With the rise of streaming services, a new wave of talent has taken over television. From gritty dramas to romantic comedies, viewers have been able to witness some truly outstanding performances from lead actresses in all genres. But when it comes to comedy series, these lead actresses have really shown their comedic chops and given us a few standout performances that are sure to be remembered for years to come.
Here, we’ll take a look at the top 10 outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. With iconic characters and beloved shows as reference points, let’s dive into why each of these performers deserves the title of “outstanding”.
10. Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy is an American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and fashion designer. She is the recipient of several accolades, including two Primetime Emmy Awards and nominations for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award.
McCarthy began her performing career as a stand-up comedian in New York City in 1996. She gained prominence in television for her role as Sookie St. James on the dramedy series Gilmore Girls (2000–2007), for which she received praise. McCarthy subsequently starred in numerous comedies including Mike & Molly (2010–2016), Identity Thief (2013), The Heat (2013), Tammy (2014), Spy (2015), The Boss (2016), Ghostbusters (2016), and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018).
Her appearances on Saturday Night Live from 2011 to 2017 earned her five Primetime Emmy Award nominations, winning twice in 2012 and 2013.
9. Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig is an American actress, comedian, writer, and producer. She is known for her work on the NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live (2005–2012), as well as her leading roles in the films Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013), Ghostbusters (2016), and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020). She has also starred in several other films and television series, including Adventureland (2009), MacGruber (2010), The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018), and A Simple Favor (2018). Wiig was born in Canandaigua, New York, and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she began her career as a member of the improv comedy troupe The Groundlings.
8. Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones is an American comedian and actress. She has been a cast member on Saturday Night Live since 2014 and has appeared in the films Ghostbusters (2016) and Trainwreck (2015).
Jones was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Flint, Michigan. She attended the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduation, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
Her big break came when she was hired as a writer on Saturday Night Live in 2014. She was soon promoted to being a featured player on the show.
Jones has been praised for her work on SNL, with The New York Times calling her “a standout” among the show’s new cast members. She has also been nominated for three Emmy Awards for her work on the show.
7. Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon is an outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. She has been nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on Saturday Night Live, and won the award in 2016. She has also appeared in films such as Ghostbusters (2016) and The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018).
6. Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling is an Indian-American actress, comedian, and writer. She is best known for her role as Kelly Kapoor on the NBC sitcom The Office.
Kaling was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Hindu Indian parents from Tamil Nadu, India. Her father, Avu Chokalingam, worked as a architectural engineer and her mother, Swati Roysircar, was a doctor. Kaling has an older brother named Vijay Jojo Chokalingam.
Kaling graduated from Dartmouth College in 2001 with a degree in playwriting. She then moved to New York City to pursue a career in comedy writing. In 2005, she wrote and produced the short film Matt & Ben, which won the Sundance Film Festival award for Best First Screenplay.
Kaling’s break came when she was cast as Kelly Kapoor on The Office in 2005. The show became a hit and ran for nine seasons. Kaling also wrote and directed several episodes of the show.
In 2012, Kaling created and starred in her own sitcom, The Mindy Project. The show ran for six seasons on Fox before being cancelled in 2017. It was later picked up by Hulu and ran for three more seasons before ending in 2020.
Kaling has also written two bestselling books: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (2011) and Why Not Me? (2015).
5. Issa Rae
Issa Rae is an American actress, writer, director, and producer. She is best known for her work on the HBO series Insecure, for which she has been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards.
Rae was born in Los Angeles, California, to a black mother and a Korean father. She attended Stanford University, where she studied African and African-American studies and graduated in 2011.
Rae began her career writing and directing web series, including The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl (2011), which was adapted into the book of the same name in 2015. She also created and starred in the HBO series Insecure (2016–present), for which she has been nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy.
In 2018, Rae made her film debut as a lead actress in The Hate U Give, based on the young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $50 million worldwide.
4. Tracee Ellis Ross
Tracee Ellis Ross is an American actress, model, comedian, director, producer, and writer. She is the daughter of Diana Ross and music producer Robert Ellis Silberstein. Tracee Ellis Ross began her acting career in independent films and television sitcoms before landing the role of Joan Clayton on the hit series Girlfriends (2000–2008).
In addition to her work on Girlfriends, Tracee Ellis Ross has appeared in a number of film and television roles. She had a recurring role on the sitcom Black-ish (2014–present) and has also starred in the films Hairspray (2007), I Hate Myselfie (2015), and The High Note (2020).
As a director, Tracee Ellis Ross made her feature film debut with the short film The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (2007). She has also directed episodes of Black-ish and Mixed-ish (2019–present).
3. Tiffany Haddish
The multi-talented Tiffany Haddish is one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood today. She has starred in a number of hit movies, including Girls Trip and The Last Ounce of Courage. Haddish is also a successful stand-up comedian, and has appeared on several popular TV shows, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Carmichael Show.
In 2018, Haddish made history by becoming the first black female stand-up comedian to host Saturday Night Live. She also released her memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, which was a bestseller.
Haddish is currently starring in the sitcom The Neighborhood, and she will soon be seen in the upcoming film Limited Partners. With her talent and popularity on the rise, there’s no doubt that Tiffany Haddish is one of the top outstanding lead actresses in a comedy series today.
She’s had an incredible year, starring in two hit movies (Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8), and now she can add an Emmy nomination to her list of accomplishments. Awkwafina is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the ABC comedy Fresh Off the Boat. It’s great to see her getting recognition for her comedic chops, as she’s been making us laugh for years (including on her hilarious Comedy Central show, Awkwafina is America). We’re rooting for her to take home the Emmy!
1. Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin – One of the most successful comediennes of her generation, Lily Tomlin began her career as a stand-up comic before moving on to television and film. She is best known for her roles on the sitcoms Laugh-In and Murphy Brown, as well as the films Nashville, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and 9 to 5. In recent years, she has returned to her roots in stand-up comedy, touring the country with her one-woman show.