Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm Available

Finally, a former Letterman staff writer is saying in Vanity Fair what those of us in the comedy biz have known for years.
At this moment, there are more females serving on the United States Supreme Court than there are writing for Late Show with David Letterman, The Jay Leno Show, and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien combined. Out of the 50 or so comedy writers working on these programs, exactly zero are women. It would be funny if it weren’t true.
The article goes on to ask why. Famous drunkard Christopher Hitchens, and many of his impotent cohorts, would assume it's because women aren't funny. That conclusion, however, is so patently ridiculous, it's not even worth disputing.

The author has her own argument.
I have a theory. An executive producer with an all-male writing staff once inadvertently revealed his deep, dark fear. While discussing a full-time position for me, he mused out loud, “I wonder if having a woman in the room will change everything.” Of course, what he really meant was: “I wonder if having a woman in the room will change me.” Male writers don’t want to be judged in the room. They want to be able to scarf an entire bag of potato chips while cracking fart jokes and making lewd comments without fear of feminine disapproval. But we’re your co-workers, not your wives. Crack a decent fart joke and, as professionals, we will laugh. And while writers do need to feel comfortable in order to make comedy, denying an entire class of people certain opportunities in order to preserve a way of life seems a tad antebellum. Plus, it’s been my experience that a room with a fairer sampling of humanity will always produce funnier material.
I'm sure most folks would assume these sexist, scatological, chip-eating writers are all standup comics. Not true. Far too many of these writer's rooms are bursting at the seams with Harvard-educated humorists.

And, as many of us have discovered firsthand, Ivy League liberals are some of the most anti-female males on the planet. Don't let their Democrat voter registration card fool you.

In my 20-plus years as a standup comic, I have been in the company of countless male standup comics who have been "able to scarf an entire bag of potato chips while cracking fart jokes and making lewd comments without fear of feminine disapproval" while in the company of a female comic-- me.

Perhaps instead of including females on the writing staff, they should just purge their ranks of all the Harvard douchebags and instead hire standup comics-- both male and female.

The fact that both Dave and Jay started out as standup comics makes all of this even more disappointing. But, then again, they are of a different generation. I can only hope that the Dave and Jay of 2020 will have a different attitude. It'll be too late for me, but some babe on the open mike circuit right now might have a chance.


Anonymous said...

Nice article. I completely agree - get stand up comedians to write (male/female). Just look at Chelsea Lately: female host/comedian working with fellow stand up comedians, who happen to make better jokes at current events that any opening monologue on network TV.

As far as female TV hosts, there was the Joan Rivers show on Fox that aired in the mid to late 80s, which didn't do well. Today, there is Chelsea Handler (already mentioned). There is the Mo'Nique Show on BET. Wanda Sykes is getting her own late night talk show on FOX in November.

Out of all these, only Sykes is on network TV, but she will be on Saturday nights only (I believe).

Now I'm curious how many female writers work for Ferguson, Fallon, Stewart and Kimmel.

Traci Skene said...

Chelsea Handler is a good example. In fact, staff writer, Heather McDonald is one of my fellow Fashion Police for Us Weekly.

I know a lot of great female standup comics who would excel as writers for these late night shows. When Rosie had her show, the head writer was a woman I worked with on the road many years ago. I believe Ellen has a few female comics on her staff-- at least she used to.

Andrew15 said...

I was with one of the mentioned shows 6 years. No female writer ever submitted.

Have staffed sitcoms and as a rule don't hire standups - their skill is forcefully expressing their own POV, with attendant digressions. Many excrutiating late nights because of tired staff plus wired standup on staff. They tend to amuse the room, over improving the scene/dialogue.

Have done all male staffs and, twice, nearly all (but me) female. Each works 'okay' (I prefer no table, as in late night: writers should write, not talk /bitch/ reminisce). But add one girl to a boy staff and the alpha-male room-dominance schtick becomes pheromonally unbearable, even if the woman's a typist. Or bringing in the sandwiches.

Deplorably, but truly: I've worked with prob. 300+ writers and there are 2 women I'd hire again, neither for late-night. Both went on to giganto success and are unaffordable in TV. (How many men I'd hire again? Maybe a dozen?) It's the type of writing. Women go for truth, guys for jokes. Sitcoms need a sort of truth, late-night needs gags.

On several shows I've had women writers who time and again took a script for punch-up and handed it back with just the lines that offended them crossed-out, nothing added.

As a WGA protected class they're virtually unfirable, even when they tell you (have had this) they are not going to write any more - they're offended by the "room jokes" and are going to stay at home and collect their checks.

Would like to see a WGA policy whereby prospective staffers might have their samples read with the covers removed, to avoid any judgment based on gender/race/age. That's how I do it: just read the material. However, the women, judged this way, are not as funny. Because fewer of them are ignorant, obsessive dysfunctional pigs.