Neuendorf: ‘Late Show’ makes safe choice, excludes women from top spot


Stephen Colbert will begin his hosting duties of The Late Show on Sept. 8.

Zachary Neuendorf

Recently, CBS announced that David Letterman would be leaving “The Late Show,” making for the opportunity to usher in a fresh face to the world of late night television. Sadly, it gave the coveted position to Stephen Colbert. Though hilarious and more than worthy, he will be in the company of other white male hosts who look just like him.

At first, the bitterness derived from the inevitable cancellation of the genius “The Colbert Report” where Colbert has created not only a character but also the wisest-in-his-ignorance social critic of our time. But the disappointment quickly shifted to the network clearly playing the “safe” bet. Hiring a woman or a person of color would have been a risk in its eyes, and obviously it is not alone — NBC avoided diversification earlier this year with the promotion and hiring of Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. 

If you were to take into consideration all networks, cable included, a sole female would rise from the testosterone-filled club: Chelsea Handler. And by the end of 2014, Handler will be leaving her show willingly to pursue something else, leaving the field more homogenous than it is right now.

So what gives? Is there a lack of hysterical, clever, staunch women? No. The argument that women cannot be funny or are inherently less funny than their counterparts has been deemed utterly absurd across the board. Retta, Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Amy Sedaris, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro — that is a list of insanely talented woman off the top of my head who I would die to see on a nightly basis.

Besides the need-no-explanation absorbing presence of their crafts, having a woman host a late night talk show would be a gigantic signal to culture at large that women can be funny and in charge — the moonlight knows no gender. Interesting side note: It is no coincidence that there is a divide between daytime and nighttime talk programming, most notably with Ellen, Katie Couric and the ladies of “The View” leading the charge during the work day. 

Across storytelling culture, women are given the short end of the stick — too often being written into repetitive, simplistic best friend-esque roles. To test the female friendliness of a film or narrative show, the Bechdel Test is applied. The requirements to pass are the following: the film must have at least two named women in the picture, the women must have a conversation with each other at some point and their conversation must not be about a male character. 

Recently, an extensive study was done correlating the Bechdel Test and modern film, and the results were satisfying. Although only about half of the films of the last couple decades were analyzed, the study concluded that the films that passed not only had lower budgets but also generally outperformed their failing counterparts at the box office.

As Cate Blanchett righteously declared in her Oscar acceptance speech this year, “Those in the industry who are foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women in the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them. In fact, they earn money.”

So, in terms of character-driven art, women are on the rise to ruling the game — or at least having an equal representation. So when this is the case, it is jarring that female-driven personality performance, which is essential to stand-up or hosting, appears to be lagging behind. 

This was confirmed locally when at Veishea Says I’m Funny, the school’s stand-up comedy competition, only three of the 23 competitors were women. That is too large of a gap to blame on coincidence. Were women directly discouraged to have a go? Not likely. Are women naturally less interested in being funny? No, not naturally.

The lack of female participation does not have a simple explanation, but it was disappointing to see so little gender diversity; however, from my humble perception, the three women stole the show and delivered the most thought-out, thought-provoking jokes of the night.

Many of the male contestants resorted to insolent comments toward women. For example, one man openly called half of the woman in the audience ugly — that was his idea of a joke. On the opposite side of objectifying remarks, were truckloads of jokes about breasts, which I guess comes with the territory of being young and straight.  

Despite that, the girls took a more creative approach to their sets — one commented extensively about the false expectations of sexting, while another exploited the ignorance of youth and race. From this small sampling, it became apparent that the girls somehow overstepped the typical tropes of comedy that have grown to be less funny with age and have entered territory that is exciting, bold and unique.

I do not want to make any generalizations, but from what I have examined, women are definitely funnier than men. That being said, I will watch Stephen Colbert often while waiting for Sarah Silverman to take Jimmy Kimmel’s gig.