American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


"That's What She Said": Politics, Transgression, and Women's Humor in Contemporary American Television"

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Ellen Berry

Second Advisor

Rosalind Sibielski (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Becca Cragin (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jacquelyn Cuneen (Committee Member)


Since the early 2000s, women affiliated with comedy television have been widely discussed as exceptions within a masculine industrial context, celebrated as brave counterexamples to ideas women lack comedic voices, or derided for not being good enough as comics or feminists. Television has been included in this discussion as a space for representing women, in comparison to film, provided more dynamic options for actress. Comedy has been used in these conversations as journalists and bloggers increasingly focus on lack of representation within comedy formats in addition to already lack of diversity on and offscreen. The goal of this research is to analyze women's comedic work for television.

The following is an examination of authorship in comedy television. There have been a handful of women who have acted as headwriters/ showrunners/ producers/ stars in comedy texts within the past ten years. Through analyses of four women in particular: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Diablo Cody, and Lena Dunham, this research highlights the ways in which the perspectives of women are incorporated within their texts. Through comedy they provide characters and points of identification that go beyond stereotyping and shed light on the nuanced nature of women's lived experiences. These texts both resist and conform to societal expectations of women. Television Studies exists within a state of fluctuation as industrial shifts uproot the ways in which television operates and even how we as an audience watch or experience programs. Expansion of channels, changes in ownership, challenges over content have affected the ways in which audiences view television as an object. This dissertation is an exploration of those cracks, which were made by female comedy writers to provide insight into women's daily lives and experiences within American contexts. While by no means all-inclusive, women working in contemporary television continue to try and negotiate wider openings for women's content on the screen and battle against the saturation of male-centric narratives.