There are a lot of them.
Just like there are a lot of funny men.
It seems however, that the popular opinion, cleaved from the reality of those who star in sit-coms, movies, and late night, is that men are funnier. Not only are they funnier, they seem to not be able to be entertained by the feeble jokes of the "lesser" sex. "How could a man laugh at what a woman has to say?" is at home in the same vein as "How could a man follow a woman in ANYTHING?"
My contempt for this mentality is assuaged by the numerous women who make me laugh and think on a daily basis. There are actually so many women succeeding at comedy right now it's hard to choose one to highlight. One specific woman who has changed the comedy world/world by making it fresher and more interesting is Carol Leifer. If you haven't heard of her by name, you certainly know of her work. She joined the writing staff of Seinfeld in its 5th season and created some of its most memorable episodes. She is also the muse that inspired Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld's creation of "Elaine".
Leifer began her stand-up career in the late 70's and performed with a lot of soon to be big names. She was close friends with Paul Reiser, Seinfeld, and David. She also is revered by David Letterman and Jay Leno appearing on both the Tonight Show and Late Night. She has written for shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Larry Sanders Show. Just this summer, she released her book When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win, speaking about her coming out after the age of 40, her life with her partner of 12 years, Lori Wolf, and the adoption of their son Bruno.
She is definitely a pioneer not only for female comedians but for comedy in general. She began her career in a time where the art of stand up was being fine tuned and was beginning to be taken more seriously by the entertainment industry. She is actually really inspiring because she never says that it was harder to be a female comic, in fact she says that she felt like it was an advantage since there weren't that many women out there attempting it. I think this is an interesting point of view because I feel like its so overwhelming to think about being the first to attempt something. It's fair to say that since we don't have a lot of examples of other women going before us, proving that something can be done, we feel bogged down or like all the odds are stacked against us. Sure, that may be one part of the reality, but to look at it the way Leifer does is liberating. She sees her gender as a benefit, not a hindrance.
The thing that Seinfeld did was make the ordinary hilarious and really put the way our society works in this new light. I really don't think we would have shows like The Office or 30 Rock if the Seinfeld team hadn't paved the way. While most of the credit goes to front men Seinfeld and David, they will be the first to say that Leifer played just as large a role in establishing their brand of comedy. Elaine has to be considered one of the first female characters who was more than a romantic conquest for any sit-com. She was an equal in all situations the Seinfeld foursome experienced. She was a new female figure in an arena that usually only had room for silly wives, boring, irrational mothers, and old "ball n' chains". Had the producers of the show not been so inspired and led by Leifer, I don't think we would have had this outcome. Just watch the pilot episode. The female characters are props, like most shows of their day, and Seinfeld says it was clear that they didn't know how to write about a fictional woman until they started thinking about the real women in their lives. Elaine's character makes the show more complete in its representation of reality as comedy. This is one show that I like to watch with the commentary on because as they review the work that they did, they can now see how many social waves they were making. Talking about abortion, masturbation, birth control, etc., in prime time was basically unheard of. Weaving these topics into the everyday lives of relatable characters was definitely unheard of. This is the power behind Seinfeld and based on what the show's creators say about her, Leifer was a driving force within that power.
Successful comedians captivate us not only because of their performance skills but because of their ability to believe in the value of their world views. This takes a measurable amount of security in one's self and a sort of "Fuck you" mentality to any negativity generated by critics and the audiences they perform for. Carol Leifer knew she wanted to be a comedian and didn't wait around for someone to tell her or show her that that was an OK aspiration for a little girl. She just listened to herself and went out there and did her thing. Now it's a lot easier for other little girls to hope to one day make the same life for themselves. Maybe one day, they will inspire a man here or there as well!