I’d be curious to hear a comic of David Letterman’s stature weigh in on the question of whether or not women can be funny. But when it comes to who gets to appear on his show, it turns out that it might not matter that much what Letterman himself thinks. The show fired Letterman’s comedy booker, Eddie Brill, after he told the New York Times that “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.” In the process, he reignited the debate most recently fueled by Christopher Hitchens about whether or not women can be funny, or whether they’re funny in the same ways as men, or whether men and women find other things funny.
But I actually think the more important point here is less in positing an answer to those ultimately unempirical questions and more in pointing out the critical importance of gatekeepers in diversifying entertainment. Letterman is, of course, the CEO of his show, so his opinions matter. But just as important as his feelings about about female comics is whether he cares enough to make sure everyone on his team is on the same page about booking. It’s the same across the entertainment world. It’s a good thing for Bob Greenblatt at NBC to want to find stories with more diverse casts and a great show about a black or Asian family, but he’s also got to make sure that the folks who are reading pilot scripts know that he’s got his eye out for something like that. We need good executives at entertainment companies, but we also need good gatekeepers, because those roles aren’t always the same. It may take time to get there, but hopefully Letterman will replace Brill with someone who knows how to find the best female comedians. And it’s good to see the Daily Show finally hiring a black woman to deliver reports: