"We Already Have A Woman. Do You Think She'll Mind?" And Other Tales From Late Night TV


“It’s a job. It’s not a perfect world,” television writer Janis Hirsch tells Salon. “Women have to either nut up and get into the spirit of it or not look for a job on a show that’s all about men.”

Salon‘s Lynn Harris polled a bunch of television writers, named and unnamed, male and female, about late night television’s gender problem. (If you’re wondering which late-night show is not “all about men,” it’s possible Hirsch was talking about sitcoms. Or, um, Chelsea Handler.)

Their comments indicate that women’s experience in the writers’ rooms of these shows is partly the standard workplace “just one of the guys” pressure (in which a woman is led “to overcompensate by being incredibly dirty…It’s like you’re trying to convey to your boss, ‘Hey, don’t worry… I won’t sue you for saying the word ‘cunt”) and partly the particular nature of comedy’s taboo obsessions. Says Janice DiTullio, the first female writer on Conan O’Brien,

“One time we had this sexual harassment guy come in from H.R. and explain what not to do — and it was ludicrous because we were so far beyond the line. He was like, ‘Be careful about complimenting someone on her clothing,’ ‘Don’t make comments about people’s body parts,’ but we were just being lewd and disgusting all the time. A lot of it is just being loose enough to be creative.”

A male late-night writer agrees:

“To call a writers’ room misogynist is sort of misleading…It’s an environment that thrives on the inappropriate or extreme. At the risk of sounding like a baby to people who break up concrete for a living, I’d say that writing comedy all day, every day, can be mentally exhausting and stressful. The writers’ room tends to function like a shock absorber for that stress. Also when you spend your time working in comedy, you start to take a kind of cold, clinical approach to it. So sometimes the only things left that really make you genuinely laugh anymore are the shocking or absurd. The writers’ room tends to be a forum for that kind of humor. I rarely see it as misogynist (or racist, or homophobic) — it’s just crude. Crude and immature, and tearfully funny.”

Fair enough. But does “shocking and absurd” always have to mean men making jokes in the same old ways? At this point, something different (and funny!) would be what would really shock me.

The Lady Comedy Writer In Winter [Salon]

Earlier: Guess How Many Female Writers There Are On Late Night?
Things Are Not Getting Better For Women In Hollywood

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