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The Daily Show Women's Problem With "The Daily Show's Woman Problem"

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Comedy Central

The women of The Daily Show‘s staff yesterday took the unusual step of issuing an open letter in response to a lengthy Jezebel blog post from last month that charged the show had a “problem” with women—specifically, with hiring too few women writers and on-camera talent.

To rehash quickly, blogger Irin Carmon talked to female comics and former staffers, looked at the show’s male-heavy creative staff and noted the dearth of female correspondents between Samantha Bee and new hire Olivia Munn. In broader terms, her piece, and quotes within it, described the comedy show as a “boys’ club” rife with “institutionalized sexism” and characterized Jon Stewart as running TDS “with joyless rage.”(Carmon says the show’s staffers refused comment when she was working on the piece.)

In response, the current female TDS employees argued that women make up 40% of the staff (if not 40% of writers and correspondents) and are in positions with creative input, that the show is a “meritocracy” and that Stewart has supported them through troubles from 9/11 to “inadequately researched blog posts that cling to a predetermined narrative about sexism at The Daily Show.”

Though it may be wimpy to say it, I have to concur with Jaime Weinman and say that both sides have a point here. Carmon’s post is right about the underrepresentation of women at The Daily Show (whether or not the various women producers on staff have input too) and is insightful about the dynamics (both audience makeup and office culture) that not only keep women out of writers’ rooms but make it hard for them to stay in. But this is a problem epidemic in other late-night shows as well, and TV comedy generally, and comedy generally. And while the Jezebel piece frames it as “The Daily Show’s”—and thus Stewart’s—”problem,” it doesn’t really do anything to make the case that this is a particular problem of The Daily Show’s, or even that the show is as bad as its peers. Rather, there seems to be an implication that a comedy show with a liberal point-of-view has a higher standard to meet, or that we would somehow expect it to be less sexist. (Because liberal men aren’t sexist? Check out some of the vitriol against Sarah Palin, or Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary.)

[Update: Or, arguably, the idea is that a comedy show based in moral outrage should be called out for its own outrages more than an apolitical comedy show. Or there’s just an assumption that Jezebel readers, and chattering media folks generally, just care more about The Daily Show than, say, Jimmy Kimmel Live. Or all the above.]

On the other hand, the current staffers can charge Carmon with relying on disgruntled former staffers for her piece, but if a show is refusing comment, that’s what you’re left with. Not to mention, disgruntled former staffers are no more or less reliable in their objectivity than, well, gruntled staffers defending their current employer. They could both be right; it’s entirely possible that a boss could be decent and supportive to his employees but also sometimes a hardass who runs an institution whose culture puts up barriers to women. (Just as it’s possible that Munn—who I think has taken a bum rap for having done racy comedy on G4’s Attack of the Show—could have been hired for looks and for comic chops, rather than being a hot babe whose talent is irrelevant.* Though I still like Kristen Schaal better.) On the face of it, there’s no untangling the, well, she-said, she-said.

But I hope all this encourages more people to read Carmon’s piece, because it’s a generally fair, rounded and insightful look at the various issues, not all as simple as boys’-club-ism, that keep women from having a bigger presence in late-night comedy. Are there any rising female comics you’d like to see TDS hire? And what do you think of Munn so far?

*Irony alert: Minutes after posting, I received an e-mail PR pitch for a current Attack of the Show correspondent, describing her as “technology-savvy AND drop dead gorgeous,” so yeah, I’m not unaware of that show’s casting preferences.