The Daily Show and The Ladies

It all started with this post at Jezebel. For those unfamiliar, Jezebel is a blog that covers everything from adorable animals (pictures posted biweekly – one for ‘hump day’ on Wednesday, another for ‘tgif’ Friday) to news wrap-ups, all generally from the questioning perspective of  feminism. Irin Carmon writes, “[The Daily Show is] also a boys’ club where women’s contributions are often ignored and dismissed.” I can’t imagine why that raised heckles.

Of course, this is what lures the readers in: a vague, grand statement meant to provoke a response strong enough to click on the link and read the rest of the article. Classic, but also a turn off. Like all intrepid explorers at the heart of the internet community, however, I knew I had to at least skim the article.

And you know what? It’s not that offensive. Let’s break down the initial points, just for fun:

  1. “If Olivia Munn, the former video game show host introduced to Daily Show viewers three weeks ago, survives her tryout, she’ll be the first new female correspondent on the show in seven years.” This is rather telling. Sam Bee’s been on the show since 2001 (this factoid is pointed out in the Jezebel article) – and, boy, is she great – but the majority of the faces in front of the camera are men. I find every single one of them hilarious but I can’t help but wonder why Olivia Munn (not a comedian by trade) was hired when the few segments she’s been in so far have made me cringe more than chuckle.
  2. “Television comedy, and late night in particular, can be cutthroat and transitory, and no one is particularly surprised when the men who host these shows turn out to be not very nice guys, as anyone who cared to pay attention to the David Letterman fall-out could see. Women are universally scarce, whether in the writer’s room or on the air.” Irin goes on to note that the atmosphere of pre-1997 (and pre-Stewart) was arguably worse, citing the article over which Craig Kilborn (then host) was suspended, in which he said a female co-producer would “blow” him if he asked.
  3. Comedy Central (owner of The Daily Show) was asked to participate in the article and it declined.

Immediately, I get the idea that this was brought on by the hiring of a new woman in front of the lens. It’s important that Jezebel brought in the point that it’s not simply a The Daily Show problem that they’re speaking to here, it’s an industry-wide issue in which this particular show happens to be umbrella’d under. By focusing on a show in the industry which congratulates itself for gutting through the bullshit words of so many media stations, politicians and celebrities, Jezebel is saying, “see, even The Daily Show can’t quite manage to have more than 2 women in the writer’s room or in front of the camera”.

From my perspective, it seemed like a relatively even-handed critique of women in the position of writer or correspondent. Will it make me stop watching The Daily Show? Fuck no, but I can agree that I’d like to see some ladies working it in front of the camera who can hold their own against Stewart, Bee or Hodgins.

But the article gained some traction. First, Irin refuted some arguments being made in the comments section. Then, John Stewart gave Jezebel a shout-out on the show in the middle of one of his schticks. He said Jezebel thought he was a “sexist prick”. The hyperbole is amusing in the context of his on-screen “breakdown” but it obviously over-simplifies and stereotypes the article. Irin’s response included the following paragraph:

We did, however, talk to as many people with direct experience of the show as we could to find out why it’s been seven years since they’ve had a new female correspondent, and why there are rarely female writers behind the scenes. By the way, thanks to Helen Mirren last night, the show has now had 66 men as guests this year, compared to 14 women.

This paragraph is promptly ruined by her addition of her sarcastic, “(I think, anyhow. Math is hard!)”, which really does no one any favors in the discussion.

Frankly, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But then, so do a lot of the articles at Jezebel. It comes with the territory. I see a fair few of the articles as making mountains out of mole hills, but I keep coming back because the site encourages me to think differently about certain situations – though I don’t necessarily change my views to conformity because of it; it simply challenges me to take more perspectives into account when I form my opinions. It is the nature of the freelancing blog beast.

I defend The Daily Show with my dying breath for its content while my gentleman caller huffs and bemoans John Stewart’s ever-increasing barrage of too-long imitations and hamming-it-up-for-the-cameras, begging me to change the channel because Stewart is baby-talking instead of being the articulate man we’ve seen him be numerous times. My gentleman caller’s heart simply can’t take it any more. I beg him to stop complaining over all the funny one-liners.

See, as much as I like my gentleman caller, he has his faults. Talking over my show is one of them. And just as much as I love The Daily Show, it doesn’t mean that I don’t see room for improvement there, either. I don’t mean that John should start sending Ms. Bee out to do reports on tampon costs or that my gentleman caller should take the playful use of a shock collar every time he talks over John as a sign that I want him silent all the time*. It’d just be nice to get more ladies into the places where they’ve traditionally been lacking (comedy, writer’s rooms).

*clearly a joke. I do not support excessive force against others unless there is a safeword involved.

“Did I feel like there was a boy’s club there? Yeah, sure. Did I want to be part of it? Not necessarily. So it kind of goes both ways,” Stacey Grenrock Woods is quoted as saying. I think this illustrates the nuance of the Jezebel article perfectly. It’s a nuanced discussion – not just ‘women should be here!’, but ‘do I even want to get there that way – and how else could I?’

But that’s not the end! Oh, no. Today on my Facebook feed I saw a link to this: Women of The Daily Show Speak.

The Daily Show, why would you do this? Why. I need to know. If the allegations were this irksome to you, then send out your legion of loyal ladies and give out some interviews. Instead, here is a one-size-fits-all letter from the 30 ladies pictured.

A) I don’t think that was the point of the original Jezebel article. It’s fantastic that The Daily Show is, overall, made up of 40% women. It’s fantastic that some of them are producers and that not all are in makeup and wardrobe and crowd control. I still see only one woman in front of the camera regularly and two in the writer’s room. There were firsthand accounts about the audition process for The Daily Show that were a little disconcerting. How would these women refute that? Most of them can not, because they operate in other spheres of the show. Therefore, this feels like a superfluous list of vaginas inhabiting the building, or, to quote Mad Men, “I had to go all the way to the mailroom but I found one.”

B) Is Kristen Schaal really still considered a correspondent? She has performed a whole 7 segments over the past two years (assuming that The Daily Show’s website has a complete video archive). Her last segment was over a year ago. She is a guest, at best.

C) The solidarity of addressing the accusations of former employees about the atmosphere is great. But I don’t want to read it in a snarky letter-to-the-world. I’d like to hear about their actual experiences, individually. Give me some fucking examples up in here. Like any good essay or generic argument, it needs specific examples in order for readers to accept your premises and to accept the author(s) as reliable. I need to hear the personal stories and I would eat them the fuck up. But this I can not bring myself to care about.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that Jezebel has gotten under the show’s skin so much. They’re a blog (a sort of special-interests one, at that). A Gawker Media blog, sure, but they’re still a blog, with writers who I would not feel comfortable calling anything similar to ‘reporter’.

The Daily Show, I love you, but you should have responded differently. Maybe send out a lady or two to be interviewed, knowing full well that Jezebel is, at the end of the day, about page counts and finding an angle. I’m sure that could have been spun into some good press from Jez. And yes, I know and appreciate that there is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the camera, that these women having their place on your show is important and great. However, one of the concepts that I took away from the Jezebel article was that writer’s rooms and anchor-type positions were traditional a boy’s club. They were taking a peek at your track record and seeing if the historical tendencies reared their heads in your show. On the surface, it appears that it is. This open letter did not refute that concept at all. Also: your parent company refused to comment in the first place and this shitty letter definitely did not make up for the kind of interview I wish I could have read with your involvement.

Jezebel, I love you, but sometimes you are a lesbian shitass (a Jezzie inside joke reclaiming an epithet). You can be self-righteous as hell. You post so many times daily that of course you have to write on things that other people would consider nitpicky.  That said, this was a relatively even handed article for the site, with Irin making a lot of practical concessions, and including quotes from her sources that backed that attitude up. “”I don’t think Jon is sexist,’ [Smithberg] says. ‘I don’t think that there is a double standard at the Daily Show. I do think that by the time it gets to the Daily Show it’s already been through the horrible sexist double standard of the universe. You’re not hiring someone right out of school. By the time they get to the candidates of the Daily Show, the herd has been thinned by the larger societal forces.'”

Combine your power and use them for good, guys.

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