It’s this punishing history that makes today’s performers/memoirists, and their impulse to be gentle with themselves and openly encouraging toward other women, so striking. Jane Austen, for instance, was scathingly hilarious on the topic of gender relations, power and social mores.
Her social dissections were based on her own experiences of trying to survive in a world wholly shaped by gender and class inequality.
Phyllis Diller, a woman so hell-bent on infiltrating comedy’s men’s club that in 1983 she dressed in drag to sneak into the all-male Friars Club, managed to insinuate herself into her profession by making her looks the subject of her biting, harsh sets.
In it, the comedian traffics in lots of frank, gender-inflected, stop-beating-yourself-up-ladies advice that became the hallmark of her years on “Saturday Night Live”(“Ladies … ”) and as the ambitious, Rodham-Clintonian public servant Leslie Knope on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”Poehler’s tips are mostly aimed at women—about sex (“Don’t let your kids sleep in your bed”); getting over divorce (“Someday you will wake up feeling 51 percent happy and slowly, molecule by molecule, you will feel like yourself again”) and aging (“You know those exercise pools where the water comes at you strong and you have to swim against it to build up your strength?
My husband peeked and booed.” Diller’s contemporary, Joan Rivers, was a more complicated case, but her style was rooted in the same school of brutal self-deprecation.