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For women, breaking into comedy is a tough enough nut to crack without the chauvinistic "women aren't funny" comments. Not only is it not true, but with a male-dominated writers' field in Hollywood (73 percent of the WGA's film writers are men) it's only too clear that if women aren't funny on-screen, it's probably because the only funny thing they had to do in the script was fall down and go boom boom.
The widely accepted paradigm in movies (not to mention TV) is having an out-of-shape or mildly attractive but funny husband and his hot, not-as-funny wife. And it's getting stale, baby. In order for a woman to go against that grain takes massive ovaries, the ability to generate her own material, and absolutely no fear of looking stupid.
Here are our picks for the 20 funniest women working in movies today.
20. Jennifer Aniston
She's earned her reputation as America's girl next door, but Aniston -- who's long charmed audiences in comedies such as "Office Space," "Picture Perfect" and "Bruce Almighty" -- took off her good-girl mantle in this year's "Horrible Bosses." She took it all off, as an alarmingly kinky dentist who comes onto her assistant (Charlie Day) by wearing a lab coat ... and nothing else. Next she'll reteam with her "The Object of My Affection" costar Paul Rudd in "Wanderlust," in which she reportedly goes topless, has a threesome and smokes pot. Girl next door, hmm?
Bonus TV Cred: Her Rachel on "Friends" was far more than just a haircut (though she really did have great hair).
19. Natalie Portman
This overachiever has garnered much success in her career -- an Oscar, a Harvard degree -- but Portman had to work a little harder on her comedic résumé. She considered her performance in "Everyone Says I Love You" to be her worst due to her "inability to improvise." Portman had no trouble charming audiences in "Beautiful Girls," "Zoolander" and "Garden State," but it wasn’t until she rapped on "SNL" that she got real belly laughs. This year she played the anti-romantic in "No Strings Attached" and the sexy adventurer in the medieval stoner flick "Your Highness."
18. Rashida Jones
Jones, whose parents are legendary producer Quincy Jones and actor Peggy Lipton, has had small roles in the comedies "The Ten" and "Role Models," but proved she could handle the (female) lead as Zooey Rice in the bromantic comedy "I Love You, Man" with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, often winning the most laughs by playing it straight. Jones sold her first comedy screenplay (she's attached to star) "Celeste and Jesse Forever" in 2009 and was seen this summer in "Friends With Benefits" and "Our Idiot Brother."
Bonus TV Cred: She's had even more success on "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation."
17. Patricia Clarkson
This distinguished actress is right at home in dark indies, so when Clarkson does comedy she brings a certain authenticity and intelligence to the role. And at 51, she's such a babe that she still appeals to the coveted 18-25-year-old male demographic who, thanks to Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, all want to become her "Motherlovers." The "SNL" short led to roles in more mainstream fare like "Easy A" (where she cracked us up alongside Stanley Tucci) and the JT summer comedy "Friends with Benefits."
Bonus TV Cred: She terrified Ron Swanson (and us) with her recent guest appearance as Ron's near-mythical ex Tammy 1 on "Parks and Recreation."
16. Mindy Kaling
Kaling has taken small parts in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "License to Wed," "Despicable Me," and "No Strings Attached," but most women love her because they share her passion for cheesy romantic comedies like "You've Got Mail." The hilarious actress-writer, who plays up a Valley Girl schtick that perfectly contrasts with her Indian roots, was named after "Mork and Mindy," natch.
Bonus TV Cred: Aside from Kelly Kapoor on "The Office," Kaling serves as only one of two female writers on the staff of 14. She also has a development deal with NBC for another sitcom, in which she would star.
15. Christina Applegate
"I’m right on top of that Rose!" exclaimed Applegate in one of her most memorable roles as Sue Ellen Crandell in the now-classic 1991 comedy "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead." Applegate has gone on to star in "The Sweetest Thing," "Surviving Christmas," "Going the Distance" and this year's "Hall Pass" alongside Jenna Fischer, but still, her shining moment came when she represented for women everywhere and crashed the boys' club that was San Diego's Team 4 with wit and gusto in the modern classic "Anchorman."
Bonus TV Cred: Applegate, who spent a decade on Fox's "Married ... With Children," is currently being hilarious alongside Will Arnett in NBC's "Up All Night."
15. Sarah Silverman
Silverman is enough of a tomboy to be accepted by the male-dominated comedy world, but she's clever enough to use her genial femininity as misdirection for her outrageous punchlines on screen and stage. On film, Silverman has been typecast as a bitch (in "The Way Of The Gun" she’s literally credited as "Raving Bitch"). That's fine with her as long as it’s a three-dimensional character. Silverman, who's also appeared in "School of Rock" and "School for Scoundrels," was most recently seen schooling audiences in the indie comedy "Peep World."
Bonus TV Cred: Silverman starred in and produced "The Sarah Silverman Program," which ran for three seasons on Comedy Central.
14. Rose Byrne
This Australian dark horse known for bringing the drama both on the big ("Troy") and small ("Damages") screens surprised many with her comedic chops as Jackie Q in "Get Him to the Greek," singing ridiculously raunchy songs as Russell Brand's hard-partying, pop-star better half. But the early evidence was there in "Marie Antoinette," where Byrne served as comedic relief. Most recently she left us laughing at the altar in "Bridesmaids," in which she played the hit comedy's perfect "villain."
13. Mila Kunis
Audiences were used to Kunis playing little-sister types on television until she became the girl who helped Jason Segel finally move on in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." That improv-heavy role helped Kunis display the comic timing she spent years honing on the small screen. Roles in "Date Night" and the not-so-funny but acclaim-garnering "Black Swan" followed, with the summer comedy "Friends with Benefits" cementing her as a comedic star.
Bonus TV Cred: Kunis is a television veteran, having spent eight years on "That '70s Show" and the past 12 years voicing Meg Griffin on Fox’s "Family Guy."
12. Leslie Mann
Mann seamlessly fits into the popular man-boy comedy genre, accepting in stride all the bongs, porn, and crude penis jokes that come with it. This sort of savvy was especially ingrained in her after she made Judd Apatow her husband (they met on the set of "The Cable Guy"). Mann has collaborated with her hubby since the beginning of his career on TV's "Freaks and Geeks," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Funny People." Mann has also turned in memorable performances in "Big Daddy," and "17 Again" and "The Change-Up."
11. Maya Rudolph
We always knew Rudolph was funny, and were just waiting for her to break out -- and break out she did in this summer's "Bridesmaids." Even playing it relatively straight as the bewildered bride whose maid of honor (Kristen Wiig) goes off the rails, Rudolph still owns one of the movie's grossest moments when, clad in a wedding gown, she's forced to, um, do her business in the middle of the street. Oh, it's happening, all right. Coming up, she bickers winningly with Chris O'Dowd (another "Bridesmaids" alum) as a new mom in "Friends With Kids."
Bonus TV Cred: After starring for many years as a key player on "Saturday Night Live," Rudolph now plays the Oprah-like talk show host Ava on NBC's "Up All Night."
10. Isla Fisher
This Australian's first memorable role had her terrifying Vince Vaughn in "Wedding Crashers" with her nymphomaniac bridesmaid character – and terrifying men around the world with her taunt, "I’ll find you!" It was Fisher's husband, funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat") who first convinced her to audition for comedies. "Not many women are willing to make a fool of themselves," Cohen reportedly told her. Roles in "Hot Rod," "Definitely, Maybe," and "Confessions of a Shopaholic" have since cemented Fisher in the mainstream comedy arena. She's now writing and executive producing the comedy "Groupies" with Amy Poehler.
9. Amy Poehler
Arguably one of the funniest actors on this list, this sly blonde starred in both "Mean Girls" and "Baby Mama" with Tina Fey -- the latter earning Poehler an MTV Award for best WTF moment when her trashy character, unable to lift the child-protected toilet seat, pees in the sink. She's also collaborated with her hilarious husband Will Arnett in "Arrested Development" and in "Blades of Glory" where the real-life couple played ruthless, incestual siblings.
Bonus TV Cred: "SNL" veteran Poehler kills as the lovably oblivious and helplessly optimistic Leslie Knope on NBC's side-splitting "Parks and Recreation."
8. Kristen Bell
After becoming a fan favorite on TV for "Veronica Mars," this petite powerhouse moved on to big-screen funny business as the title character in the 2007 comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and gamely held her own with improv pros Jason Segel and Russell Brand. She earned some nerd cred in "Fanboys," faced her childhood nemesis in "You Again," and sparred with Jason Bateman in "Couples Retreat." Next for Bell is the ballet indie comedy "Dance of the Mirlitons," alongside Chloe Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley.
7. Jane Lynch
You can thank Christopher Guest for bringing this 6’0" tall glass of water out of relative obscurity with roles in mockumentaries like "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind." Judd Apatow brought Lynch further into the spotlight by casting her in a role originally intended for a man in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." Since then, she has played a lot of straight-shooting, nonchalant personalities with dry senses of humor in "Role Models," "Talladega Nights" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."
Bonus TV Cred: Lynch’s role as the aggressive cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester in Fox’s "Glee" has earned her an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award.
6. Anna Faris
Faris has been a commanding force in comedy ever since the "Scary Movie" franchise. No other actress on this list plays the butt of a joke more bravely and, thanks to her role in "Smiley Face," no other actress on this list has been named Stoner of the Year by "High Times" magazine. She manages to be both charming and cheerfully gross in films like "Just Friends" and "Observe and Report"; she also produced and starred in "The House Bunny." Faris now stars in "What's Your Number?"' in which she costars with half of Hollywood's male population.
5. Elizabeth Banks
In the name of comedy, Banks has been known to act seductive with barbecue sauce all over her face in "Wet Hot American Summer," rinse her hair with toilet water for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and gently rationalize with the disgusting, squid-like monster that used to be her husband in "Slither." She shows no signs of slowing down after "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Definitely, Maybe" and "Role Models," and later this year she'll costar alongside Leslie Mann in "What Was I Thinking?"
Bonus TV Cred: Banks hammed it up as Alec Baldwin's fast-talking conservative pundit wife on "30 Rock."
4. Melissa McCarthy
Did McCarthy win this year's Best Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for "Mike & Molly," or was the Academy rewarding her for doubling us over with laughter in this summer's "Bridesmaids"? Who cares? One of Hollywood's most reliable character actors (with standout supporting roles in otherwise forgettable movies like "The Back-Up Plan" and "Life As We Know It"), McCarthy is finally coming into her own. Fortunately for us, it doesn't end with her turn as the foul-mouthed, puppy-stealing, U.S. marshal-lusting Megan from "Bridesmaids" -- she's snagged a starring role in Judd Apatow's "This Is Forty," his sequel to 2007's "Knocked Up."
Bonus TV Cred: We loved her, and coveted her cooking, during her seven seasons as Sookie on "Gilmore Girls." And of course there's that whole Emmy thing for "Mike & Molly."
3. Tina Fey
Fey has broken the ceiling for more women in comedy than anyone else on this list. She might look like a mousy brunette, but Fey has been a cultural crusader ever since penning the script to the 2004 hit "Mean Girls." She’s also brought her deadpan delivery to "Baby Mama," "The Invention of Lying" and "Date Night." Audiences love and relate to her because she knows how to be cutting without being cruel.
Bonus TV Cred: Her decade as head writer on "SNL" led her to create and star in the widely acclaimed "30 Rock."
2. Emma Stone
As the youngest actress on the list, Stone is in demand because her inspired, precocious talent has already put her on-screen with the Judd Apatow players in "Superbad," Bill Murray in "Zombieland," and in her own star vehicle, carrying "Easy A" squarely on her shoulders and earning a Golden Globe nod in the process. Stone's M.O. was always to be a comedian like her idols Gilda Radner, Steve Martin and John Candy. "Friends With Benefits" was fine, but Stone continued her hot streak with this summer's "Crazy, Stupid, Love."
1. Kristen Wiig
Female-driven scripts are a rarity in Hollywood, especially for raunchy female comedies, so it was a nice -- and telling -- surprise to see how well Wiig’s "Bridesmaids" did at the box office this summer. Wiig starred alongside a practically all-female cast in the Judd Apatow-produced film that made us laugh not just at the sharp humor, but at the explosive diarrhea and vomiting. Score. Wiig, a regular Apatow player, first broke out as the personality-less TV suit on "Knocked Up," and proved one of the brightest spots in "Paul," playing a devout Christian exposed to cursing, dancing and weed-smoking extraterrestrials for the first time.
Bonus TV Cred: Since 2005, Wiig has been stealing scenes and startling viewers on "SNL" with her strange, high-energy characters like Penelope, Dooneese, Gilly, and The Target Lady.
Originally published April 4, 2011, and May 11, 2011.