Published on July 7th, 2010 | by Sharilyn Johnson


We’re here! We’re peers! Get used to it!

I spend about half of my waking hours cooped up in a writers’ room. With men. Who don’t give a shit about my gender. I suspect that if I worked at any other show, it would be the same. And I suspect that’s true also of the day-to-day lives of women at the Daily Show.

Don’t believe me? Just ask them. Actually, you don’t even need to ask them — they’ll tell you anyway, via a lengthy open letter released yesterday, as a response to the recent Jezebel piece questioning the show’s hiring practices. The letter comes with a perfectly posed photograph illustrating their fierce awesomeness. Note that they’re posed around Jon’s desk, not under it.

At the core of it, I believe absolutely everything contained within the letter written by the women of the Daily Show to be true. I can’t imagine anyone had their names placed on that letter under duress, or experience sexism in their day-to-day work lives.

The same is true of Rachel Axler’s experience as a writer for the show, which she wrote about yesterday as well. I believe every word of it to be true.

I think once they’re in, they’re golden. It’s the getting in – and staying in – part that needs examining.

I was told a story by someone who worked – and still works – at the Daily Show. A story I can’t give details about because it was told by someone whose trust I value, about someone who I would never ask to corroborate.

In the most vague terms: a woman was being considered for a fairly major position that she was qualified for. She was interviewed, interviewed again, and was deemed the right candidate. But not so fast! Before they’d officially offer her the job, she had to perform a labour-intensive task that – upon hearing it detailed to me – left me slack-jawed. Had I been her, I would have told them to stuff it.

Upon repeating this story to someone who hires for another show of similar esteem, I was met with a reaction of “holy crap, we would NEVER do that to someone”.

As far as I know, no other person vying for this job title had been put through this before or since. Just her.

Is it a coincidence she happened to be a woman? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I honestly don’t know.

She was hired. And once she was in, everything was fine — just like the letter says.

When I asked this anecdote-teller about the status of women at the show – years before it was a hot-button issue – I was assured that there was absolutely no sexism problem. But in my mind, the question mark has never quite faded.

That’s why I was keen to notice that the first female on-air talent hired in several years – Kristin Schaal – was brought onto the show concurrent with her romance with one of the writers.

It’s not popular to bring this up, because everyone loves Kristin — myself included. She’s the only “new” comic I recall ever approaching at the hotel party at Just For Laughs years ago, simply to tell her I thought she was fantastic. I had nothing else to say. Yeah, it was as awkward as you imagine.

She’s super talented, and may well have ended up on TDS anyway.

But still, that happened. They have to realize how that looks.

They also have to realize how it looks to do their correspondent shopping from the pages of Playboy, and then turn around and claim ignorance as if we’re supposed to believe nobody glanced at Olivia Munn’s resume. Although considering her comedy background (“none”), perhaps they didn’t.

But according to the ladies of TDS, just THINKING about this stuff makes me one of the bad guys! By engaging in debate this past week means we’ve all been insulting the female production staffers and downplaying their contributions to the show. Discussing the oppression of women is, like, totally oppressing women and stuff.

I will give them credit for one thing: they’ve done a stellar job of turning the whole thing around and distracting the feminists from the issue at hand.

Girl power, amiright ladies?!?

Yeah!!! I’m gonna go work in TELEVISION and stop shaving my armpits and and and….

…wait, what were we talking about?

Oh. Right.

Look, Jezebel is Jezebel and we’re smart enough to read between the lines. Former employees might be bitter, the story might have been written to fit a narrative, and so on. We understand those tricks — we watch your show, remember?

But the ladies’ hyper-defensiveness does nothing to create transparency or shed light on the complicated grey area where sexism usually lives. Just because you can prove the place isn’t exactly Sterling Cooper doesn’t mean everything is automatically ok.

This whole idea of how-dare-we think such things about their precious workplace? Really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. A bad, orchestrated, Comedy Central PR department taste in my mouth.

I would have a whole lot more respect for this statement if it contained something like the following:

“Look, folks, we’re between election cycles and the suits wouldn’t mind it if we bumped the numbers up a little bit. We were looking for a new correspondent anyway, and it was suggested that 18-49 male demographic would appreciate a bit of eye candy along with their comedy. Hate to break it to you all, but television is still a business. Olivia is exactly what we were looking for, and c’mon – we wouldn’t have hired her if we didn’t think she could pull off the comedy.”

Of course, they can’t say that because Rory Albanese already played the “we’re all nice Jewish boys who only read the Economist” card.

They seem to be weaving a complicated web for themselves that will only cause more scrutiny. Whether there’s truly a problem with their hiring practices or not, they’ll need to watch way more old tapes of Scott McLellan to talking-point their way out of this.

About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including amazon.com