Will a Female Comic Ever Host Late Night?

The LA Times called CBS’s choice of Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman, “Not a Conservative Choice.”

Really?  Come on.  I love Colbert, but casting another white male comic in the coveted Late Night hosting spot is as radical as choosing vanilla at 31 Flavors.

I was one of the few female comics touring clubs in the 80’s.  In 1986, I was doing my first comedy special for Showtime.  This was a big deal because it was produced by Paramount.  It was four comics, and I was the only woman on the show.  I was backstage listening to Howie Mandel introduce me:  “And our next guest is uh, ah, is a woman, she’s a woman!  And I know that cause I’ve seen her (two things that start with T) …. They’re real!  Here is Judy Carter…”

Yes, I was being introduced as if my gender was a gross abnormality.  Stomach churning, I summoned my courage and decided not to respond, certain that the producers would cut out the offending introduction.  But, they didn’t, as you can see here: http://youtu.be/o2lPBKyiWrs  (Please don’t judge the big hair).

So much has changed since the 1980’s.  We have an African-American president, female CEOs, and gay people can get married.  And, on late night TV, we have… wait for it… wait for it… all white guys with ties!

Really?  Have the career opportunities for funny females not improved in 30 years?  My friends are surprised that I’m surprised.  They refer to a comment by Eddie Brill, former talent booker for Letterman, who explained to the NY Times why he booked more male comics than female comics.  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.

This statement is confusing, as it seems that Mr. Brill LIKES male comics.  Wouldn’t “acting like a man” be an advantage for a female comic?  Unless, of course, funny females are being judged, not solely on their comedy talent, but on their f-ability.

Every time a comedy with women hits the big screen, such as, “Bridesmaids,” or “The Heat,” I get a call from the media asking me the same question: “Are women funny?

I’ll tell you what ISN’T funny – that tired old question.

Yes!  Stephen Colbert is EXTREMELY talented.  So are Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler, Aisha Tyler, and many, many others.  Guess what?  You don’t need to go to the bathroom standing up to be funny.

But… on the positive side, (hey, I’m a motivational speaker now, I have to look on the positive side), when a door is slammed in our faces, a window opens.  That window of opportunity is the millions of people who LOVE female comedy.  And that’s why I, along with other funny women such as Jeanne Robertson, Amanda Gore, Loretta LaRoche, and others, get paid well to perform for audiences of over 2500 people.  Maybe it’s because audiences CAN’T see us on TV that they download our videos on YouTube, and come to see us live.

The good news is: capitalism trumps discrimination.


  1. Eddie Brill's comment about women comics, "...to please an audience, will act like men..." is the "canary in the coal mine" for women and applies to those of us who are corporate executives and entrepreneurs as well. How long do we have to lead like men, not being authentic? Instead how do we bring what we offer to entertain, educate, persuade and transform in a way that suits our natural styles and abilities? It's a great question. And until women find their authentic style of leadership - whether in a performance arena or in corporate, we will stay on the fringes of mainstream success.

  2. You're absolutely right about everything. Of course, people are going to judge your hair...it looks great!

  3. What an awful, sexistic introduction! He really has a hard time to pronouce the word woman, as he had forgotten how it´s said!
    I agree with every word you wrote! It´s easier for a black man to become President in the US than for a funny woman to get as many compliments, money and gigs as a funny man! I´m doing a show here in Stockholm called "Ladies Fight" - an alternative for a show called "Ladies Night"-maybe you have that to? That show is promoted as "the funniest night out with the Girls in a year!"It´s only men on stage and only women allowed in the audience. My show is an alternative for those who don´t Think the funniest night out with the girls is going watching five MEN in a hockey arena.
    Only funny women on stage and anyone is allowed in the audience. And it´s a hit! Now it´s filmed for National Television! So, maybe a change´s gonna come?!
    Ami Hallberg Pauli, attended your course here in Stockholm a few years ago

  4. I believe that it will take a female comedian coming up with a great pilot for a late night comedy show, to finally solve this problem for us and pitch it to the powers that be. I always felt that Whoopie Goldberg could have been a fantastic replacement for Leno or Fallon, not that I don't enjoy Seth Myers, but it is time for a woman to host late night. We have you, Judy, as well as Joan Rivers, Whoopie, Leighann Lord, Loretta, whom you mentioned and many others. Those of us in the caboose would love that! It would motivate more women to choose comedy as a career, rather than a side-line. I'm not certain whether producers like Lorne Michaels honestly feel that guys in ties are funnier, but obviously they don't hang out with the same funny ladies that I do. We would have to pick up a sponsor like Depends :)
    The question is, who can pull that off?

  5. I would love to see a woman late-night talk-show host. Wanda Sykes! Ellen Degeneres! Judy Carter! Jeanne Robertson! Some of my favorites. But the letters from the networks asking my opinion got lost in the mail.

  6. I don't think it's worth worrying about. I don't think it escapes anyone that the right woman would be fine in one of those nighttime slots, just as the right man may be able to pull off a daytime talk show. I thought Chelsea would have been the best choice for that job, but she said she wouldn't want to do it. Ellen has homogenized herself with the daytime thing, otherwise she would have been perfect. I don't think gender is as much of an issue as a comedian's demeanor and style. Society is more accepting of men acting silly, immature and child-like (although Letterman always employed other people to do that). That sort of thing seems like more of a nighttime type of comedy, but Tina Fey could do something like that. It think it was Letterman that had something to do with Colbert being chosen.

  7. What? An Old Boys Club in Hollywood??? Say it isn't so! Are they the same old boys that think an actress over 40 should be put out to pasture?
    Maybe you should send them a copy of your Comedy Bible and wrap it in dinosaur paper.

  8. Judy: Simply put, to a hammer, everything is a male, I mean, nail. This is a classic case of NIH, [not invented here] syndrome. What I would do is write out a contract for yourself for X million, date it 2014, and then every year after this, add another 1.5. When the exec's from CBS, realize they've lost marketshare, they will say, "Hey, What about Judy Carter?" And you hand them the contract based upon how long it takes them to wake up. Oh, and I would make sure I spoke to my agent to ask him (her), and ask, "Maybe I should start to subtract what I should be making from what I am already making?"

  9. I feel like when Howie commented that he saw your t^%ties why not respond w/ a wish I could see his p^^s but it's too small. Just sayin' You hair is a-ama-zing. If you got it flaunt it. I'm looking forward to next weekend at your seminar in NYC.

  10. Gosh Judy,
    Will a man ever get pregnant? Will there ever be a female Prez in the Oral Office? Who knows, ya' know???

    1. Let's hope we see a woman President before we see a pregnant man; hopefully in the Oval Office and not the Oral Orifice. 2017 would be okay.

  11. I would love to see Tina Fey host late night.

  12. It seems as if even in 2014, nothing has changed and misogyny reigns. A young comedian acquaintance of mine performed at the Comedy Cellar and was introduced by a female comedian, and he opened with "Give it up for (name of comedian) and her titties". He couldn't understand why she became upset, and why he has never gotten any more spots at that club.

    As they say, the fish rots from the head. Eddie Brill is symptomatic of a problem with David Letterman and the entire comedy industry. Of course, David Letterman is famous for harassment of young women who worked on his show. I was looking for an assistant, and I interviewed a young woman who worked as a page on the show, and she said that Eddie Brill harassed the young women there as well. And this nonsense about Eddie Brill being "demoted" was simply window dressing for publicity purposes – it is common knowledge that he is still the booker for the Letterman show. If people at the pinnacle of the comedy profession are like this, just imagine how the rest of the industry is.

    Even today, a female comedian has many things working against her. First and foremost are the men who pretend they are evolved but in the green room will laugh and joke with each other about how women are not funny. Second, female comedians are subjected to sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, that would never be tolerated in an office environment. Did you see this article from last week about what women endure in Silicon Valley?


    It's 10 times worse in comedy, because there are no checks and balances against male comedians harassing women. They can get away with it because the clubs are run by men as well, and of course the attitude is "Boys will be boys" . Also, there's an element of danger because when comedians are first starting out, they have to drive long distances, stay in seedy motels, and travel alone, and they're dealing with drunk audience members and drunk comedians. There is an element of danger for female comedians on the road, and of course that danger comes from men.

    I'm hopeful that Stephen Colbert will be much more enlightened than David Letterman when it comes to treating women fairly, and that he will get rid of Eddie Brill and hire someone who has a more enlightened attitude towards female comedians...but it shouldn't be hard to improve that situation at all, because honestly it couldn't be any worse.

  13. If there's a saving grace from that clip (other than the grace you showed in refusing to be thrown off, and launching seamlessly into your routine), it's that a good chunk of the audience clearly wasn't pleased with Mandel's intro, either.

  14. I love female comedians! Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristin Wiig- they put me on the floor!

  15. Well, gosh, I don't know anything about comedy; that's why I read Judy's books. But it seems to me that there are way too few lady comedians on television.

  16. Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho. Brilliant! As are you, Judy. Your keynote at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop killed. And inspired. Well done. I'm reading The Comedy Bible now and learning so much.

  17. Isn't Chelsea technically on late night? I know it's not one of the big 3 networks, but it is late night. I only wish Joan Rivers hadn't ticked off Johnny Carson. I think she was the intended heir of The Tonight Show, not Jay Leno. So technically, Joan Rivers was on late night, as a guest host (repeatedly), and her own show (briefly and not too successfully). I agree that it's very unequal, and that a not-very-funny guy will get a shot before a definitely funny woman. I'm just looking for progress, and I think there is some. I believe they chose Colbert because he's on top of his game, at the height of his popularity, and has a young male fan base that will probably follow him anywhere (assuming he's still funny once he drops the persona). Personally, I will miss him on comedy central, where I think he is more effective as an agent of social change and creating awareness of American and global politics amongst young people. My generation was woefully uninformed about such things, and getting young people passionately involved in politics is an amazing feat. I am sad to see that come to an end. But how could he say no to the offer?

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Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.