Last year’s box-office hit Bridesmaids was pretty funny as far as mainstream comedies go. It was also pretty rare, in a genre frequently stacked with men. As movie studio executives begin to see female-led comedies as economically viable investments, more funny women will take the stage in lead roles. This is great news for the improv scene, which has been a feeder for comedy TV and film for decades. We’ve compiled a list of five New York improv performers—plus a nod to some others—you don’t know yet but will. These women have run loops through the local improv circuit at Magnet, Peoples Improv and Upright Citizens Brigade theaters; they’ve worked very hard and in numerous platforms, including writing and performing improv, sketch and standup; they’re also very funny. Enjoy a taste of the best of the New York improv scene and of the future of television.
This Harvard graduate is a staple on improv teams Creature and Charlemagne. She’s a writer and performer who is currently shopping around a web series she co-created called Incognito. She is small but commanding and painfully funny. “It seems women end up more as performers than writers,” she says of her decision to take up both pursuits. “If you want to have power and control, you have to be creating the roles.”
Probably the least well-known of these five, Rothwell knows that making it to the screen isn’t without mindless roadblocks. “I’m a black woman—people put all sorts of expectations on that.” According to Rothwell, though, “It’s not my issue,” she says. “We’re funny. I’m funny. Funny is funny is funny is funny. The conversation is there. It just has to happen at the right level,” the executive level. For her part, Rothwell is extremely talented as a writer, improvist, singer and standup comedienne, performing in numerous groups including duo Hodapp and Rothwell and improv group Seersucker.
Laura Grey’s humor is dark and quirky. She is immensely relatable—but only to those who are also simultaneously mirthful and mean. The former Second City performer moved to New York where she makes web videos for the Klepper and Grey web series, in addition to writing, directing and performing with groups Gramp’s and Still Mike. “The idea that men can’t relate to female characters is insulting to men as well as women,” she says. “If it’s funny, it’s funny. And funny is usually specific. So if a woman draws from her female-ness to find specificity, so be it!”
Sasheer Zamata describes her humor as “a little dark and slightly aggressive.” She writes and acts in a number of capacities, including on improv team Doppelganger and in numerous web features, including a hysterical web series about Beyonce Knowles as a mother incapable of shedding her performer roots. Like the rest of these female comediennes, Zamata plans to make it to TV, partially to see a character like herself. “As far as what parts I end going after when I audition, it tends to be the girlfriend or quirky sidekick.” In reality, she’d like to play the lead, someone who’s “smart and doesn’t take bullshit.” Also funny.
Grace Helbig is perhaps the most traditionally TV friendly of the bunch, and definitely the most successful. She’s also very funny and has put in a lot of work, posting a video blog called Daily Grace each weekday on My Damn Channel, an online production and distribution company. Helbig is a correspondent on G4′s Attack of the Show and a participant on PIT house team Borealis.