June 4, 2015 at 5:02 pm EST | by Kathi Wolfe
Time to break straight, white male hold on late-night TV
Dave Letterman, gay news, Washington Blade

David Letterman (DOD image public domain)

I’ve stopped rending my garments and avoiding the light of day. I’m even taking nourishment again. Like the more than 14 million viewers who tuned in on May 20 for David Letterman’s last show, I’m recovering from the end of an era. Yet, even as I’ll miss Dave, I know that change is the lifeblood of TV – on traditional television sets, YouTube, streaming or other new media. As this period of transition unfolds, I can’t help but wonder: Why is there only a small LGBT presence on late-night TV? (Kudos to “Watch What Happens Live’s” Andy Cohen for being the first openly gay American late night TV host.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m from a family of night owls, and as long as I can remember, I’ve been an aficionado of many of the straight, (nearly all) white male luminaries of TV’s late evening hours. Dick Cavett’s interview with Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis were highlights of my youth. Along with everyone in the world, I watched Johnny Carson’s last show in 1992. In that same year, it was fun to see then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton play the sax on Arsenio Hall’s show. Today, I enjoy watching the “Tonight Show’s” talented Jimmy Fallon, and can’t wait for my satiric news fix from “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart or “Last Week Tonight’s” John Oliver.

Even so, with more out celebs than you can count and the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage coming later this month, you’d think some LGBT personalities or comedians would be tapped to host late-night TV. To begin with, late-night shows promote and feed on pop culture. It’s unlikely there would be an entertainment industry without the LGBT community. And, with the rapid progress of marriage equality and increasing number of queer families, the humor of late night has become more gay centered and often more queer friendly. Last year, Letterman joked that his retirement would mean “that Paul [Shaffer] and I can be married.”

Yet, sometimes the late-night TV chat about LGBT people has been, at best, awkward, and at worst, homophobic – even when coming from liberal TV hosts. “I think there is a gay mafia,” Bill Maher, host of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” said in April. “I think if you cross them, you do get whacked.”

I don’t want (even if it were possible) for LGBT jokes to be banned or for the late-night landscape to turn completely queer. What fun would it be to never laugh at ourselves or if all the late night hosts were just like us? But isn’t it time for some LGBT hosts, without constantly getting on a gay soapbox, to tell the jokes, do the comedy bits, satirize the news and interview guests on late-night TV?

“The opportunity to be out here … with my face out here, especially an African-American woman and a lesbian, too,” comedian Wanda Sykes told TV Guide, on the premiere of her fab talk show that aired on Fox from 2009 to 2010. It would be terrific if Sykes were given the chance to send up the news with her incisive wit and in bitingly funny sketches again in late night.

“People are open when they laugh and more susceptible to different ideas,” humorist, LGBT advocate and Blade contributor Kate Clinton told Forbes. Wouldn’t it be great to have Clinton make us laugh in the midnight hour?

What would be more entertaining than watching Emmy and Tony-winning Neil Patrick Harris as a late-night host? More intellectually insightful and playful than tuning into a talkfest led by political commentator Rachel Maddow? Wouldn’t it be exciting if “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox were at the helm in late night?

Here’s hoping that the straight white male late night code will be broken soon.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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