a priori/a posteriori

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eddie Brill and Misguided Rage

For those of you who don’t know, Brill was the booker of “The Late Show with David Letterman” for over a decade, until Tuesday morning, when he was fired because of controversial comments he made regarding women and comedy in a recent New York Times profile. There was a huge amount of outrage voiced by various segments of the comedy community. And there’s been a lot of counter-discussion over whether or not the outrage was justified.

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!

Annnd, scene.

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.


  1. So instead of pointing out that this controversy is complete bullshit, people should be attacking Letterman? Go fuck yourself.

  2. He IS the boss of that show. On one hand you might say that there are less female comedians, but there aren't THAT less female comedians. Especially, funny ones. Someone should've addressed this situation way before Eddie Brill said anything to the media. Because the situation isn't him saying those things, the situation was there before that. Good post Bryson.

  3. Nobody should be surprised that Dave has been screwing female comics by not booking them. He was screwing a lot of his female employees for their paychecks for a while there, too, until that blackmail attempt a couple of years ago.

  4. A thoughtful and insightful post again, B. Completely agreed -- if we want to be "root strikers," we gotta look further and dig deeper. Keep up the good fight.

  5. While I appreciate the three supportive comments, I gotta admit I’m the most intrigued by CoolerKing’s.

    Is this controversy complete bullshit? And if so - why? I try to never have my mind set in stone, so if you think I’m wrong, please let me know why!

  6. I'm 100% with CoolerKing. Why do you have to bring your shitty "truth" and "insight" into all this? Just let us hate scapegoats! They're just fucking GOATS.

    Stop being brilliant, Bryson, you fucking asshole.