Why is The Daily Show so darned sexist? Or am I just reading too much Jezebel?

This happened about six months ago, but since my blog didn’t exist then, I’ll bring it to your attention now.

In June 2010, feminist (or “women’s interests,” whatever that means) website Jezebel.com accused The Daily Show with Jon Stewart of being sexist, and ignoring women’s contributions. They cited a severe lack of female correspondents and writers, and a ‘frat-boy’ mentality.

This article caused rather a stir. Jon mentioned it on the show a few days later, and the women of The Daily Show got together and wrote an open letter about it. The letter used to be on the Daily Show website, but has since been taken down, so I’ll repost the whole thing here:

Dear People Who Don’t Work Here,

Recently, certain media outlets have attempted to tell us what it’s like to be a woman at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We must admit it is entertaining to be the subjects of such a vivid and dramatic narrative. However, while rampant sexism at a well-respected show makes for a great story, we want to make something very clear: the place you may have read about is not our office.

The Daily Show isn’t a place where women quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens. On the contrary: just like the men here, we’re indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show’s creative content and the fact is, it wouldn’t be the show that you love without us.

So, who are the women of The Daily Show?

If you think the only women who help create this show are a couple of female writers and correspondents, you’re dismissing the vast majority of us. Actually, we make up 40% of the staff, and we’re not all shoved into the party-planning department (although we do run that, and we throw some kick-ass parties). We are co-executive producers, supervising producers, senior producers, segment producers, coordinating field producers, associate producers, editors, writers, correspondents, talent coordinators, production coordinators, researchers, makeup artists, the entire accounting and audience departments, production assistants, crew members, and much more. We were each hired because of our creative ability, our intelligence, and above all, our ability to work our asses off to make a great show.

Is it hard to work at The Daily Show?

Absolutely. When it comes to what makes it onto the show, competing ideas aren’t just hashed out between the faces you see on camera or the names that roll under the “writers” credits. Jokes and concepts come from our studio department, our field department, our graphics department, our production department, our intern department, and our control room. Jon’s rule is: the strongest idea and the funniest joke win every single time, no matter who pitches it–woman or man, executive producer or production assistant. And of course none of these jokes and ideas would get to air without the layers of production talent working behind the scenes. The fairness of our workplace makes competition tough and makes the show better.

So if it’s so challenging, why have we stayed for two, five, ten, fifteen years? Because it’s challenging. We feel lucky to work in a meritocracy where someone with talent can join us as an intern and work her way up to wherever her strengths take her. But also because it’s an environment that supports our being more than just our jobs. The Daily Show (to an extent few of us have seen elsewhere) allows us the flexibility to care for our families, pursue our own projects, cope with unexpected crises, and have lives outside the show.

Also… are you kidding? It’s The Daily Show for Christ’s sake. You ask some stupid questions, imaginary interlocutor.

What’s Jon Stewart really like?

Jon’s not just a guy in a suit reading a prompter. His voice and vision shape every aspect of the show from concept to execution. The idea that he would risk compromising his show’s quality by hiring or firing someone based on anything but ability, or by booking guests based on anything but subject matter, is simply ludicrous.

But what’s he really like? Well, for a sexist prick, he can be quite charming. He’s also generous, humble, genuine, compassionate, fair, supportive, exacting, stubborn, goofy, hands-on, driven, occasionally infuriating, ethical, down-to-earth and–a lot of people don’t know this–surprisingly funny (for a guy brimming with “joyless rage”). How else to describe him? What’s the word that means the opposite of sexist? That one.

In any organization, the tone is set from the top. Since taking over the show, Jon has worked hard to create an environment where people feel respected and valued regardless of their gender or position. If that’s not your scene, you probably wouldn’t like it here. We happen to love it.

And so…

And so, while it may cause a big stir to seize on the bitter rantings of ex-employees and ignore what current staff say about working at The Daily Show, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to us, it’s not fair to Jon, it’s not fair to our wonderful male colleagues, and it’s especially not fair to the young women who want to have a career in comedy but are scared they may get swallowed up in what people label as a “boy’s club.”

The truth is, when it comes down to it, The Daily Show isn’t a boy’s club or a girl’s club, it’s a family – a highly functioning if sometimes dysfunctional family. And we’re not thinking about how to maximize our gender roles in the workplace on a daily basis. We’re thinking about how to punch up a joke about Glenn Beck’s latest diatribe, where to find a Michael Steele puppet on an hour’s notice, which chocolate looks most like an oil spill, and how to get a gospel choir to sing the immortal words, “Go f@#k yourself!”

Love,

Teri Abrams-Maidenberg, Department Supervisor, 11 years
Jill Baum, Writers’ Assistant, 4 years
Samantha Bee, Correspondent, 7 years
Alison Camillo, Coordinating Field Producer, 13 years
Vilma Cardenas, Production Accountant, 14 years
Lauren Cohen, Production Assistant, 1 year
Jocelyn Conn, Executive Assistant, 4 years
Kahane Cooperman, Co-Executive Producer, 14 years
Pam DePace, Line Producer, 14 years
Tonya Dreher, Avid Editor, 4 years
Kristen Everman, Production Assistant, 2 years
Christy Fiero, Production Controller, 13 years
Jen Flanz, Supervising Producer, 13 years
Hallie Haglund, Writer, 5 years
Kira Hopf, Senior Producer, 14 years
Jenna Jones, Production Assistant, 2 years
Jessie Kanevsky, Department Coordinator, 5 years
Jill Katz, Producer/Executive in Charge of Production, 4 years
Hillary Kun, Supervising Producer, 9 years
Christina Kyriazis, TelePrompter Operator, 14 years
Jo Miller, Writer, 1 year
Jody Morlock, Hair & Make-Up Artist, 14 years
Olivia Munn, Correspondent, 1 month
Lauren Sarver, Associate Segment Producer, 5 years
Kristen Schaal, Correspondent, 2 years
April Smith, Utility, 14 years
Patty Ido Smith, Electronic Graphics, 12 years
Sara Taksler, Segment Producer, 5 years
Elise Terrell, Production Coordinator, 6 years
Adriane Truex, Facility Manager, 12 years
Juliet Werner, Researcher, 1 year

PS. Thanks for the list of funny women. Our Nanas send us a ton of suggestions about “what would make a great skit for The John Daley Show.” We’ll file it right next to those.

PPS. Thanks to the male writers who penned this for us.

Numerous media outlets reported on Jezebel’s story and The Daily Show‘s response. These included Salon’s Broadsheet and the New York Times’ Arts Beat. The Broadsheet article states, “It’s a funny letter. Funny, in the sense that there is elbow-pumping, eyebrow-wiggling sarcasm at every turn. I’m sad to say that these are easy laughs, not the sort of high-level satire you actually see on The Daily Show.” Broadsheet is right. And while the open letter clearly showed that there are lots of women working on The Daily Show, it didn’t address the fact that the vast majority of the show’s correspondents, writers, and even guests are men.

The Jezebel vs Daily Show saga didn’t end there. The New York Times went a step further, and wrote an article called ‘A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight‘ about Jezebel’s decision to post their initial article denouncing The Daily Show, and the success the website has had addressing ‘women’s interests.’

So who won this virtual debate? If you read the NYT article, definitely Jezebel. The Jezebel article “garnered more than 211,000 page views, over 1,000 comments and a sharp retort from 32 female employees currently with The Daily Show.” Plus, it started this whole debate in the first place, ending in a rather favourable article in the NYT. The Daily Show (as well as all other late-night talk shows) is no better off, though maybe its female employees feel a bit better about themselves. Regardless of their behind-the-scenes contributions to the show, the comedy world remains without a doubt a boys’ club. It will take more than one incendiary Jezebel article to change that.

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About whoseroses

Rose is an arts administrator from Victoria, BC. She has worked at some of Canada's biggest and best festivals, including the Victoria Fringe Festival, Just for Laughs in Montreal, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and the Victoria Film Festival. She co-founded the Winnipeg Spoken Word Festival, and helps produce the Victoria Spoken Word Festival. Rose is a graduate of Camosun College's Applied Communication Program, and is passionate about theatre, spoken word, comedy, and her community. She runs on festivals.
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