Feature

Jean Carroll

The female comic who blazed new trails in stand-up

Jean Carroll1911–2010

Long before Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and Lily Tomlin took to the stage, Jean Carroll was one of the first female stand-up comedians to become a household name. She appeared frequently on The Ed Sullivan Show and, for one season in the 1950s, on her own ABC sitcom.

In her day, “the world of comedy was thought to be no fit place for a woman,” said The New York Times. Although such funny women as Minnie Pearl and Fanny Brice had preceded her, Carroll stood out because she based her routines on her personal life, and much of her material was racy by the standards of the day. Born Celine Zeigman, in Paris, she grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and toured vaudeville as a teenager, perfecting her persona after World War II. “Extremely attractive, Carroll appeared alone onstage in a shimmering evening dress, dripping diamonds and mink,” delivering monologues about her husband and kids. “The thing that attracted me to my husband was his pride,” she would say. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw him, standing up on a hill, his hair blowing in the breeze—and he [was] too proud to run and get it.” She also did not shy away from ethnic humor. “I’ve always been proud of the Jews, but never so proud as tonight,” she once told a benefit for the United Jewish Appeal. “Because tonight I wish I had my old nose back.”

In one popular routine, she called her daughter “a hippie with the dirty sneakers and dirty blue jeans—but why a beard?” She said later, “I made her shave it, but I let her keep the mustache.”

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