The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor

Edited by Gina Barreca

The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor is a landmark anthology that proves there is a distinctly female way of being funny. Gina Barreca’s extravagantly wide-ranging selections–by turns shocking, invigorating, infuriating and inspiring–span three centuries and include not only the likes of Jane Austen, Dorothy Parker, Muriel Spark, “Moms” Mabley, Mae West, Erma Bombeck, and Roseanne, but also some unexpected voices: Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Margaret Drabble, Emily Dickinson, and others. In stories, letters, verse, excerpts, essays, cartoons, and one-liners that address relationships, politics, fate, and the fierce struggle to survive and triumph, these women speak powerfully about the world and its absurdities–and laugh out loud.

This anthology looks at the genre of women’s humor and illuminates the ways in which women’s humor differs from men’s. It aims to destroy the assumption that humor is universal and shows it instead as marked by subjectivity and bound by gender. The book contains essays, short stories, dramas, and poems, on a range of subjects, from a variety of women.


“Not just humor, of course, but all the wit and wisdom of the female universe…” —Fay Weldon

“700 or so delicious pages…chockfull of treasures wicked, witty, and wonderful. —Library Journal

“Barreca… gets it just right when she introduces this gratifyingly substantial and thoroughly invigorating anthology by stating that women’s humor has always been a “tool for survival” and a “weapon against the absurdities of injustice.” There is, indeed, something radical about funny women. Men have long devalued the intellect, perspective, and wit of women, an attempt at oppression that has only inspired higher levels of satire and wisecracking. Barreca has searched far and wide for prime examples of triumphant women’s humor, tapping into the routines of such comics as Whoopi Goldberg and Paula Poundstone as well as the work of “serious” writers, including Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bowen, Fay Weldon, and Virginia Woolf. This volume, which also includes such expected luminaries as Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, and Molly Ivins, is full of delectable and memorable surprises as Barreca quotes women joking about everything from anatomy to housekeeping, shoes, and marriage. To quote Mae West, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

Penguin Book of Women's Humor

Publication Information

Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: April 1, 1996
ISBN: 978-0140172942