Eddie Brill, the man in charge of booking comedians for David Letterman, was the subject of a New York Times profile a few days ago, where – almost as an aside – he was asked to deal with the question of why the show only booked one female comedian last year. His response was:

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.

This was actually sort of mild by the standards of some of the things that are said about women in comedy, but it wasn’t a great choice of words in responding the (accurate) charge that late-night comedy has a problem hiring female comics and writers. So now Brill has been removed from power, and will stay on only as a warm-up comedian.

As the second piece mentions, Brill commented on this Mirth magazine post and claimed that his words had been taken out of context (“I wasn’t talking about all female comics or female comics in general. I was talking about a couple of comics the writer had brought up to me”) as well as claiming that the writer of the article had it in for him, though that would make more sense if it hadn’t been for his generalized claim that there are “a lot less” female comics who are authentic. He also claims that he’s being singled out for a problem that is just as bad on other talk shows (and that one is true enough).

The post, by Larry Getlen, has some good things to say about the concept of “authenticity” in comedy, though it seems like he’s a bit too quick to say that there’s been some kind of authenticity revolution in the online era; the fact that people talk more about themselves could just as easily be balanced by the fact that we’re trained to adopt public personas from an early age.

Also, this doesn’t have anything to do with Brill, but Getlen’s point about Letterman – that he actually wants to cultivate an old-fashioned, slightly out-of-touch image – is an interesting one. Most comedians Letterman’s age (or much younger) wind up sounding old-fashioned, but it sometimes seems like Letterman aggressively works at it. His material is written to make him sound like a guy who is proud of being old and cranky. This is better for a comedian than sounding old and cranky while trying to be hip.

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  1. Trying to be hip is (by definition) never authentic.  Being old and cranky often is.

  2. What if Mr. Brill`s claim is accurate ?
    What if the female comics are not authentic ?
    What if female stand-up comics are not funny ?
    Why are there no female defensive linemen(women?)  in the NFL ?

  3. The Mirth post gives a bit too much importance to Christopher Hitchens’ views on women, and in the process obscures the question a bit. The number of recognized female stars in comedy may have exploded in the last few years; the number of quality female standups, I’d submit, has not. And standup comics are what Brill is (was) looking for. 
    By all accounts, the start of a standup career has all the emotional burdens of a start in acting – uncertainty about what persona to adopt, constant rejection – and adds to it the pleasures of constant travel and isolation. It isn’t sexist to say “very few young women would choose this,” because it’s a miracle that anyone does. Funny young women these days probably find it easier to drift into sketch or writing jobs. There’s more support and less vulnerability; Marc Maron on his podcast has brought up repeatedly how much better adjusted and balanced the sketch performers seem to be, compared to standups. However much I love the latter, it’s not really a direction you’d want your kids to take.

  4. It’s funny that this story came out yesterday as Jian Gomeshi had an interview with Merrill Markoe, founding writer for Late Night with David Letterman, as well as Letterman’s partner for 10 years.

    You can hear it here, http://www.cbc.ca/q/episodes/ – January 17th episode at the 0:55:00 mark.

    A very funny line from the show was when Markoe was talking about her reaction when interviewed during the Letterman infidelity/blackmail scandal.  “This is a very emotional moment for me because David promised me that would be the only woman he would cheat on.”

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