Saying goodbye to Jean Carroll
Legendary comedian Jean Carroll passed away on New Year's Day at the age of 98. A pioneering stand up comedian, Jean Carroll was a regular headliner in nightclubs and theaters in the '40s and '50s. She was featured on the Ed Sullivan Show, and she even had her own sitcom on ABC in the 1953-1954 season.
Jean Carroll began her career as a vaudeville performer, but is best known for her achievements as one of the first female performers to do stand up. During this period, nightclubs were not considered "fit" places for "ladies" to inhabit. Female comics usually performed in couple acts with a man alongside them. Jean Carroll originally performed as part of a duo with her husband, Buddy Howe. When Howe was drafted into the Army during the Second World War, Jean Carroll began her solo act. When Howe returned, even he could see that she was better on her own. Rather than rejoin his wife on stage, he became her agent.
Much like Sophie Tucker, Jean Carroll's routine's were risqué by the standards of her time. She made jokes about shopping, raising children, and her husband. As the New York Times wrote, "Genteel by today’s standards, Ms. Carroll’s humor was radical in its day — radical, that is, in the hands of a lone woman with a microphone in front of her and an audience at her command. For a female comic to wield that sort of power was unheard of then, especially in the smoke-filled universe of nightclubs."
Jean Carroll challenged the idea that to be a woman in comedy, especially a Jewish woman in comedy, one had to be ugly, or at least use self depricating humor. Jean Carroll was beautiful, making her stand up routines even more subversive.
I have truly enjoyed this opportunity to rediscover her incredible talent. Take a moment to read this beautiful tribute in the New York Times. Also, Tablet magazine has a wonderful podcast with Making Trouble comedian Cory Kahaney, in which she explains why Jean Carroll is her favorite of the pioneering Jewish women stand up comics. You can listen to the podcast here.
Finally, take a minute to watch one of Jean Carroll's performances below. Watching this, I was mesmerized by her warmth, grace, and wit. I fell in love with her all over again today, and having a good laugh seems like the perfect way to honor her memory. She will be missed.
[Oh no! The Youtube video has been removed due to copyright concerns. If you find another one, please let us know!]
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Saying goodbye to Jean Carroll." 4 January 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 19, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/jean-carroll>.