Emmy Comedy Lead Actress Showdown: Julia Louis-Dreyfus vs. Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer

Female Comedy Emmy Race
Sean McCabe for Variety

After crowning the same champion for three consecutive years, the lead actress in a comedy category suddenly feels like one of the season’s most competitive races. And that’s without the should-be-nommed likes of Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Jane Fonda (“Grace and Frankie”), Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”). Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising to see “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus walk off with a fourth trophy. But there’s a strong case to be made for every one of her competitors, especially two very funny, and very popular, ladies named Amy.

When it comes to Emmy voting, it’s never wise to bet against the incumbent, especially a performer as consistently inventive and exceptional as Louis-Dreyfus. Consider her the front-runner until the moment someone else’s name is called. If you’re looking for an underdog surprise, Amy Poehler’s six consecutive “Parks and Recreation” acting noms without a win make her a sentimental favorite. While Amy Schumer’s “It girl” status, complete with wall-to-wall media coverage and the box office success of “Trainwreck,” makes her the darkhorse to watch.

Selina Meyer ascended to the presidency this season on “Veep,” and Louis-Dreyfus’ performance grew in stature right along with the character. She continued to berate her staff (including Tony Hale’s poor, poor Gary) and manipulate her daughter, but also took a verbal pounding from embittered Amy (MVP Anna Chlumsky) and watched helplessly as her own VP (welcome addition Hugh Laurie) eclipsed her popularity with voters. It all climaxed in Louis-Dreyfus’ submission, the season finale “Election Night,” a half-hour packed with twists, turns and a humdinger of a cliffhanger.

Poehler’s track record for outstanding work is unimpeachable, and yet she’s never won. But defeat never stopped her “Parks” alter ego, eternal optimist Leslie Knope. An excellent final season (which scored a series nom) and Poehler’s impressive multihyphenate status (producer, writer, voiceover star) could finally sway voters. Or maybe the online buzz and progressive politics of Schumer’s sketch showcase “Inside Amy Schumer” plays a spoiler. This is the first year sketch players have been eligible to compete as series leads, and Schumer could be the biggest beneficiary.

Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie,” Showtime)
Like Poehler, Falco is nominated for the final season of a long-running favorite. But she’s won once before for the role, and the Showtime dramedy’s tone skewed heavily dramatic in its last leg. It’s a powerful performance, but not one that’ll make voters laugh.

Lisa Kudrow (“The Comeback,” HBO)
Despite a nine-year gap between seasons one and two, Kudrow earned her 10th career Emmy nom as egomaniacal actress Valerie Cherish in the inside-showbiz satire. The ratings were small, but recognition within the industry was anything but.

Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie,” Netflix)
A beloved veteran with six Emmys under her belt, this is Tomlin’s first starring role in a scripted comedy series. Hollywood doesn’t offer opportunities like this to actresses in their 70s every day, and some voters may want to show their approval on the ballot.