No matter how bad life gets, if you can laugh in the midst of tragedy and heartbreak, the pain and misery are eased – if only for a brief but priceless moment. Since the first guy made a buck telling jokes in a cheesy nightclub, we've relied on the comedy of strangers ward off the demons and crack a smile.
While males have dominated the world of comedy for most of our lives, funny females that gained celebrity have been less common, with noted yet spotty phenoms like Lucille Ball, Betty White, Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller and Carol Burnett busting us up over the past 60 years.
The past decade has spawned a new crop of funny ladies, some who are just getting started and others whose "overnight success" has culminated after years, if not decades of paying dues in comedy clubs, sitcoms and movies. Keep tabs on these women; they're honing their skills in a variety of venues.
10 Amy Schumer
After gaining notoriety as a potty-mouthed 4 place winner on the stand-up comedy competition show Last Comic Standing in 2007, Schumer's been a steadily rising star. Besides numerous movies appearances, she's been on 17 TV shows. Her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer just got picked up for a second season and she had a 2-episode part on HBO's critically acclaimed Girls. Schumer's favorite topics are still a bit risqué but as a recent guest on Ellen, she proved she can be just as hysterical without ever being bleeped out by the censors.
9 Katy Mixon
After cutting her acting teeth on such heavy roles as Calpurnia in Julius Caesar, Mixon expanded her repertoire starring in the interactive theater play American Standard, followed by a movie role in The Quiet, a major motion picture. But Mixon's standout performance on Mike & Molly as Molly's pothead sister who works as a funeral home beautician is the best showcase for her comedic flair ever, although she also shines as April on Eastbound and Down, the HBO baseball comedy that recently rose from the ashes based on viewer demand for its renewal. Mixon's easy delivery and gift for sarcasm make her a good bet to go big and never go home.
8 Melissa Fumero
Just a decade ago, Fumero was playing devious, man-hungry international fashion model Adriana Cramer on the classic ABC soap opera One Life to Live. The role offered few opportunities to stretch her comedy muscles, which she finally got a chance to do during a 5-episode stint on Gossip Girl. Although she's appeared in over 14 films and TV shows, Fumero's most notable role so far is Amy Santiago, character Jake Peralta's partner on the cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. SNL veteran Andy Samberg plays Peralta and Fumero matches him line for line in the breakout Fox show. Fumero has also proven a penchant for physical comedy on the show, which gives her a leg up in the competition.
7 Stephanie Beatriz
Playing the mean, fold detective with a heart of gold on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is just part of Beatriz appeal. She deadpans lines with almost as much finesse as co-star Andre Braugher. Beatriz talents have been featured on stages from to coast with performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the Yale Repertory Theater. She waxed serious in small roles on The Closer and Southland and gave Sofia Vergara a comedic run for her money when she played Vergara's character Gloria's sister on the smash comedy Modern Family. Regardless of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's fate, Beatriz's comedic abilities have barely been tapped.
6 Eden Sher
At the age of 23, Sher is one of the youngest funny females gaining attention. She was only 19 when she took on the role of Sue Heck on The Middle in 2009, a loveable, clueless teenager whose sole goal is to be popular, despite her lack of style, mouthful of cheap and very visible braces, and loving yet distracted family. Sher had a recurring role as Gretchen on the second season of the Showtime comedy Weeds and appeared in Capitol One and Fruity Pebbles commercials. Sher's air of innocence combined with her affinity for pratfalls and making common humiliations amusing are sure to take her far.
5 Aubry Plaza
Some actors – Will Ferrell comes to mind – have faces that make us laugh without any distortion, dialogue or scenery. Plaza has one of those faces and can maintain a deadpan expression under the most pressing circumstances. She got her start doing improv and sketch comedy but her star gained brilliance with comedic roles in Funny People and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, she regularly steals the spotlight from comical competitors such as Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. And as Sacagawea on Drunk History, Plaza kills. She's not only been places in the world of comedy, she's going to many that aren't even on the map yet.
4 Sarah Hyland
It's hard to shine in a cast as strong as Modern Family's but Hyland easily holds her own week after week. Just a year older than Sher, Hyland's breakout role was playing Howard Stern's daughter in his autobiographical movie Private Parts. Pretty demanding first job for a five-year-old but she fed the acting bug with roles in the 1999 movie remake of Annie and the NBC show Lipstick Jungle. On Broadway, Hyland played a young Jackie O in the musical version of Gray Gardens. With such a diverse background, Hyland could go in any direction but comedy seems to suit her exceptionally well.
3 Ellie Kemper
The first time most people remember seeing Kemper is on the quirky comedy The Office, where she played ditzy Erin for 4 years, or in the cast of Bridesmaids. In addition to guest spots on her former Office co-star Mindy Kaling's comedy The Mindy Project, Kemper has appeared in over 25 films and TV shows. She also holds the honor of being the only guest host ever on Ellen, stepping in for an ailing DeGeneres on a few hours notice in January 2014. Kemper's self-deprecating persona and easy rapport with the audience proved she can keep 'em laughing in any venue.
2 Kristin Wiig
Wiig infused Saturday Night Live with a lifesaving comedic breath when it needed it most. Tina Fey was already packing her bags when Wiig joined the cast in 2004 and Amy Poehler was starting to map her exit strategy for 2008. After portraying more than 20 characters on SNL and perfecting dead-on impressions of over 24 celebrities from Judy Garland to Suze Orman, Taylor Swift and Michael Jordan, Wiig hit it big with her movie Bridesmaids, which she co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in. With 34 movies already on her resume, Wiig's momentum is at full throttle.
1 Melissa McCarthy
It's rare to find a comic actor who can pull off physical slapstick and funny dialogue with equal perfection; McCarthy is an expert at both. Her roots in sketch and improv with The Groundlings led to stand-up performances and eventually to film, TV and theater. She stole the show in the Bridesmaids movie and as a newly married school teacher turned author on TV's Mike & Molly, her chemistry and banter with the cast have made it one of the biggest comedy hits in recent years. Her talents have already far surpassed those of her cousin Jenny McCarthy and she's barely got started.