5 Underrated Female Comedy Classics Quietly Keeping Us Laughing

By: Sam Fletcher, September 27th, 2023 10:09 am.

Some comedy greats are before their time, while other great comedy flies under the radar. When it comes to female writers, many get overlooked, unfortunately. But here, we’ll try to help rectify that by attempting to put at least some of it back on the map.

So here are some quiet classics that have kept us laughing it up.

Oreo Fran Ross (1974)

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Structured around the odyssey of Theseus, this is one wild ride.

Raised by her grandparents in Philadelphia, Oreo has a Jewish father and black mother. While her mother tours with a theatrical group, her father, Sam Schwartz, lives in New York. And it’s New York she heads off to in search of him. But she soon discovers there are countless people with the name Schwartz. All this takes her on a journey, finding her identity and who she is.

I can’t do the story justice, as it turns into a crazy adventure interspersed with magical realism. Along with this are clever word games and a satire of living in the seventies. It doesn’t hold back, hitting you with plenty of crude visuals, upping the ante at every turn. And it’s no understatement when people mention how far ahead of its time this is.

She also wrote for Richard Pryor, giving you an idea of her serious comedic credentials.

At Freddies’sPenelope Fitzgerald (1982)

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An insightful and warm-hearted novel focused on characters.

It’s 1963, and the ‘Temple Stage School’ tutors child actors for London’s West End theaters. Nicknamed ‘Freddie’s’ after the proprietress, Freddie Wentworth enchants everyone she meets. And it’s here that the students and teachers come together to save the school from insolvency.

As Fitzgerald’s books go, this was one of her lighter entries. But she takes the time to build some excellent grounded characterizations. Although there’s also some sadness, the plot’s balanced, making the comic moments far more satisfying.

It also makes sense there’d be a successful stage version given the premise.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar CuisineAlina Bronsky (2011)

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This tale is one horrifying look at parenting gone wrong. And it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy!

Rosa Achmetowna is a Tartar living in the seventies-era Soviet Union. Discovering her seventeen-year-old daughter is pregnant, she doesn’t want the baby born. But, once she is, Rosa immediately takes to her granddaughter Aminat. Soon becoming a teenager herself, Aminat catches the eye of a sleazy German writer. Rosa then uses this to broker a deal with him for the three of them to leave Russia. 

But, once in Germany, the relationship between the three women begins shifting.

Rosalind often skates the edge with her abrasive personality, testing you at every step. You’d avoid her if you ran into her in the street. But here, with the scathing satire hitting worthy targets, she engages us in this dark comedy. The transition from comedy to drama is seamless as well.

And Tim Mohr’s translation is excellent in capturing the tone needed.

Goodbye, VitaminRachel Khong (2017)

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A witty and poignant story of a woman at a turning point in life.

Told through Ruth Young’s diary, she returns home to find her father has Alzheimer’s. Thirty years old, she’s now at a crossroads in life. Ruth and her mother must deal with a medical condition that has no cure. Told with humor and heart, she must now try her best to form a relationship with her father and the man he has become.

One thing about this book is that it never opts for melodramatic cliches, as it could do in a lesser writer’s hands. It’s short, sharp, and snappy, wasting nothing, making the most of its compelling premise. Many describe this book as quirky but don’t let that put you off, as it’s never cloying or over-sentimental.

It mines its subject matter for proper laughs with tact and precision.

Khong obviously has a gift for making the reader laugh with her likable and engaging company.

After ClaudeIris Owens (1973)

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It’s the Manhattan-based flip-side to Ignatius J. Reilly.

Harriet tells us she’s leaving her boyfriend Claude, ‘the French rat,’ in his Greenwich Village apartment. In fact, he’s evicting her, with her abrasive personality cutting through everyday civilities. She’s honest and truthful, and things turn once she meets a guru in New York’s Chelsea Hotel.

There are hints of Dorothy Parker (if she became unhinged, delusional, and genuinely mean) and Carrie Bradshaw. Some may have trouble getting past Harriet’s cruelty, along with the more dated seventies aspects. But once they do, they’ll have fun. Cutting and caustic, it oozes contempt for, well, everyone. And that makes it all the more compelling. You don’t have to like her, but you can put the book down once it’s over.

She’s the one that has to continue living with herself.

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