Comedy pioneer Jean Carroll dies

One of the first female stand-ups

Jean Carroll, one of the first mainstream female stand-ups, has died in New York state at the age of 98.

She headlined nightclubs in the Forties and Fifties, with observational material she largely wrote herself, although she since faded into obscurity.

Born Celine Zeigman in Paris in 1911, her family moved to the Bronx when she was just 18 months old. Her career began as a vaudeville dancer in the Twenties, and in the early Thirties she met fellow dancer Buddy Howe, later to become her husband, and formed a dance act punctuated by comedy, which toured widely in the UK.

After Howe was drafted during World War One, Carroll moved into stand-up, despite it being an almost exclusively male preserve. Not only was it rare to find a female comedian, it was ever more uncommon to find one who, like Carroll, performed as herself, rather than behind an exaggerated persona.

Even many of those who followed her, such as Phyllis Diller, performed as larger-than-life characters, rather than the naturalistic approach Carroll took. She was dubbed both ‘the female Milton Berle,’ and ‘the female Bob Hope’.

She became a regular guest on The Ed Sullivan Show and had her own self-titled, short-lived sitcom, in 1953-54.

A typical joke was: ‘The thing that attracted me to my husband was his pride. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him, standing up on a hill, his hair blowing in the breeze — and he too proud to run and get it.’

She retired in 1969, but three years ago her reputation received a boost with a film documentary narrated by Lily Tomlin and a New York Friars Club night in her honour, when many contemporary comics paid tribute.

She died on New Year’s Day, a week short of her 99th birthday.

Here she is in action:

Published: 3 Jan 2010

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