Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

The Daily Show, Humour, and the Woman Question

with one comment

by Weiner

So I realize I’m late getting to this, but I wanted to offer a few little thoughts about the whole “Daily Show’s woman problem” thing. For those not familiar with what I’m talking about, my old friend and college buddy Irin Carmon wrote a piece for Jezebel criticizing the Daily Show for being something of a boy’s club and not hiring a lot of female writers or reporters. Jon Stewart responded on air–albeit briefly, as did the women of The Daily Show in this open letter, and the New York Times got wind of the story.

The editors of Jezebel penned a solid response to the whole fracas, with a bunch links to other good defenses of the Irin’s initial piece and witty retorts to the rather lame open letter, the best of which is here. In general, I think Irin and Jezebel got this one right: The Daily Show is a good show, a very important program for leftists and progressives of all stripes, but they do have something of a “woman problem,” in that very few women are on staff as writers and reporters, and no amount of sophistry should obscure that fact.

The more interesting question, though, is why. Some, like my wife, have suggested that cultural expectations lead women to stray away from comedy. I think she’s definitely on to something. But going even beyond this (and making it more academic and pretentious), I wonder if there’s something about the inherent conservatism of certain types of comedy that repels progressive women from entering the profession.

Despite the fact that the writers of The Daily Show, like most good comics, are situated on the Left politically, there’s a good deal of humour, even humour employed by liberals and progressives, that is at its core, rather conservative. I’m talking about humour that asserts that particularism matters, thats Jews and Gentiles, Blacks and Whites, Men and Women are different. Even as this humour interrogates, questions, challenges and pokes fun at these differences, it nonetheless takes them as a given.

In terms of ethnicity, I think most comics are willing to accept differences between groups. Whether those differences are socially constructed or not is not really relevant to them. But women who lean left, and I mean to the feminist left, often strive for an equality that erases gender differences. And if you can’t say something like “well, women are like this, and men are like that” you’re eliminating a giant category of jokes. Even something as a simple as “Take my wife, please!” (still a great one-liner after all these years) can only work if you at least on some level recognize gender stereotypes, even if you don’t agree with them.


Written by David Weinfeld

July 21, 2010 at 14:53

One Response

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  1. Uh, dude, we are different. To deny that is 1) self-deception, and 2) dishonest.


    July 21, 2010 at 16:26

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