Can we all be honest for five minutes? It’s both. Justified and unjustified.
It’s justified, because it’s ridiculous that out of 22 comics that appeared on The Late Show last year, only one was a woman. It’s justified because that has been roughly the case for the past decade. It’s justified because this is a microcosm of the entire comedy industry, and the comedy-writing industry. Women are shockingly under-represented. Shockingly. It’s genuinely offensive. And I don’t use that term lightly. It should offend us, as people that understand humor to be a “thing” that can potentially come from any source. 90 percent of humor doesn’t come from male minds. That’s some literally medieval-era ignorance.
So yeah, I get it. It’s outrageous. This whole system is outrageous. The culture we live in is outrageous, and this was one of those moments when sexism came out of the hiding place it usually stays, and we snapped a picture of it. And - rightfully so - now we’re showing the picture to as many people as we can, if only to prove that it exists. That’s a justified reaction to all this.
Okay. So why wasn’t this outrage justified? Because here’s an exchange that never happened
David Letterman: (cheerfully) Hey Eddie! We should have more female comics on this show!
Eddie Brill: (cheerfully) Go fuck yourself, Dave!
That never happened. Not once. Not one time, in 11 years of Brill booking that show.
So if we want to be outraged, I’m all for that. Completely. Personally, like I said, I do find it offensive, now that I’ve been reminded of how fucked up this industry can be.
But let’s be adults about this. Right? We aren’t bitching about Eddie Brill here. We’re bitching about David Letterman. The decision to almost never book women on the show is in his hands. That’s not a conspiracy theory. That’s reality. It doesn’t make David Letterman a bad guy. It just makes him sexist, ignorant, and out of touch.
My father is not a bad guy. But he’s 59, he can’t really use the internet, and he feels like at some point he blinked, and when his eyes opened, the world had left him behind. And that doesn’t make him a bad guy. It just means he’s out of touch.
As you get older, that’s a temptation: To stop paying attention to the reality around you, and start insisting that what was, still is. If Letterman’s show books 15 female comics over the course of a decade...I think that qualifies as being out of touch, at best. And probably worse.
Maybe the concept of “David Letterman” was something great in the 80s, and even into the 90s. I can’t say for sure - I wasn’t a comic back then. But as the next generation of comics, we owe it to ourselves to assess the reality in front of us. Does David Letterman’s opinion matter? Should we still assign value to that name, or are we chasing the Ghost of Respect Past, instead of the Ghosts of Respect Present, or Future?
I understand that the previous paragraph might be frustrating for some to read, because his irrelevance is a conclusion that came to them years ago. “We don’t personally care, but those jobs still matter. Those spots still make careers, and impact lives. We can not care, but we can’t tell the industry not to care.”
Maybe we can’t. I don’t know. But at some point, it’s time to be honest about what’s in front of us.
Look. Our outrage is justified. But when we heighten our emotions, the stakes get higher, too. And with those higher stakes comes more responsibility. If we’re going to ruin careers, and lives, and cry injustice to the world - then we better know who we’re mad at, and we better know why. And we damn well better be willing to say so.
What’s the point of getting on a high horse if we’re riding it in the wrong direction? Eddie Brill isn’t the enemy of this outrage. It was easier to kill him - I get that. But if your goal was to defeat Eddie, I have some bad news. The war rages on. David Letterman is the bad guy.