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Women's Outreach and Resource Collective | A collaborative community for advocates of gender equity and social justice

Comedy/Late Night Hosts: Where are the Women?

By Hannah Smith


Turn on any late night talk show and you’ll find a male host. Flip on Saturday Night Live as the theme song plays and the pictures of fifteen cast members pan across the screen, less than half of whom are women and only two representing women of color. Behind the scenes, the writers’ room contains at most two female writers across the span of late night television.

For many, comedy is still seen as a “white man’s game.”

With television networks staying true to the traditional assumption, it’s not surprising women have a difficult time getting into the business.


There was a time when the legendary New York Comedy Festival featured no women headliners whatsoever. Believe it or not, this was less than six years ago. Since then, women have made a steady increase in appearances ranging from executive producers to starring in their own shows. Late night television is seriously lacking in female expertise. When it comes to writing, there have only been eight female writers and absolutely no people of color in the 30+ year “Late Show” career of David Letterman.


While many point to the lack of female applicants (25 men for every one woman), the issue also involves a lack of encouragement for female writers from the shows themselves. As of November 2014, the number of female writers on late night shows began at zero and topped off at a whopping two on staffs that contain around twelve men on average. Jezebel writer Kate Dries wrote “To get a job as a writer on one of their shows is a dream job for many comedians. But historically, the people getting those dream jobs have been white men.”


Since Chelsea Handler ended her time on television last August, there are no female hosts among late night television. Basically, if you’re white and male, you’re guaranteed to have your own show or be offered a starring role on SNL in the coming year, so be on the lookout for your invitation.

It seems as if the only way audiences will get a female late night host will be through a comedy series about one.

Creating a new late night show or offering a woman the opportunity to replace an established host (David Letterman) is so incredibly unfathomable that a fictional television show has to give us the illusion that it could actually be possible to see a woman in this position.


According to an article from Time, male performers have outnumbered female performers almost two to one in the entire 40-year history of the comedy powerhouse that is Saturday Night Live. Despite having started with a nearly equal number of men and women (four men, three women) when the show first began, it didn’t take long for the number of men to surpass the women. Men also enjoyed longer SNL careers than women. For many female cast members, the show has been the pinnacle of their career, and they fall short of success in the entertainment industry post-SNL. This has become such an issue that some of the show’s male cast members have spoken out regarding the problem.

When asked about being part of the Best SNL Cast Member Showdown, previous member Bill Hader was not only astounded by the fact that no women were included in the top four, but also listed off nine women he felt should be included.

Because the list was fan-voted, it’s clear the audience isn’t completely sold on women being at the top when comedy of comedy (or really anywhere else).


While it’s difficult to find women in comedy, it’s even more difficult to find people of color. Chris Rock famously dubbed Hollywood as “a white industry” that tends to hire the same black people over and over again when they do actually choose to hire black people. While he was addressing Hollywood as a whole, his words ring true among late night television itself.

Saturday Night Live is one of the biggest outlets for comedy and remains absolutely terrified of diversity.

A little over a year ago, the famous show added its first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph left in 2007. The fact that this was so newsworthy should be a red flag in itself. The issue stems from where the show is looking for talent. The comedy theaters where shows typically look for talent offer little opportunity for people of color to gain recognition. In 2013, notorious theaters such as Second City, the Groundlings, and the Upright Citizens Brigade had casts that were at least 80% white. If you can believe it, these casts were even more white than SNL. Clearly, Rock wasn’t off base with his statement. 

Women can be funny. They can be hilarious, humorous, amusing, comical, any adjective that even remotely relates to the ability to make people laugh. And, quite often, they are really good at it.


Gender DiscriminationHannahInequityLate Night HostsSmithWomen in Media

worcuga • February 2, 2015

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