Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So, About the Letterman Thing

Twat Blocked Again

It’s been an eventful time for women in comedy. The New York Times broke the story that female comedians are not booked to perform on The Letterman Show in equal numbers to their male counterparts. You don’t say. Women in comedy not being treated fairly? Well gosh darn it stop the presses. This is not news to anyone with a vagina, but hats off to the New York Times for being in the vanguard of non-current events.

Here’s the real scoop: no one in entertainment is treated fairly, least of all the talent. And that inequity is parceled out on a sliding scale, women, people of color, LGBTs, the left-handed ... I suspect that even entertainment executives feel slighted when some fem-loving reporter riles up the sponsors of their long-running successful late-night show for no earthly reason. They’re probably thinking, “Dear god, it’s not even Womens Month, why is this happening?”

I will not argue that women ARE funny and would do well on ANY show. In 2012? Why should I bother? If you think women are funny, they’re funny. If they think they’re not, they’re not. If you’re a human adult who still thinks in absolutes then you don’t deserve the opposable thumbs you were born with. 

I will say that I was surprised when Eddie Brill, the talent booker for Letterman, was fired. I’m still not sure why. He had the job for over 10 years. If he wasn’t doing exactly what Dave wanted they would have let him go a long time ago. But hey, I guess they can’t fire Dave now can they? And let’s be clear, Eddie was only fired from one of his jobs.  He’s still doing warm-up and making an annual stand-up appearance on the show. So at best he’s only kinda sorta fired. That’s why I call standing by your man. 

What’s all the bruhaha about? What did Eddie say that riled up the women in comedy and those who laugh at us? 

"There are a lot less female comics who are authentic."   

"I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men." 

Hmm... having the courage to get on stage in front of an often inebriated and sometimes hostile audience, speaking our minds, wearing pants ... yeah, it doesn’t get more masculine than that now does it? 

You know what’s not masculine? The money.

Mr. Brill might think some inauthentic female comedians act like men to get laughs, but we certainly aren’t paid like men. I’ve talked about the gender-pay disparity in comedy so often that I’m almost bored by it. Almost. Carping that women aren’t funny is a laughable none-issue by comparison. 

I recently did a gig where six comedians regardless of their gender or level of comedic authenticity were hired to do 15 minutes each. Easy breezy. The women on the show, myself included, made a $100. Not bad for a Thursday night in the city, I thought, until I learned that at least one of the men on the show made $250. In case you’re wondering:

  • No, he did not close the show,
  • No, he did not have the most experience or credits, and 
  • No, he was not the advertised draw for the evening. In fact, he picked up the gig at the last minute.

And just when we thought we’d emerged from the dark ages of white male privilege. 

I’m sure there are times when being a Black woman works professionally to my advantage. I’m hard pressed to say exactly when that is though. I guess if me and a dude were going out for the same Upper West Side nanny job I’d be golden, especially if I showed up to the interview speaking in a generic Carribean accent. 

Women also earn more money in porn. Well, White women do. I’m actually not sure how Black women fare. Kinda not all that eager to find out, but if this bad economy drags on who knows? I might need to diversify.

When I began my career in comedy they said you needed to write, develop and perform great material. Then I was told I needed good representation. Then I was told I needed solid TV credits. Well, 7,226 days later I feel like a fool for not just working on my authenticity and machismo.

Believe it or not, I’m not angry. Stop laughing. I’m not. I know that life’s not fair. I know there are bigger problems on the planet. I’m not even angry at the male colleague who made 150% more than I did for the same gig. I would have taken the money and ran too if I’d had the chance.

However, if I and the other female comics on the show were indeed trying to act like men, we should have jumped the higher paid male comic in the parking lot and taken his money. Better yet, we should have jumped the booker and taken all the money.  I don’t mean to imply that male comedians or bookers are thugs, just the inauthentic ones who, off-stage, act like sensitive women in order to get laid.

It’s tough times for everybody. A fellow comedian recently told me that only 1% of us make a living solely as entertainers. That’s a staggeringly small number and still probably an over-estimate. But if you’re in the 1% it’s something (in this case) to be proud of especially if you’re a woman. Doing it with a vaginal handicap makes you an authentic bad ass.

So, is it really a big deal when you don’t see as many women as men in stand-up spots on late-night TV? No show is a star maker for comedians anymore, but here’s what an appearance can do: 

  • It can give you a coveted credit. 
  • It can raise your visibility in the industry and grow your fan base. 
  • It can, I daresay, even raise your asking price. That would be nice since I am, after all, earning less money than men for the same gigs.  

It isn’t just about not being on Letterman, it’s about being effectively cock-blocked (or would that be twat-blocked?) from greater opportunities for financial gain. So yeah, it does fucking matter. I’m sorry if that last sentence seems inauthentic and masculine. But in all fairness, I wasn’t trying to make you laugh. 

I’m sure the former talent booker for Letterman is not alone in his well thought out, experience-based opinions about female comedians.  Insidious ideas have a way of trickling down the food  chain and contributing to the notion that women are somehow less than. And if we are then don’t we deserve less? Maybe even $150 less. 

And yet, without a late-night TV show credit under my man belt (I know, I’m shocked too) I’m still somehow managing to be in the 1%. Imagine where I would be if I were an authentic male stand-up comedian who was “right” for Letterman.

Thanks for reading The Urban Erma. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe for free on iTunes. In case you were wondering, in addition to blogging I am also a pretty good stand-up comedian. I do "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, I'd be Jazz. Want to see a show? Check out my schedule at @


Anonymous said...

Hey love the article, Leighann. When reading it, I just realized that Brill's comments weren't in the absolute. He says "I see a lot of female comics who.." not "Female comics are" I'm pretty sure he was trying to refer to Schumer without insulting her and it ended up backfiring on him.

Tangela Ekhoff said...

Thanks, Leighann. The sexism and racism in comedy are REAL. I was disqualified from a comedy competition here in Tulsa, because the club didn't want me to win. Why was I disqualified? Because I missed a show that wasn't part of the competition while visiting my mother who was dying. Guess who won? A young white guy who WORKS for the club. I had also gotten myself PR in the newspaper and in Woman's Day magazine... and the boys at the club were upset that I was getting attention.

I quit last year after 10 years of trying to get a break. I'm writing, doing PR, and speaking. It's frustrating to be in comedy with brown skin and a vajayjay.

Thanks for sharing your commentary, and thanks for shedding light on what we all know to be true...I'm glad that you're able to make a living at it! You are extremely funny... I think it's criminal that you haven't been on late night TV, yet!

Leighann Lord said...

Thanks for reading. LOL, Anonymous. :-)

@Tangela: I'm sorry that the circumstances of the industry forced you to quit. Believe me I MORE THAN UNDERSTAND! I too am tired of fighting the good fight. I applaud the fact that you've taken your talents elsewhere and made them work for you. That's great. Again, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

G Mama Lee said...

Get your butt back on stage this week don't quit never quit. I hope you enjoyed that little vacation you come to far to quit now. you have stopped just short of day break its morning now WAKE UP.

G Mama Lee said...

loved it real truth

Leighann Lord said...

Oh Snap G Mama! You're not cutting Ms. Tangela no slack huhn? Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

joseph b rocha said...

im greatful to have read your blog but also bummed out by it. very sensitive to cold reality. the male comic who got paid more just because, thats just fucked. as a comic who is latino ive experienced the same disparities throughout my career.we work hard to point out the double standards, hypocracies and brutal ironies of our lives and cultures, viewpoints often forged by working in a field/industry rife with those aformentioned defects. and to "play it smart" you accept it with a smile , so as not to be labeled a troublemaker and get blackballed.(african/americanballed?) im not hopeless, just bored of the same cycle of exploitation.LETS WRITE A NEW CHAPTER IN THIS TIRED ASS BOOK!!!!OCCUPYBRANSON!!!

Leighann Lord said...

Joe, Occupy Branson! I love it!

deiej said...

Amazing article Leighann. I'm amazed how much women in comedy and women in ministry have in common. Yeah, I know, crazy and horrible! I'm going to share this article with my sister friends, one which a comic and a preacher. This makes it all to clear to me how much very much women in male-dominated industries need to encourage each other.

Leighann Lord said...

Hello Deiej,

First, thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it. I can't say that I'm totally surprised that we have issues in common. I guess that is the "peril" of being in a male dominated industry. Ug. You'd think we'd evolved passed that, but I guess I'm being too hopeful.

The fix is continuing to be so good that we can not be denied and, as you so correctly said, supporting each other as much as possible. Good sister friends are not a luxury they are a necessity. Thank you for thinking enough of my post to share it with your friends. I hope they enjoy it as well.

- Leighann