We Need a Female Jon Stewart, and We Need Her Now
In a shock to us all, Jon Stewart told the world last night that he is leaving The Daily Show after 16 years at the helm. His departure, coupled with Stephen Colbert's over at The Colbert Report last fall, presents an opportune moment for us to re-envision late-night television.
With all of this reshuffling of mainstream late-night hosts, one thing's certain: It's time for a female host, one who will have more female guests and discuss more issues that directly impact women. Because although over half the population is female, there are still no female hosts on network late night television.
This dearth of female faces is more than an issue of representation. Funny ladies like Tina Fey and The Daily Show's Jessica Williams are important not just because they are hilarious and smart, but because they make feminism palatable to a general public that, unfortunately, still thinks feminism is a word so dirty it should be banned. Whereas many women who speak out against sexism are shut down, female comedians often have increased license to express their anger by cloaking it in humor.
The lack of female representation doesn't only occur in the host's seat. Stewart and his Comedy Central counterpart Colbert have notably horrendous track records when it comes to having both female and minority guests on their shows. Colbert's guests are 73% male and 89% white, for example, and since 2010 only 25% of Stewart's guests have been women. There is a direct correlation between the gender and race of these talk show hosts and their guests, as well as the topics of the program. Having female talk show hosts increases the likelihood that issues important to women be discussed during the program because there is an equally greater likelihood that these hosts will have female guests.
In addition to hosting a more diverse series of guests, a female Colbert would be able to broach more feminist issues on late-night television. No topic is taboo for the comedian, as Colbert, with his "truthiness" agenda, knows well. This freedom is what has allowed many female comedians to become champions of feminism this year, from Jessica Williams bringing widespread attention to catcalling to Amy Schumer winning the right to say "pussy" on television.
The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead took a stand for women this year by spearheading the national campaign Lady Parts Justice in an attempt to revolutionize activism around reproductive rights.
These issues are already popular on different media channels, and female comedians are already taking charge on social media. They are creating thoughtful conversation and tackling issues that others only allude to, especially in regard to issues of race and class, that often seem to be absent from mainstream media discussions about gender equality.
So why are network executives so worried? As Kathy Griffin recently lamented, this is not a new problem. Indeed, there has historically been a dearth of female late-night television hosts. But the tide may be changing. Next year, Chelsea Handler premieres the new incarnation of her talk show on Netflix and TLC premieres All About Sex, a late night talk show about sex hosted by four women, including Margaret Cho. (Meanwhile in an ironic twist, Lauren Graham is reportedly set to begin work on a fictional pilot about a woman trying to break into the late-night business.)
How long until the glass ceiling cracks? Nobody knows for sure. But it seems impossible that talented women like Schumer, Poehler, Fey, Maya Rudolph, Samantha Bee and many, many more will be kept out of the boys club for much longer. Ultimately, these women are clearly, and effectively, moving the conversation forward on issues that matter. It's time that we see them move to late night.