped in 1999 when a new era of strong, brilliant, and hysterical women began ruling the show. Tina Fey was named head writer of SNL and later the co-anchor of Weekend Update that year. Along with Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig these women proved you could be pretty, too. Fey appeared on the cover of March 2010 Vogue and Poehler appeared on the February 2014 cover of Elle. No more and/or in the world of comedy.

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Both Fey and Poehler have written about beauty in their memoirs, Bossypants and Yes Please, respectively. Fey wrote, “If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” Poehler also regularly doles out advice about confidence to young women and girls on her YouTube channel, Smart Girls

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Tina Fey and Amy Poehler played Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, respectively, on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 presidential elections.

To celebrate the amazing women on SNL, here are some of the funniest clips from Saturday Night Live—starring some of our favorite female comedians:

Weekend Update: Heather on Being a One-Dimensional Female Character (2014)

Cecily Strong plays a one-dimensional female character from a male-driven rom-com who re-enacts an entire movie in three minutes.

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton Address the Nation (2008)

During the 2008 presidential elections, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton addressed sexist comments about women in politics.

Maya Angelou Prank Show (2012)

Maya Rudolph plays Maya Angelou in a prank show called “I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs!” Every time she pranks someone, the victim has a moment of poetic enlightenment.

The Real Housewives of Disney (2012)

Lindsay Lohan, Kristen Wiig, Abby Elliott, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer star as the Disney Princesses in a parody of the Real Housewives franchise.

Nerd Prom (1978)

Gilda Radner plays a nerdy girl getting ready for high school prom and getting an awkward sex talk from her mom.

Mom Jeans (2003)

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph star in a commercial for unflattering Mom Jeans—little did they know that normcore would become a trend and that Mom Jeans would be sold at Urban Outfitters.

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