Update: This story just gets even more disappointing. In Tina Fey and David Letterman's conversation about hiring female writers, both of them failed to acknowledge the host's original female head writer, Merrill Markoe. A former stand-up comedian, Markoe created some of Letterman's original show's best segments, like "Things that will never appear on the show," and "Dog Poetry." She went on to earn three Emmys for her work on the show, but gets no acknowledgment from Fey or Letterman in this segment that's supposed to be about recognizing women. It goes to show how easily women's voices can be erased, even by the people fighting for them, and another example of how we can all do better to make sure they're being heard.
Original story published below on May 4 at 2:00 p.m.
As the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, I pretty much implicitly trust Tina Fey's career advice, especially because she continues to advocate for women even in simple moments like this one. The writer and actress appeared on David Letterman's Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, on Friday, and quietly shut down the host's excuses when he acknowledged that his own 1993-2015 Late Show writing staff was seriously lacking women.
"When I had a television show, people would always say to me, I would do an interview with something somewhere, and they would say, 'Why don't you have women writers?' And the best I could come up with was, 'I don't know,'" he admitted. "I didn't know why there weren't women writers! There was no policy against women writers. I always thought, 'Well, geez, if I was a woman I'm not sure I would want to write on my little nickel and dime, dog and pony show anyway.' 'Cause we're on at 12:30.'"
Don't worry — Fey also thought this was a lame answer.
"Yeah, we do wanna write on it though," she said without hesitation or sympathy. As someone who hates confrontation, especially with friends, I really admire this moment.
"That is my ignorance and I feel bad for that and it's changing," Letterman replied, and we can thank Fey for a lot of that change.
She went on to recount an instance from her time on SNL when some male writers originally rejected a sketch by Paula Pell called "Kotex Classic." It was making fun of clothing brands that were going back to their vintage styles, but it was immediately discarded. Fey stepped in, however, to ask why.
"It became clear that they truly, literally did not understand what she was talking about because they were guys," she remembered. They didn't know how pads worked, or what older pads looked like, or why that would even be a problem for women. But after Fey explained, what resulted was this incredible short:
"This is an example. It's not purposeful, it's not institutional, but if there's not a person in the room who gets it, then [women don't] get anything in," Fey said.
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