We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy
Author: Yael Kohen
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Released: October 2012
It was about six months ago when I was on my honeymoon in a small "mom and pop" book store when I first saw "We Killed" on the bookshelf. The hot pink jacket and familiar title jumped off the shelf at me.(There is another book that I own "I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics") Since I was on my honeymoon and didn't want to spend the rest of it engrossed in a book I snapped a photo of the cover and reminded my wife that Christmas was coming. I finally found some time and got around to reading this gem of a book.
It's hard to describe Yael Kohen's book without essentially repeating the title. In "We Killed" she examines the history, role and perception of women in modern day comedy. From Phyllis Diller to Sarah Silverman and everything in between Yael tactfully moves the reader through the struggles(perceived or otherwise) that have faced women through the years.
The book reads like a transcript of a documentary with snippets of conversions and interviews intertwined to tell the story. Yael does her best to get out of the way in that regard and let's the people who lived the moments tell their stories. And to her credit Yael gets "everyone" to participate. There are stories and antidotes from Joan Rivers, Marget Cho, Lisa Kudrow, Lilly Tomlin, Paula Poundstone, Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler and the list goes on and on. Their insight is invaluable in providing context and depth to the hurdles that women had to, and continue to face.
As an amateur comedy historian I found this book to be enthralling. I've read countless books on where the genre is and where it's been but rarely do women get anything more than a mention or footnote so it was nice to get another perspective on things. Furthermore, the pacing is brisk and I feel like Yael gives everyone and every topic the time and reflection it deserves.
Finally the thing I found most fascinating was the message that was being delivered by the females themselves. I got the sense that some were hesitant to really open up and share everything they went through in an effort to protect how far they've come in the industry(as a group or individually). However the overwhelming theme from generation to generation was that in their eye's sex shouldn't matter and they should be judged solely on the quality of their work and nothing more. In the end, isn't that what we all want?