Nell Scovell: What It’s Like for Women in Late Night, Comedy


I grew to become an government producer over 20 years in the past and fortunately joined a small group of upper-level feminine TV author/producers who would meet each few years over brunch. We’d unload tales in regards to the unfairness we’d encountered. I’d inform my story in regards to the time I used to be renegotiating to remain on a present and the manager producer stopped by my workplace to verify on the deal.

“Did your agents call business affairs?” he requested.

“Yep, they’re on it.”

“And you don’t care about money, right?”

I checked out my boss, incredulous. “Yeah, I’m just here for the salty snacks,” I stated.

My favourite tales are ones the place the sexism is blatant. As Co-EP on a present, I used to be requested to rewrite the script of a low-level author. I did an enormous go over the weekend after which despatched the brand new draft to the EP on Sunday night time for a polish. The subsequent morning, the EP pulled me apart.

“Great job, Nell,” he stated. “But if you don’t mind, I think it’s better if I tell Mike that I did the rewrite. I don’t want him to feel emasculated.”

The ladies on the brunch would gasp at these anecdotes earlier than telling their very own gasp-inducing tales. And the tales would hold coming. And coming. By the time the frittata was served, the aid of realizing the bias wasn’t private was changed by the horror of realizing it was so pervasive.

Around 2010, I lastly began listening to some optimistic information about late night time staffing. Jay Leno added a feminine author to The Tonight Show workers and Late Show with David Letterman added 1, too. And though there’d been tons of of dads writing comedy for late night time, I consider Laurie Kilmartin holds the excellence of being the primary mother when she joined Conan’s workers in 2010.

Over the years, I’ve seen how ladies advocating for different ladies in late night time could make a distinction. When Jimmy Kimmel Live! moved from 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., ABC Entertainment President Anne Sweeney took an curiosity in including extra ladies to the workers. Head author Molly McNearney, the one feminine author on Kimmel on the time, reached out to me to get names of ladies who would possibly need to submit packets. I compiled a listing and inspired Bess Kalb, a sly and hilarious author at Wired journal, to offer it a shot. Dozens of different humorous ladies utilized. Standup Nikki Glaser was on my record however handed to give attention to her efficiency profession. The night time earlier than submissions had been due, Nikki emailed me.


I discussed to a author pal of mine final week that I used to be contemplating getting a packet collectively for you man [sic]. She stated that she was going to attempt to put one thing collectively as effectively have some supervisor who’s hip-pocketing her submit her. Now that man is taking part in dumb and saying he can’t get it to the precise individuals.

I do know it wasn’t my place to unfold the phrase about this – and that wasn’t my intention on this case – however she simply emailed to ask if I may assist in any approach. She labored actually exhausting on it and I believe she’s a really proficient wrier. So I’m together with it on this electronic mail and naturally you are able to do what you want with it, however I simply needed to not less than do my greatest as her pal to get it to the precise individuals.

Thank you and I’m actually sorry if this breached any confidentiality!


If ladies who don’t assist ladies get a particular circle in hell, I believe ladies who do assist ladies ought to get a particular cloud in heaven. Thanks to Nikki, Joelle Boucai’s packet made it to the present. And because of Anne and Molly, each Joelle and Bess had been employed and have labored at Jimmy Kimmel Live! for greater than 5 years.

In 2013, Laurie Kilmartin steered I try the Twitter feed of Jill Twiss, who made quirky observations like, “I’m just going to say it. Bananas are cliquey” and “Pretty worried for gluten-free pigeons.” I messaged Jill to be taught extra about her. During the day, she tutored youngsters for standardized checks and moonlit as a standup comic and actress. When Last Week Tonight started staffing up, Tim Carvell requested for names and I discussed Jill. That present reads submissions “blind,” eradicating any figuring out particulars in regards to the author. Out of a couple of hundred submissions, Jill was one in every of eight individuals employed. She now has extra Emmys than I do. (Although to be honest, anybody with a single Emmy has extra Emmys than I do.) Unfortunately, my system for monitoring down humorous feminine writers isn’t methodical. It’s primarily primarily based on word-of-mouth, which may forged a restricted internet. I all the time want that I may assist extra ladies, and particularly ladies of coloration.

In a super world, consciousness would result in motion, which might result in change. But in the true world, consciousness extra usually results in defensiveness, which ends up in excuses. Emboldened by the ahead movement in late night time, I known as a showrunner who ran a preferred sitcom with an enormous workers and just one feminine author. We knew one another socially so I assumed he’d be open to a dialogue. I bought so far as my remark that his workers had a gender imbalance earlier than hitting a nerve.

“How dare you accuse me of being sexist,” he stated. “My mother was the breadwinner in our family and my wife is one of the strongest women on the planet.”

I attempted to salvage the cellphone name. “I didn’t call you sexist. But just look at the numbers on your staff—”

“You think I don’t notice?” he stated, ire rising. “I look around the room and notice it every . . . single . . . day.”

This showrunner citing his breadwinner mom and robust spouse is an ideal instance of “moral licensing.” Everyone — female and male — is biased. But nobody needs to confess it, so our brains seek for examples that disprove the accusation.

Moral licensing comes into play when individuals depend on previous habits to dismiss present prejudiced habits. This is healthier generally known as the “Some of my best friends are . . .” protection. People who consider they’re unbiased change into extra biased so it’s not sufficient to bear in mind that there’s an absence of ladies in a room; you could additionally bear in mind that your knee-jerk defensiveness is a part of the issue.

“When you’re used to privilege,” the saying goes, “equality feels like oppression.” My showrunner pal felt underneath assault and our name ended on a bitter be aware. I used to be offended with myself for approaching too sturdy. On the plus facet, it taught me what to not do. It could be so useful if blurting out, “Obviously, there’s a problem so just fix it!” labored. It doesn’t. Ask anybody combating local weather change or gun violence.

People insist the shortage of ladies and folks of coloration in Hollywood is “a pipeline problem.” Instead, I believe it’s “a broken doorbell” drawback. Competent and proficient ladies are proper there on the doorstep, leaning on the buzzer, however nobody is answering the door. This fault lies in our tradition’s misperceptions. Studies present that employers routinely understand males as extra competent leaders than ladies even when the info doesn’t assist the declare. For instance, software program code written by ladies is routinely rated as larger high quality by male engineers — until the raters know who wrote it. Once gender is recognized, the raters devalue the female-generated work. Men making use of for jobs additionally profit from with the ability to brazenly acknowledge their success. Too usually ladies are taught to downplay their success with statements like, “I got lucky,” or, “I had help.” Guess what? The males bought fortunate and had assist, too.

The numbers for feminine writers within the prime late-night reveals had been slightly below 20% as not too long ago as 2016, and moms — who symbolize a really important viewpoint — stay briefly provide. Some within the enterprise nonetheless view being maternal because the antithesis of humorous, since mothers are related to nurturing, gentleness and security, whereas comedy needs to be twisted, harmful and imply. But attitudes are evolving. I cheered in 2009 when a very-pregnant Amy Poehler rapped a boisterous tribute to Sarah Palin on Weekend Update. Ali Wong filmed her 2016 standup particular Baby Cobra whereas seven months pregnant. Samantha Bee did stellar work as a correspondent for The Daily Show whereas pregnant and, in a New York journal interview, urged others to attempt. “It’ll add to your comedy in ways that you never expected,” Bee stated.

All these ladies are each hilarious and difficult — or what I name, “maternal.”

Excerpted from JUST THE FUNNY PARTS:…And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell. Copyright© 2018 by Nell Scovell. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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