On personality quizzes, I’m always at a loss as to how to answer specific questions about myself. The answers are all so black and white. I’m sometimes extroverted but sometimes a bit of a hermit. I can be very understanding but also very stubborn. And when it comes to boxers or briefs, I haven’t the faintest idea. One facet of my life I’m completely sure of, however, is that when it comes between choosing between being a morning or night person, I am most certainly a night owl.
That’s why, even when I was a little kid, I loved late-night talk shows. Part of this was being allowed to stay up past my bedtime to laugh along with my parents at jokes I didn’t even understand. Another part of it was because of the deep respect I had for the hosts. They all had wildly attractive charisma, inviting audiences from around the world to their programs. We watched Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel and, later, Jimmy Fallon. David Letterman, however, was my favorite, with his resonating chuckle and genuine interest in the lives of not just celebrities, but common people as well.
Letterman announced his retirement on Thursday, stating he would be vacating his position in 2015, according to CNN. Though it was something that I had been expecting, it deeply saddened me, as his persona as a television figure had influenced my entire life. His legacy as a comedy king is founded upon a strong admiration for New York City, his sardonic and self-deprecating humor and his friendly relationships with his celebrity guests. Letterman is undoubtedly irreplaceable, and I couldn’t help but wonder who could fill his place — and my void.
As I was hypothesizing possible replacements and comparing network line-ups, it occurred to me that none of the late-night talk show hosts on major cable television are women. What further bothered me was the decision not to employ women for late-night comedy. There are so many women working in comedy, among them Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler— all of whom did exceptional jobs this year hosting major award ceremonies, entertaining and garnering record numbers of viewers. They prove that, contrary to some beliefs, women can be as funny as, or even funnier than, their male counterparts.
If the problem is that women can’t meet the edginess of late-night humor, then viewers should look to Chelsea Handler. Handler offers her biting insights into many of her vices in her books and on her E! talk show, which she recently announced she would be leaving when her contract expires at the end of 2014. She often banters with her guests and is not afraid to be bluntly observational. The timing for Handler to become Letterman’s successor is perfect, and what excites me is that she is a forerunner in the mix of the people CBS is considering. Her name, however, is still being tossed around with all, albeit brilliant, male humorists.
Obviously, women can be just as funny as men. The comedians mentioned above don’t even scrape the list of women who make me laugh in the entertainment industry. Moreover, a woman should replace Letterman because it is the perfect remedy for conformity. Often, taking risks in the entertainment industry, which in this case is sad and not a novel idea, might result in warm or appalled reception. To stay safe and select someone that fits the mold of an institution is the most superficial way to garner ratings. Staying away from choosing female hosts for late-night, whatever the primitive reason might be, is simply ignoring the dimension women could add to the comedy landscape. There are obvious aforementioned candidates who all have tremendous backgrounds and success in comedy. It’s hard to think that in this day and age, having a female late-night talk show host would be considered revolutionary. It’s time for television to step out of that comfort zone and embrace the need for change.
It’s going to be a difficult period for me as Letterman says his goodbye, as I feel like I’ve known him my entire life. He has inspired me in many ways, but I’m optimistic about what Letterman’s decision will bring to the late-night landscape. Hopefully, changes will be made and executives will consider the extraordinary women of comedy.
Or, you know, there’s always choosing another Jimmy.
Danni Wang is a freshman majoring in psychology. Her column, “Pop Fiction,” runs Tuesdays.