Cholesteric liquid crystals, because of their birefringence and periodic structure, and 1-d photonic band-gap materials. In the reflection band, classical light propagation is forbidden for one of the two eigenmodes; for this mode, the material acts as a distributed cavity host. This inherent distributed cavity effect modifies the fluorescence spectrum, and, if the material is optically pumped, allows population inversion and mirrorless lasing. We have studied emission from thin samples of liquid crystalline materials optically pumped by pico- and nanosecond laser pulses. We have observed laser emission, without an external cavity, from dye-doped liquid crystals, from pure cholesteric liquid crystals without dyes, and from cholesteric liquid crystal elastomers. We present the results of these experiments, discuss the relation between material properties and the lasing process, and consider promising materials and applications.