Conventional wisdom says that as women in our society age, they disappear from the public sphere and effectively become invisible. As comediennes age, however, they gain, as Kathleen Rowe Karlyn says, “not only the perspective to laugh but also the freedom to do so,” and in this laughter is the potential for transgressive cultural criticism. This paper examines this dynamic in the careers of Joan Rivers and Betty White. Both comediennes had exceptionally long careers, and both changed their comic personae as they aged. Rivers, whose early comedy was self-deprecating, turned her anger outward in later years, challenging societal expectations about women's comedy. White's later comedy has frequently parodied the innocent, domestic characters she played in her youth while asking audiences to accept older women as sexual beings. Both women use their outsider status to challenge what it means to be an older woman.
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