I was reminded of my own heckler experience as I read Yael Kohen’s book, We Killed: The Rise Of Women In American Comedy because the introduction to this oral history, citing Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair and John Belushi’s “Fire the Girls” campaign, paints the book as a definitive answer to the noncontroversy that will not die: “Are women funny?” To that question I give a hearty eye-roll and a Gob Bluth-style, “Come on!” Of course women are funny, because people are funny. Gender has nothing to do with it, and to say this book answers the question “Are women funny?” does Kohen’s work a disservice and implies it’s a question worth answering or acknowledging, which it is not. Maybe it’ll sell the book, but it mostly sells the book short. …

Indeed, many of the women in Kohen’s book resist the very idea of being discussed as “female comedians.” As Elayne Boosler says, when asked if she wants to be an inspiration to female comics, “Well, I hope I’m just an inspiration to all comics.” Part of comedians’ resistance to serving as role models for their gender comes, it seems, from years of tokenism and lowered expectations on the comedy scene. Club owner Budd Friedman tells Kohen, “In comedy university, you never put two women on after each other.” Later in the book, we meet a young Janeane Garofalo leading the charge against that idea, leaving old-school comedy clubs behind to play alternative venues like bars and bookstores. “Well, we just had a female comic last weekend headlining and she bombed, so we’re not going to have any more women,” she says she was often told. She responded: Do you also say, “Sorry we had a white man here?”

A divide does still exist. For instance, a disturbing recurring theme of the book’s interviews is the emphasis (by both male and female interviewees) on female comedians’ looks. It’s seen as a wild accomplishment for female comedians to be both sexy and hilarious. The criminally underused Rachel Dratch worries that playing unattractive characters on Saturday Night Live killed her career. Actress and Woody Allen muse Louise Lasser bristles at the suggestion that she do comedy because she sees it as an unfeminine, disgusting artform. Producer Barry Katz implies that Sarah Silverman got more stage time, and bettered her craft quicker, because everyone wanted to bang her. While Katz may be telling a sad truth, was it one that needed telling? Silverman is funny. Comedians are put on stage for all sorts of different reasons—as favors, because they’re pretty, because they run another popular show. It’s their ability to deliver when they get there that counts.