Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Mary E. Anderson


Conversations around women and comedy are few, and tend to swirl around the tired question of whether or not women are funny. Conclusions usually range from, "They're not" to a few token funny women whose exceptional wit proves the rule that, in fact, women are not funny. Or, if women are funny, they have a specific, feminine brand of humor that has an almost genetic set of differences from men's comedy. In this dissertation, rather than outlining an essentialized poetics of "women's comedy," I identify two prominent women writing comedy for the theatre today. Drawing on comic, dramatic and feminist theory resources, I proceed through my study giving two remarkable playwrights - Sarah Ruhl and Sheila Callaghan - a chapter dedicated to illuminating each of their respective comic universes, and acknowledging its place in an increasingly complex network of what this contemporary moment may accept as comic. Building on close reading, interplay with established theory, and my personal experiences interviewing one playwright and producing the work of the other, I examine the comic devices at work in their plays, and the ways in which they follow or differ from the rules that have historically excluded these writers from this sort of recognition.