Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Noreen C. Barnes


Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, and Lisa Lampanelli as performers demonstrate an arc of evolving female empowerment in the world of stand-up comedy. In this thesis I shall study the development of each woman’s career by examining her material, progression of her comic persona, and relationship to women’s gender roles, both personally and professionally. While there are many other female comics who contribute to the story of women’s stand-up comedy in the contemporary period (in particular, Moms Mabley and Elayne Boosler), Diller, Rivers and Lampanelli each represent a distinct shift in how their persona combined with subject matter, allowing women to break new barriers in terms of comic performance. Diller’s comedy carved a space for Rivers’, and Rivers’ comedy carved a space for the likes of Lampanelli. In viewing the trajectory of their effect on comedy as a whole, we can see how each woman asserted herself in stand-up performance, and forever changed the nature of who was allowed to get up on stage, and also, what they were allowed to say by their audiences. To quote Joan Rivers, “First there was a gasp…and then there was a laugh” (Rivers “Piece of Work”).


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2013