Photo: Courtesy of Comedy Central.
We know mainstream comedy could use more diversity — and more women. And, we also know that even the most paradigm-shifting, good-for-humanity television series, like SNL and The Daily Show, have come under fire for contributing to the problem.
On Thursday night, it was Stephen Colbert's turn in the hot seat. At a panel discussion with The Colbert Report writing staff in New York last night, the show's eighteen writers — including Colbert — filed onto the stage. Seventeen of them were men.
If you're a true-blue fan of the series, you probably already knew this. You were also probably in the audience last night whooping it up for Meredith Scardino, the exceptionally funny writer and the show's lone female scribe.
The Colbert Report is not the kind of show that's easy to criticize. Last night, we learned about the 13-plus hour daily routine for the show's writers. ("We're all going to die," quipped Colbert). We learned that one of the staff writers started as an intern; that the team goes to enormous lengths to maintain their integrity in the face of check-signing backers, be it, Wheat Thins or Viacom. We also learned that the show connects with a surprisingly young demographic. Two audience members to join in the panel's Q&A session were under 14 years old. One particularly brainy 12-year-old kid asked how often the real Colbert agrees with his TV alter-ego. "About 13.4% of the time," said the real Colbert, "and it's really important you don't know when that is."
But, the questions that couldn't be ignored weren't answered as easily. One fan awkwardly stepped to the mic and said she couldn't help but notice how many writers on the stage were..."White?" Colbert offered. "I don't know if there are a lot of African-American or Hispanic people applying to my show." He continued that there's no statistical breakdown of applicants, and that the selection process is solely based on the writing submissions. It's what's on the page that counts.
When another audience member asked why there was only one woman on the stage, Scardino cleverly responded, "How do you know that?" Laughter delayed the inevitable a little longer, until Colbert took over.
"I don't know why," he said, reiterating the staff-writer-hiring process. "We don't say, 'Give me men.' I don’t look at the name on the packet when I first read it, because I just want to see what it is, I’m just trying to see if it’s making me laugh." Scardino isn't the first woman to write for the show, but she is the only one on the job now. "At one point we had three women on the writing staff," said real Colbert before switching to TV Colbert mode, "and it was just toenails everywhere...just terrible." Everyone laughed, awkwardly.