With festival fatigue closing in on all sides and the Verne Troyer sex tape still searing our minds one pixel at a time, we really needed a laugh Wednesday night. A panel discussion seemed like it might do the trick: "Funny Women," gathering Jennifer Tilly, Janeane Garofalo, Alyson Hannigan and Illeana Douglas poolside at the W, where comedian/director David Steinberg peppered them with questions when not contributing random career asides of his own.
It was largely hit or miss (though the otherwise outclassed Hannigan killed telling the first joke she ever heard: "What do ghosts say to each other? 'Do you see people?' " Ha!), but one inquiring mind finally picked up the slack during the audience Q&A: Where the hell are all the women late-night talk shows?
It took a beat longer than you'd think for someone to invoke Chelsea Handler, who drew general praise among the panelists. Steinberg shrugged. "I don't think there's any reason it hasn't happened," he said. "It's an old habit to think that late-night television gets more viewers and more response than a show like The View or Oprah or Ellen. ... I don't think there's any blocking anywhere at this point. It's just a question of how things are."
"I think if Ellen were on at night, she'd be bigger than all of them," Hannigan said.
Garofalo bristled. "I think there is a blocking."
"I think so, too," Tilly said.
"It's like a bad habit" Garofalo continued. "I know that for a while Amy Sedaris was considered; I know Letterman is a big booster of hers, and I think she herself didn't want to get into that. But I think when people were asking, 'Who's going to replace Johnny [Carson]?', I don't think any female names were ever taken seriously. It's like, 'Don't walk under a ladder, it's bad luck.' It's not true, but you still walk around the latter. It's false wisdom to say that women won't work in late night. It's a business run on fear, right? Very few people in television are willing to take chances, and I think they think, 'If we take a chance on a woman, and it doesn't work...' Because there's this false demo — this elusive 18-35 male we mentioned. Does that really exist?"
"It's not just a habit," Steinberg replied. "They call on people who have the experience who are out there, so it's Conan O'Brien [for The Tonight Show]. If Ellen wanted to do The Tonight Show, she could have gotten in the running."
"I don't believe that," Tilly said. "I think among the networks, it's like, 'Women like to watch women while they're at home washing the laundry, with the Tide that gets laundry whiter than white. And at night people want to watch edgy guys.' Didn't you experience that, Janaene, when you were at Saturday Night Live? That there was a tremendous sort of... not misogyny, but a sort of boy's club?"
"It's a show that rises and falls over the years," Garofalo said. "When Tina Fey came in as head writer, it was fantastic, and the women over the last eight years or so have been just amazing. They're too numerous to mention. But when I was there, the show was just awful. It didn't matter if you were a guy, girl, transvestite, transgender — whoever you were, that show just sucked it that year. ... I personally was awful. I failed miserably, plus I was a horrible drunk at the time; that's all my fault."
"I just assumed the man was keeping you down," Tilly said.
"The man and a woman," Garofalo said. "Me, myself, as a woman, kept me down."