Who Cares: Late-night success centers male mediocrity


Lilly Singh’s “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” cancelled after two seasons, represents the most recent attempt to highlight a woman in late-night. (Photo courtesy of NBC)

I think it’s about time that I turn this column controversial with my scorching takes. So, here goes nothing: People can be funny no matter their gender identity. Searing hot take, I know. Hopefully you didn’t get burned. 

Obviously, I’m messing around. While there are countless internet trolls who continually scream-cry that women aren’t funny — as if seeing women do stand-up is a personal slight — it is undeniable that the world is slowly, but surely, accepting women into the world of comedy. 

Ignoring whatever you thought of their performance, three female comedians hosted the Oscars this year. Personally, I was not a fan of their hosting, and they garnered a lot of negative reviews. But then again, when was the last time we had a good Oscars host? 

Women in comedy write award-winning television shows such as “Insecure” or “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” while their predecessors, such as Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, continue to enjoy box office success with their newest projects.

However, while women are making great strides in most areas of entertainment, men are just funnier, according to late night television, at least. 

Some late night comedy shows combine comedy and commentary — think John Oliver and Trevor Noah. Women, while less popular than the two men listed, have decidedly broken their way into the subgenre. “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’’ continues to provide laughs in its seventh season and “The Amber Ruffin Show’’ shocks and awes in just its second season. 

When I talk about late night television, I don’t mean thoughtful political commentary.  I mean late night talk shows: the land of Seth, James and the Jimmys, squared with such creative titles as “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” While the shows have begun to regularly feature political bits, their long-standing appeal lies in creating silly moments with A-list celebrities.

Late night talk shows aren’t the greatest form of media or entertainment by any standards, but how am I supposed to not watch John Mulaney’s “Royal Watch” on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” or miss out as Seth relives his “Saturday Night Live” glory days with my favorite cast members? Even though James Corden’s 2021 “Cinderella” performance has kept me up at night and made him my personal villain, that doesn’t stop me from watching my favorite artists on “Carpool Karaoke.” And, if Taylor Swift ever decides to make another appearance on “The Tonight Show,” I will be watching the interview the instant it drops on YouTube (I spent a good while trying to think of something I like about Jimmy Kimmel — I’ve got nothing).

All these men have found great success with their shows, programs that have spanned decades by passing the hosting baton from man to man. 

Now, beloved late-night host Conan O’Brien of “Conan’’ has decided to retire from the show, leaving an opening on TBS to create a new-late night talk show. It is not yet announced who the replacement will be, but if TBS wants the show to be even half as successful, they shouldn’t hire a woman. 

That’s been tried once, and the only way to describe it is as a flop. “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” was set to replace “Last Call with Carson Daly” after its 17-year run came to a close in 2019. Singh’s show barely lasted two seasons, and while it received mostly positive reviews from critics, it was torn apart by viewers.

It is safe to say that Lilly Singh is not everyone’s cup of tea — her comedic style has not really evolved since she first got popular on YouTube in the early 2010s. However, are we saying that James Corden’s formulaic “Crosswalk the Musical’’ segment is that much more groundbreaking? The segment, like countless others repeated every week, is purely formulaic: James tricks a celebrity into coming, James takes the musical too seriously, the celebrity is confused by and concerned about James, the musical happens and the celebrity discovers a passion for the crosswalk musical just in time for an ad break. I’m not saying this repetition makes a bad segment — I find myself enjoying it from time to time — but the mediocrity it demonstrates is only ever acceptable for James and the other men of the industry. 

Men on late night shows are held to a much different, and much lower, standard. They can make the same joke countless times, give a fake laugh, deliver lukewarm political takes and still thrive. This even ignores these shows’ histories of problematic bits, like the racist Jimmys. While I adore Seth Meyers, late-night talk shows are a breeding ground for averageness. Singh just couldn’t match the mediocrity of the men in her genre. No woman will be able to because women in comedy, especially women of color like Lilly Singh, are not allowed to be mediocre.

Kimberly Aguirre is a freshman dissecting the most off-base entertainment news. Her column, “Who Cares?” runs every other Wednesday.