Illustrated Comediennes of the Stand-Up Boom: Judy Tenuta

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In the rush of the 80s-90s stand-up boom, newly-emerging pay-cable began augmenting their normally scheduled soft-core pornography and repeated showing of horror movie Cat’s Eye with stand-up showcases. Dyna Moe watched every one of them and presents a week-long tribute of the comediennes of era.

Maxim — noted arbiters of taste and female ability — ranked Judy Tenuta as one of the worst comics of all time, which I will use my opposite-powers to say is a ringing endorsement. She mixed the blue-collar gum-chewing man-bashing of Roseanne Barr with the Kaufmanesque irritaintment character of a cult-figure goddess “The Petite Flower” with her own religion (“Judy-ism”) who accompanied herself on a child-sized accordion and was occasionally possessed by Elvis. Campy? Annoying? Maybe, but in a sea of everyman observationalists, she stood out and taught me everything I needed to know about comedy: wear shiny clothes and literally spit on the audience.

Relevant Specials: Women of the Night, One Night Stand (Also, comedy LP Buy This, Pigs!)

Mode of Dress: Metallic satin, Grecian gowns with gauzy scarves, tropical blossom in hair

Sample Joke: “So I was coming home from school one day, and my house was gone! I guess that’s what you get for leaving it out in the open like that. But it turns out my little brother Bosco burned the house down. So I asked my little brother Bosco, ‘Bosco, why’d you burn the house down?’… ‘Cuz it was laughing at me.’ ‘No, Bosco, is was laughing *with* you!’”

Commercial endorsements: MTV promos, Diet Dr. Pepper

Essential Trivia: For a brief period in the 80s, she was married to Emo Phillips*. If only the genre had been invented, we all wish we could watch that reality show and, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, watch that leaked sex tape.

What is she doing now: Playing almost exclusely to gay crowds (the last safe haven for camp) at Pride events and in Provincetown. She has a YouTube channel of Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin and Russian mail-order-bride parody videos. She also has a website (warning: super-gay music plays, adjust the sexual preference of your speakers).

Additional video: Judy on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast

*It has been suggested this is an urban legend but I refuse to stop believing.

Dyna Moe is a NY-based illustrator and non-practicing comic. Her book, Mad Men: The Illustrated World, was the #1 Christmas gift to give people you know nothing about except a TV show you heard they watched a little bit of. Follow her on Twitter here.