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Why we need more women in late-night

by Callie Giaccone September 17, 2019
Why we need more women in late-night

There’s nothing like kicking my feet up after a long day, turning on my TV and hanging out with one of my dear friends: John Oliver, Seth Myers, Trevor Noah, or Samantha Bee.

Late-night comedy plays an important role in my life and over the last half-decade, its place in society has shifted. Due to an information overload and the aggravating political climate, this outlet has become a more digestible way to get news.

According to a study in the Global Media Journal, comedians are aware of this shift. The journal states “Despite the fact that Late-Night TV show comedians are not necessarily considered as professional journalists, they identify themselves with the market model of professional journalism.” Since late-night comedians are often seen as journalists in at least some facet, it’s important to examine how this affects our world view.

These late-night shows often highlight and criticize the lack of diversity and inclusivity within the system, but, ironically, the demographics of late-night comedians is still quite homogeneous. According to The Los Angeles Times, there is a lack of women writers in leading late-night shows. Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj consists of only 20 per cent female writers, 22 per cent on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 25 per cent on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, 28 per cent on Late Night with Seth Meyers, 17 per cent with Conan, and even Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has only 45 per cent women writers.

Women have been fighting for a voice in comedy for a long time, and it’s important to address how their voice has the ability to influence our perception of the world. Since the role of late-night comedians has become to articulate and digest world events in a humorous manner, it is crucial to widen the way that this is done.

Tina Fey recounted to David Letterman in an interview that her experience with a more diverse writing room has lead to social change.

“As the chemistry of the room slowly became more diverse, other things played better,” she said. She continued by explaining that women just simply laugh at different things than men. For a long time, people have thought that what is funny for men is universal and what is funny for women is strictly for women. This is another way that the patriarchy dominates society.

Although it does look bare for women in late-night, there has been a push for more representation. According to Elle.com, Lilly Singh, an Indian-Canadian YouTuber, will be hosting a late-night show on NBC, which will air after Seth Meyers’ at 1:35 a.m. Other late-night hosts, like Seth Meyers, have added segments to push a more diverse agenda. The segment “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” allows writers for the show, Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel, to take the floor and tell jokes that would not be politically correct for straight white men to say.

On a podcast called Late Night with Joy Reid, Jenny Hagel explains that different stories and jokes emerge when people connect to the news in different ways.

“When you are a member of a sub-community you just have a different angle,” Hagel said. “You might think, ‘awh man that sucks’ from a distance but if it hits you directly you might find a different way into that joke, or have a different idea for a sketch about it.”

Even the most progressive comedians, like John Oliver and Trevor Noah, are limiting themselves by having less diversity in their writing rooms. Although they may have a very balanced and well-informed perspective, they will not receive the same intellectual, psychological, and emotional reaction to news from the other less represented members of society.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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