By Brandon Wetherbee
Brandon Wetherbee hosts the talk show/podcast You, Me, Them, Everybody the first two Friday’s of the month at the Wonderland Ballroom and in Brooklyn and Chicago once a month. Subscribe to it online at youmethemeverybody.com. He’ll be at the Looking Glass Lounge on January 23 hosting 8×8 with performers Mary-Alice Farina, Adam Friedland, Elahe Izadi, Kyle Martin, Ryan McLaughlin of Typefighter, Rooth Rasby, Jenn Tisdale and Brandon Wardell.
Eddie Brill, the comedy booker for “The Late Show with David Letterman” since 2001, was released from his position this week. In a recent interview with The New York Times he said, “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.” Due to that comment, he is no longer the guy that can advance a career in a matter of five minutes. This is a good thing. If it changes anything is another issue.
Mr. Brill’s opinion of female comics isn’t uncommon. Older, male comics, both groundbreaking and hack, share this thought. Hell, Queen of Mean Lisa Lampanelli, one of the only comics that is currently able to sell out theaters around the country, came to Brill’s defense. In the January 18 New York Times, she said “If the show doesn’t like you, move on. Who cares? You’ll always get on the show you’re meant to get on.” She’s right, but that doesn’t mean the reasons are.
The folks that think women aren’t funny tend to point out shows like “Whitney” and “Chelsea Lately.” Those shows are unfunny. That doesn’t mean that all women are unfunny. It does mean that the cultural zeitgeist will make it extremely difficult for women that are funny in a non-“Whitney” way get onto television. This is true for all sexes, every race, age, etc. There are a handful of shows that determine what ends up on network television. For example, if the first “C.S.I.” isn’t a ratings success, there aren’t enough spin-offs to cover an hour of CBS’s programming every night of the week. It makes financial sense to stick with a sure bet. No one said this is art but someone like Brill has the power to put up artists.
People watch late night differently than prime time. Most people keep it on because it’s the station that airs their favorite 11pm news. If they stick with the host through the monologue and first desk piece, they’re not going to change the channel. By the time a stand up or band performs, the ratings for that show are locked in. Since a stand up or band only gets 6 minutes maximum, squeezed between two extended commercial breaks, the odds of them offending someone enough to change the channel are very low. The chance that they’ll do so well they’ll get people to tune in are also very low. Unless your comic is Bill Cosby and band is U2, it doesn’t really matter who the booker puts up. The few people that care are comedy/music nerds, club bookers and the performers family. So, in my opinion, the booker has a responsibility to push the genre forward. Their job is safe, as long as they don’t say asinine things to the press, for as long as they want.
There are a few performers that are able to ride the line between mainstream acceptance and indie comedy adoration. Louis CK, Hannibal Buress and Sarah Silverman are a few. They’ve all done Letterman in the last year. They’ve also all appeared on little heard comedy podcasts. None of them are the ‘typical’ comics Brill books. Do you know who the guys (and they’re always guys, only one female stand up appeared on Letterman in 2011) that Brill likes? The kind that would do well in a club in 1970, 80, 90, 2000, now, forever. Super safe club guys that are perfectly fine people but have no interest in trying new things.
There are good comedy bookers in late night. Since moving to basic cable “Conan” has put up edgy stuff that most comedy clubs wouldn’t touch. Kimmel and Fallon are great places to see relatively fresh faces on a consistent basis. They’re all proving that wherever you lie in the ratings, you can and should give folks that are under 40, not straight, not white, not male, a chance at saying funny things into a microphone.
The Brill demotion (he’ll still handle crowd warm up) at Letterman has brought up the women are funny/not funny debate. While it should, and the answer is obvious, it also highlights the sad state of mainstream comedy. Todd Glass, 30 year stand up veteran who has done every late night show, recently came out on Marc Maron’s “WTF.” Glass is in his late 40s. While it’s great that he’s gone public about his sexuality, it’s also horribly depressing. The man is well respected in the industry and adored by comedy nerds, yet wasn’t comfortable enough to come out in his 20s or 30s. He works in an industry that prides itself on its progressive stance, yet doesn’t put up women.
What’s considered the most progressive of late night shows, “The Daily Show,” just broke new ground. Jessica Williams recent debut makes her the first African American female correspondent in the shows 16 year history. Don’t forget, this is the forward thinking show.
Brill is considered old school and his opinions are antiquated yet he’s far from the fringe. He’s the norm. It’s been like this for as long as late night has been around and it’s finally, slowly, starting to get better. It’s just extremely sad that premise of mid 90s “The Larry Sanders Show” took nearly two decades to happen in public.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful night.