Roseanne Barr and Sara Gilbert in 'Roseanne' | IMDb

The Funniest Female Sitcom Leads of All Time

From wisecracking quipsters and drunken flirts to sassy and spirited ladies, the best sitcoms feature female characters who leave us bowled over in hysterics. Whether through their comedic timing, penchant for the preposterous, physical comedy chops, or elastic facial expressions, the funny ladies below have delivered some of the toughest acts to follow in the sitcom sphere. 

Lucy Ricardo | ‘I Love Lucy’ 

Lucille Ball remains a comedic legend for a reason – she is the actress to emulate when it comes to the wacky and zany. Who could forget the “Vitameatavegimen” skit, as Lucy films a commercial and gets drunk off a liquid supplement that, upon first tablespoon, leads her mouth to contort and her eyes to bulge as she tries to reorient her body and gain composure? It’s tasty, or so the ad demands, but every fiber of her being indicates otherwise. Her disgusted lips, appalled eyes, and breathlessness scream “sickening flavor.”

However, the more she drinks, the drunker she gets. And then, it doesn’t taste so bad. There’s only one problem: now she’s suffering from alcohol-induced spoonerisms, switching letters around in her script, and asking audiences if they “pop out at parties” and are ‘unpoopular.” As she gets slowly intoxicated, her shoulders fall, and she winks at the camera with a sloppy, exaggerated forcefulness. Her body grows unsteady, as we wonder if she will fall. The ease at which she contorts every muscle in her face while slowly transitioning from composed to chaotic is awe-inspiring. It’s the perfect combination of physical comedy and impeccable timing. Her face and body work in perfect harmony to go from wannabe commercial star to drunken line-destroyer.

Dorothy Zbornak | ‘The Golden Girls’ 

Oh, the Queen of Sarcasm. Bea Arthur’s deadpan delivery in The Golden Girls should be in textbooks. Dorothy’s dry wit is deviously delicious. Her insults – pointed and biting — made her an admirable verbal sparrer. 

She contrasted the naive Rose and the dramatique and sexually explorative Blanche, providing The Golden Girls with a much-needed balance between over-the-top vivacity and vacuous cynicism. 

Whether slut-shaming Blanche with a degree of superiority and dismissiveness or insulting Rose’s intelligence via sarcastic quips (that often flew right over her head), Dorothy was relentless in her scrutinizing ways. And, Bea Arthur’s delivery – offering nuanced shifts in expression like raised eyebrows, a downward slanting chin, or a scornful side-eye — made each line all the more hysterical.

Fran Fine |  ‘The Nanny’ 

“She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens…” You know the rest. Fran Fine was the nasally-voiced fashion icon with a quirky yet effective approach to childcare, whose energetic and sassy flair remains unparalleled. Often compared to Lucille Ball, Fran Drescher possessed that same innate ability to contort her face with such a tailored degree of precision — the lips, the eyes, the neck, the head all functioning as if by remote control. 

Who could forget the first time she ate wasabi? She put a huge heaping on a piece of Sushi and proceeded to suffer. As she chewed, her eyes suddenly bulged. Her cheeks were full as a chipmunk’s — her face contorted with a mix of confusion and agony. Her hands raised, reaching out for help, but she was unable to speak. Ultimately, she fell to the ground, her face flushed from the heat overtaking her tastebuds. The physical comedy is splendidly overwrought, which was customary of I Love Lucy scenes as well. 

Fran Fine also had a knack for delivering snappy remarks with a side smirk, which perfectly offset her clueless charm surrounding high-society norms. (Lest we forget how she struggled to articulate “how now brown cow” with a snobbish air of condescension akin to the coastal elite?) 

Karen Walker | ‘Will & Grace’ 

Oh Karen, how we love you. You’re our favorite alcoholic pill popper with a sexually adventurous lifestyle and a complete detachment from reality that is somehow endearing in your care. 

Karen Walker’s uninhibited nature and quick wit made every line that came out of her mouth utterly unpredictable. But, that high-pitched, dramatic, nasally, and somehow melodic intonation made her remarks playful and absurd as opposed to hurtful or destabilizing. With lines like “I can’t believe I’m at a public pool; why doesn’t somebody just pee directly on me?,” she’s so rude and judgy, but oh-so innocently honest. Karen Walker is hypercritical and relentless, but Megan Mullaly’s delivery retains the character’s compassionate core — a quality she tries so hard to drown in martinis, for no one can discover that she may actually be…NICE. Even better is when she notes that she’s going to live forever before yelling at the ground, “That is the deal, isn’t it red?” She’s ridiculous. She’s quick-witted and exaggerated in her bodily movements…especially when she’s hungover, drunk, or slurring her speech. In three somewhat cliché (but very suitable) words, she is larger than life. 

Roseanne Conner | ‘Roseanne’ 

Though Roseanne Barr has grown questionable to say the least (concerning her sociopolitical viewpoints), her performance in Roseanne from 1988 to 1997 remains noteworthy. Roseanne found humor and levity in the struggles of a lower-middle-class family, and Roseanne’s no-nonsense approach to life – featuring a heavy heaping of unapologetic sarcasm and blunt analyses — ensured that the show never wavered into the melancholy. Rather, the emotional moments were met with humor, which perfectly translated human nature to the screen —  for, if you can’t find the comedy in crisis, you will fall apart. And if there’s one thing Roseanne Conner knew how to do, it was laugh at herself and the many dilemmas she faced as a mother, sister, and wife.

Roseanne was a norm-breaking maternal figure who many deemed more accessible than the likes of June Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver or Carol Brady in The Brady Brunch. She did not bake cookies and sing her kids lullabies, she picked on them and taught them lessons via good ole embarrassment. She parented via unconventional means (that were maybe more conventional than we realized at the time), but she never shied away from the honest truth. 

Not to mention, she was the boss and the center of the family dynamic, which had often been reserved for fathers in similar shows preceding Roseanne. Roseanne Barr’s down-to-earth and realistic performance — paired with strong comedic timing and heartfelt sensibility — made her one of the funniest and most relatable characters on the screen. 

Phoebe Buffay | ‘Friends’ 

Phoebe Buffay, or as her most beloved fans like to call her — Princess Consuela Banana Hammock, was the eccentric and quirky Smelly-Cat-singing friend with a heart of gold on this classic ‘90s sitcom. She possessed this glorious ability to turn the show’s mundane moments into riotous and memorable scenes.

Phoebe’s offbeat sensibility adds a degree of unpredictability to her character, leaving her with some of the funniest lines in the series. “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to,” “See, he’s her lobster,” “What if I don’t want to be a shoe?” and “I don’t even have a pla” remain up there in our favorites. 

Not to mention, her childlike enthusiasm and wonder make her an admirable adult. She never lost her imagination or belief in the impossible; however, such qualities did make her any less insightful, just three-dimensional. 

Gloria Delgado-Pritchett | ‘Modern Family’ 

With a distinct accent, exaggerated facial expressions, and five-inch stilettos, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett sashayed her way into our hearts. From her need to make an entrance to her skills with a BB gun, she was equal parts beauty and badass. Nothing beats an angry Gloria. It’s the purse-swinging, insult-slinging, high-volume yelling that only Sofia Vergara could deliver with equal parts heightened humor and authenticity. 

The over-the-top emotionality perfectly complemented her over-the-top wardrobe and general disposition. Oh, and when she sang — so poorly that the street cats covered their ears – we couldn’t help but die laughing. Rolling those rs and struggling with a piercing vibrato as she belted the National Anthem was comedy gold. She was also a protective mother — and a jealous one at that — whose relationship with her son may have been a bit off-kilter but made for quite the laugh. 

She needed to be the number one woman in his life, and though a little troubling, it was endearing. She had a side-eye that would terrify you and a knack for confusing English idioms (which never got old). She was passionate and energetic but sensitive and warm.

About the author

Josh Lezmi

Josh is an entertainment writer and editor at Thought Catalog.