Is the Daily Show sexist?

I didn’t know this was a current debate until I noticed this retort from 32 women staffers at the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. They were rebutting an article in Jezebel (a women’s blog that like a cheap imitation of Salon.Com). The article cited several former Daily Show women staffers; Daily Show’s retort is signed by virtually all of the current women on staff. Most of the former sexist incidents are from 7 and even 14 years ago.

So who has best perspective?

The current staff, obviously, but a few of these comments are worth retelling:

"And the environment on The Daily Show was arguably worse in the Craig Kilborn era: Back in 1997, the then-host was suspended after telling Esquire,"To be honest, [co-creator] Lizz [Winstead] does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would." (Winstead quit not long afterward.)"

"The story of Stewart throwing a newspaper or script at the show’s co-creator and executive producer Madeleine Smithberg out of displeasure with her work is an oft-told one among Daily Show veterans." She quit in 2003.

The rest of the article and the Daily Show rebuttal are forgettable "jibber jabber." Strangely, one read comment actually has the most insightful commentary of all. I repeat her comment here:

"Here’s another angle to look at it from: comedians are f%$@#$d-up people in general.

Think about it: the people who spend time honing their comedic skills are generally trying to make up for something in their lives. Stand-up comics are often depressed, unhappy people offstage. Their jokes are based on their own misery. It’s why Dane Cook isn’t funny; he keeps up a wall that makes his comedy removed from his own life. And it’s why Jon Stewart is funny; he often relies on things he’s bad at to make a joke (dancing, accents, etc).

As a girl with something of a sense of humor, I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more female comics in general. It has nothing to do with the fact that women aren’t funny. It’s that they have trouble being professionally funny. Being professionally funny involves standing up in front of an audience and pointing out your flaws, pointing out things about yourself that make you uncomfortable. To be a professional comedian, you need to put yourself out there in a way that women are socially trained not to do. You need to admit to something you might dislike about yourself, like your weight, and then make a joke out of it. As women, we are taught to pretend that these flaws don’t exist. We only acknowledge them among other women, and they’re never a joke. Your love handles are serious business to be treated with gravity, not something that can be turned into a laugh.

Seriously, think about Tina Fey. She’s so great on 30 Rock because she’s willing to play someone who’s so socially awkward and nerdy, and you can tell that the comedy is genuine. Think about Margaret Cho and Lisa Lampanelli, women who own the fact that they’re bigger and have unorthodox sexual preferences and experiences. It’s something women are generally expected to keep to themselves.

So given that very few women even make it in comedy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women aren’t equally represented in the comedic world. And the men who go into comedy are screwed up in their own ways. It’s just a fact….

I genuinely don’t care that there’s only one female correspondent on TDS. The show is funny and they have funny people doing funny things."

Amen reader. These debates about the social implications of staff makeup and joke selection are poison for a comedy show. It’s a friggin’ comedy show! Being funny is hard, and being funny while preaching the right social message is impossible. The success of the Daily Show is largely because they took every opportunity to insult and defame liberal values and agendas as well as conservative ones, knowing that 80% of their audience holds Democratic ideals sacred. It was precisely that ability to make fun of what we are too uptight about that keeps the show successful.

And quite likely, after the 2-week break, we’ll see them make bold and irreverent mincemeat of this issue on the air too.

2 thoughts on “Is the Daily Show sexist?

  1. I’ve talked to a few people who’ve worked on the Daily Show in recent years–men and women, people who are still there vs. people who aren’t–and they all claim that Jon is a sweetheart and a feminist, if anything. Also, they tell me that the show is always on the lookout for women

    Jezebel just figured they could get attention by stirring a new kinda shit, because people were sick of hearing about Lindsay Lohan. Among other things, apparently no one there bothered to recognize that executive producer Kahane Cooperman–a woman, who has been with the show since 1996– has equal power with Jon. Why didn’t the suthor mention her?

  2. Good points. In general, the commentary from readers on Jezebel seems more insightful than their article. Seems like Daily Show has had a string of women executive producers. I’d like to see how many women run the other news shows.

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