There's an exciting rumor going around comedy circles today: that well-regarded comedian Jessi Klein, 34, has been hired (mid-season!) on the writing staff at SNL. Could the tide be turning for women writers in late night?
The addition of Klein brings the number of women on the show's writing staff (not including performers, who also write) to at least three (update: a source claims the new total is six), and while it's not totally unheard of for the show to staff up mid-season, it's hard not to see Klein's addition as part of a welcome response by a late night show to all of the media attention they've gotten as an industry this fall about a dire lack of female writers; this news, especially mid-season, feels like part of a very exciting shift.
You might remember Klein from her appearances on Best Week Ever or The Showbiz Show with David Spade, where she was a regular talking head/correspondent, respectively. Or from her stand-up — she's a fixture in the "alternative" comedy scene in both NYC and LA. But Klein's most legendary success so far occurred behind the scenes, when, as a member of the development staff at Comedy Central in the early '00s, she was the primary network champion of a little sketch comedy show called Chappelle's Show.
The most compelling reason for the dearth of female comedy writers in late night TV was presented last month by former Letterman writer Nell Scovell, who attributed the problem partly to male writers feeling uncomfortable around women in a writer's room, or whatever. We all know that's a bullshit attitude for a person (other than Christopher Hitchens) to have in 2009, but it takes time for entire industries to change the way they've always done things. If anyone needs any assurance that Klein, and female comedy writers in general, can more than hold their own when it comes to dirty jokes in a ribald creative setting, they need look no further than a story she told on stage at the storytelling series The Moth called "Dale," the podcast version of which, it so happens, I had to stop listening to on the subway last week because I was laughing so hard people were starting to stare. (And I'd already heard it at least twice.)
The first person who shared this news with me, a comedian, was careful to say it was just a rumor (a rep for NBC has since confirmed). "But if it's not true," she said, "A lot of us will be really sad." That's not even a melodramatic sentiment, when, in 2009, the top three network late night shows still have zero women writers. Get it together, Dave and Conan. (As for Jay, you're, um, fine.)