It’s been an eventful time for women in comedy. The New York Times broke the story that female comedians are not booked to perform on “The Letterman Show” in equal numbers to their male counterparts. You don’t say. Women in comedy not being treated fairly? Well gosh darn it, stop the presses.
Here’s the real scoop: No one in entertainment is treated fairly, least of all the talent. And that inequity is parceled out on a sliding scale, women, people of color, LGBTs, the left-handed ...
I will not argue that women are funny and would do well on any show. If you think women are funny, they’re funny. If you think they’re not, they’re not. If you’re a human adult who still thinks in absolutes then you don’t deserve the opposable thumbs you were born with.
I was surprised when Eddie Brill, the talent booker for Letterman, was fired. He had the job for over 10 years. If he wasn’t doing exactly what Dave wanted they would have let him go a long time ago. But they can’t fire Dave, now can they? And let’s be clear, Eddie was only fired from one of his jobs. He’s still doing warm-up and making an annual stand-up appearance on the show. So at best he’s only kinda sorta fired.
What did Eddie say to The New York Times that riled up the women in comedy and those who laugh at us?
“There are a lot less female comics who are authentic.” And “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”
Having the courage to get on stage in front of an often inebriated and sometimes hostile audience, speaking our minds, wearing pants ... yeah, it doesn’t get more masculine than that now does it?
You know what’s not masculine? The money. Mr. Brill might think some female comedians act like men to get laughs, but we certainly aren’t paid like men. I recently did a gig where six comedians were hired to do 15 minutes each. The women on the show each made a $100. I later learned that at least one of the men on the show made $250. And just when we thought we’d emerged from the dark ages of white male privilege.
I’m sure there are times when being a black woman works professionally to my advantage. I’m hard pressed to say exactly when that is, though. I guess if me and a dude were going out for the same Upper West Side nanny job I’d be golden, especially if I showed up to the interview speaking in a generic Carribean accent.
When I began my career in comedy I was told I needed to write, develop and perform great material. Well, 7,226 days later I feel like a fool for not just working on my authenticity and machismo.
Believe it or not, I’m not angry. I know life’s not fair. I know there are bigger problems on the planet. I’m not even angry at the guy who made 150 percent more me for the same gig. I would have taken the money and ran too, if I’d had the chance.
It’s tough economic times for everybody. A fellow comedian recently told me that only 1 percent of us make a living solely as entertainers. That’s a staggeringly small number and still probably an over-estimate. But if you’re in the 1 percent it’s something (in this case) to be proud of, especially if you’re a woman.
So, is it really a big deal when you don’t see as many women as men in stand-up spots on late-night TV? No show is a star maker for comedians anymore, but here’s what an appearance can do: It can grow your fan base and raise your asking price. That would be nice since I am, after all, earning less money than men for the same gigs. It isn’t just about not being on Letterman, it’s about being blocked from greater opportunities. So yeah, it does matter.
And yet, without a late-night TV show credit under my man belt I’m still somehow managing to be in the 1 percent. Imagine where I would be if I were an authentic male stand-up comedian who was “right” for “Letterman.”
Leighann Lord is a comedian from South Jamaica.