17 Men, 2 Women: Colbert’s Writers Room Shows That Nothing’s Changed in Late Night
Ahead of his Late Show debut, Stephen Colbert wrote a piece for Glamour last month called “Stephen Colbert Shares Why He Thinks Women Should Be in Charge of Everything.” It was a funny yet seemingly sincere piece in which Colbert went out of his way to assure fans he would use his major network platform and influence to celebrate women:
Point is, I’m here for you, and that means I’m going to do my best to create a Late Show that not only appeals to women but also celebrates their voices. These days TV would have you believe that being a woman means sensually eating yogurt, looking for ways to feel confident on heavy days, and hunting for houses. But I’m going to make a show that truly respects women, because I know that there’s more than one way to be one. Maybe you’re a woman who likes women. Maybe you like women and men. Maybe you’re a woman who’s recently transitioned. Maybe you’re a guy who’s reading this magazine because your girlfriend bought a copy and it looked interesting.
Whoever you are, I promise: I’m going to lean in on this. It really accentuates my muffin top.
Perhaps it was thanks to the Glamour article that CBS didn’t announce the full writing staff prior to the Late Show premiere, because as last night’s credits showed, Colbert and crew aren’t exactly “leaning in” — just 2 out of the 19 staff writers are women, and 19 out of the 19 staff writers are white. Just a few days before the Glamour article went online, Colbert responded to a question at TCA about the diversity of his Late Show writing staff with this:
Speaking of his writing staff, one reporter in the room asked him to detail the staff’s diversity. “Lot of Leos. A couple Tauruses. But we make it work,” Colbert said. “Obviously those people shouldn’t be left alone.”
This sort of silly deflection is a technique Colbert has used before. When he accepted his Emmy for The Colbert Report last year, he cracked a joke about his lone female Colbert Report staff writer:
“I’m so proud of those guys…and one woman. Sorry for that, for some reason.”
It’s a joke, sure, but the way Colbert says “sorry for that for some reason” is at least an acknowledgement — however snarky or dismissive — that a lot of people are sick and tired of writing staffs with little to no female or minority voices. This issue feels like a broken record by now, but while the Late Show writing staff is more or less the same as The Colbert Report, Stephen and crew not only missed an opportunity to add more variety and perspective to their staff, but they also proved that Glamour article to sadly be an empty promise.
It pains me to put The Late Show in a negative light the same week as its debut — I’m a huge fan of The Colbert Report, Strangers with Candy, and everything else Stephen has done — but I’d really love to see him follow through on his promise through his actions, and by actions I mean actively hiring women. When I watched the credits roll last night, I couldn’t help but think back to the time I met him at a 2009 book signing for I Am America (And So Can You!) in New York. I was in my last year of college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was a huge Colbert Report fan, so as he signed my copy I nervously told him “I want to work for you one day.” I don’t remember the polite, totally not discouraging answer he gave me — probably something like “Oh do you now?” — but six years later, it’s still difficult for women to break through in late night (or as Colbert called it in Glamour, “a bit of a sausagefest”). I can only hope that six years from now, the odds that today’s female college seniors/aspiring late night writers will enjoy a much more favorable climate are a little better.