Apr 5, 2013

Women In Comedy: The Late Night Vacancy

By Josh Oakley

(This is Shelby Fero. She is very funny.)

The only time I’ve ever fought with a certain great friend of mine was when he knowingly provoked me on the only subject (where entertainment is concerned) that riles me up instantaneously: “women aren’t funny”. Listen, I’m not trying to be “that guy” because he is almost worse than people that are blatantly sexist. I’m speaking of the guy who thinks he needs to protect and defend women. My fury stems not just from equal rights (though obviously, being a non-asshole, much fury lies there as well). It’s much simpler than that: if you think there is a dearth of funny women, you have no right speaking on the subject of comedy. Having that belief means you have not studied that field in the slightest. I get upset when people attempt to inform me that network television doesn’t make great programs. You don’t know what you’re talking about. So stop talking.

This latest outbreak of hysteria stems from the recent news that Jimmy Fallon will be taking over The Tonight Show, leaving his position on Late Night vacant. Seth Myers seems to be getting the position (if fairly sturdy gossip is to be believed). I like Myers quite a bit and would be happy to see him host the show. It would be great to get to get a woman, or someone who isn’t white on the show, but it looks like that battle is already lost. The battle raging still, is found on Internet lists and the comments that accompany them.

The worst offenders in this arena are, of course, the commenters that argue with those decrying the lack of women. I ran across one such individual on Grantland’s Late Night piece who named three women (Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler and Kristen Wiig), concluded that none could fill the position (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he means pragmatically) and claimed that there were no women available. Here’s where we arrive at the argument I began with: just because you lack knowledge of the comedy field doesn’t mean you are correct. It means the opposite in fact. Just because you can’t think of funny women doesn’t mean they do not exist.

The mainstays of these lists that have been popping up throughout the week are the great Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. They are two women that did an excellent job hosting the Golden Globes and have proven talented in a number of ways. Here’s the issue with this selection as your default token woman: both Poehler and Fey are infinitely more successful presently than Letterman, Conan or Fallon were before taking the hosting gig. None of those three starred in long-running primetime sitcoms or hosted a major awards show previous to hosting Late Night. The idea that Poehler and Fey should retreat from their positions of power because you cannot manage to discover one other humorous woman is ridiculous.

The other female I have seen in a number of spots is Aisha Tyler, who would be fantastic. (We’re not talking whether these people could logistically get the job, because most lists have been of the “wish” variety rather than actuality. I know Tyler is probably too busy with Archer and the upcoming Whose Line reboot). Claire Zulkey, onThe A.V. Club, also brought up Julie Klausner, another great option.

A quick interlude for clarification’s sake: before arguing that you don’t know Klausner, or names I will mention below, try to remember if you knew Conan before Late Night. Or if you liked Fallon. Or if Letterman’s morning show garnered impressive ratings.

Entertainment Weekly posted a list of ten females who couldhost Late Night. It’s a good list, and it includes Tyler, Poehler and other greats such as Chelsea Peretti. But it’s one voice surrounded by many larger voices all screaming for various men. I’ll reiterate that I have nothing against Seth Myers, and will most likely enjoy Late Night should he get the job. The issue comes back to my discussion at the top of this article: the idea that the people writing and commenting about comedy don’t know enough about the field to realize the funny woman that exist within it. Now, many lists I’ve seen have allowed each writer one pick, so the fact that most picked men isn’t any one writer’s fault (I agree with Sean Fennessey at Grantland; Jon Glaser and H. Jon Benjamin would be fantastic).

So then we come to “those” commenters, and the general sense of the argument being had. If we are discussing a new late night talk show host, the argument should be had, more vocally and more intelligently and simply more. The argument being that the field has an almost complete lack of female voice. And it’s as good a time as any to get into the conversation, the larger, annoying one, as well. That conversation that the reason those that only dip their toes in the comedy world cannot think of many prominent women. It is not because they are not there. It is because of various roadblocks set up by a society that is afraid to have basic conversations that will hurt no one and only help people. With this article I am not attempting to say that I stand alone, or that I am defending females in any sense. I am saying that it is an important argument to have, and I hope I’ve planted the seeds for you to seek out great comedy from women.

So listen to Tig Notaro’s Live from last year. Follow Shelby Fero on twitter. Watch Maria Bamford’s recent special featuring her parents, or the Andy Kaufman-esque hour that Kristen Schaal recently aired on Comedy Central. And look at the list I’ll drop below (and those mentioned above). None of these people, whose talent far outpaces my own, need my defense. They just need you to listen, and they speak for themselves. Many of them could be great Late Night hosts. And they are all funny, plain and simple.

Jenny Slate. Maya Rudolph. Amy Sedaris. June Diane Raphael. Gillian Jacobs. Megan Amram. Jessica St. Clair. Lennon Parham. Jessica Williams. Kulap Vilaysack. Erinn Hayes. Lake Bell. Retta. Lauren Lapkus. Amy Schumer. Pamela Murphy.


(If you have great female comedians I missed, let me know below. And if you’re interested in writing a piece on non-white comedians, I’d be more than happy to post it [e-mail me at jayoaks1992@gmail.com].  Or if you’d rather I get off my lazy ass and write that piece myself, let me know [though much of my argument would be the same]. Whatever your thoughts, please comment below. I want this to be a conversation that happens, not just my voice.)

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