In Wanda Sykes’ 2009 comedy special I’ma Be Me she describes her mother’s reasoning for demanding proper behavior from her children by saying, “White people are looking at you”.
It’s the kind of subtle oppression that happens when you are a minority or part of a group of “others”. Not a member of the mainstream in a society. When who you are as a human being becomes representative for all of those that look like your tribe. The birthplace of stereotypes, if you will. This is particularly relevant if you are the first insert minority here that someone has met, or one of a few. Fast forward to 2019 and Lilly Singh becomes the first bisexual woman of color to host a late night show on network television. That’s a lot of white people looking at you, you know?
On Friday, my girlfriend and I got tickets to be in the audience for the A Little Late with Lilly Singh taping.
Truthfully, I knew of Lilly Singh, but not much about her. I missed the hardcore youtube fandom boat, but I respect the shit out of a woman building an empire. I was excited to kill a few hours playing audience member. Lilly Singh does not disappoint as a host. She spews presence and positivity from deep within. She hits the back of the room. The jokes are strong, and she doesn’t pull punches. It is clear she takes this work seriously, she understands that energy in a room matters to overall TV viewer experience and she is at the top of her game. Additionally, her crew was diverse AF. Noticeably diverse. Obviously the end goal for humanity is that a room like that is unnoticeable, but until we get there, high five for the folks that assembled that team. It felt great.
There was one glaring point, as a comic and a producer of rooms, that I can’t seem to “let go”. I’m a white lady with a computer, so here we are.
As warm up comedian Stacy Michelle began the process of energizing a room full of strangers, someone behind me started talking. Maybe they just didn’t stop talking, but either way It was enough for multiple people to turn their heads and stare. Full on voice talking. It was barely an inside voice, let alone an “on a set while a ton of money is being spent to make a show and there is a comic onstage” voice. *Sidenote* I understand what being on set is like, not extensively, but enough to know that work must get done, calls must be made, it won’t be theater quiet. THIS WASN’T THAT.
If you are unfamiliar with the job of the warm-up comic, it is one of the trickiest things to do in the business. Take a studio audience (a most likely SOBER studio audience) and get them so hyped, that their energy elevates the entire production and makes the show pop in all its hi def glory in the privacy of the viewers homes. It matters. That comic doing their job affects the entire show, in house and on air. The first minute of that comic hitting the stage matters almost more than anything else. Yet someone on set, was just yammering away. Not an audience member, mind you. They would’ve been addressed immediately.
Do I need to tell you it was the white guy? Like maybe the ONE white guy? I didn’t have to tell you, did I? It took me about 15 seconds to realize he must be the producer. The only way three rows of an audience would be allowed to be so distracted, would be if no one could tell him to STFU. My brain raced. The comic in me hated it for the woman onstage. The producer in me thought about saying something, but who wants to cause a scene at this amazing show with all these hard working people? I don’t want to be the angry lesbian, but also, as the white lady in the room, isn’t it my job to tell the white guy to shush about it? I was embarrassed for him.
My brain almost exploded trying to comprehend how he didn’t realize. What level of privilege is this? Particularly on this set, with this show?
I’m not saying this producer is a bad guy, he is probably signing checks and works hard.
Literally three rows of people were looking at this man. He was oblivious, or didn’t care. I’m going with the former. He didn’t realize. I mean he is probably the show runner and one would think understands the value of a warmed up crowd, right? To be clear, this isn’t a witch hunt. This is a simple opportunity to point out patriarchy in action.
Patriarchy is a show built around a woman of color, employing a diverse array of humans working hard to get a unique perspective to a massive audience, yet somehow this middle aged white guy in the back keeps blabberin’ over a woman of color trying to do her job. He made her job harder, which then made everyone else’s job harder, and because he is the boss, we all just sat there and took it. He should be bending over to be sure this show is successful, shouldn’t he? We were all looking at him, and he didn’t notice. That is the Patriarchy. Made glaringly obvious by his minority status in the room. The white dude being louder than everyone in the back, fucking up a lot of people’s hard work. There because he has been a showrunner for awhile, but for that same reason has apparently forgotten how to be present.
I understand it’s going to take a minute for white men to acclimate to a world where they aren’t the majority in any given room in this country. They aren’t used to the sort of things that minorities have to face. By sheer grace of their birth, they have been allowed to speak what is on their mind, anytime. Fortunately, that time is coming to an end. If you’re working on A Little Late with Lilly Singh, that time has already ended. You are lucky enough to be a white guy at the forefront of the movement, so that says a lot about who you are. When a room full of people turn around to look at you, it might not be because you are the boss, it might be because you are embarrassing yourself and your tribe. Whether or not you sign the checks. To the white men working hard in a changing industry, pay attention, notice when you are the minority in the room. You represent your people now. Get it together. People are looking at you.
P.S. Some women will undoubtedly say I wrote an article about the one white guy on a female driven show . There is truth to that. Or I can be the white woman who doesn’t care if i piss off an obviously powerful fellow my first week in Hollywood, so those folks doing the work don’t have to.
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