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Stop Defending Stephen Colbert

By Ashley Nicole Black | Apr 11, 2014

Every time I turn on the Internets, someone is angrily defending Stephen Colbert.

Ok, if I’m being honest, my Internets are always on, and someone white is defending Colbert to someone of color (or a woman, or both). This is my plea for you to please stop defending Stephen.

Stephen Colbert is doing great. He’s super-funny; he’s the host of a really popular show and is about the become the host of an even more popular show. Right now, he is at the bank learning about the secret kind of bank account you have to get when you have more money than God. Like, you’ve never even heard of the type of bank account he’s opening right now. HE’S FINE. He does not need your help.

Also, no one is attacking him. Saying you don’t like someone’s joke– or saying you wish someone other than that person had gotten a job– isn’t an attack. An attack usually involves a broad sword or a coordinated military maneuver. It can’t be done in your underwear from the comfort of your own Ikea.

Instead, could you extend the empathy you’ve been using for Colbert (because we all know that empathy is a finite resource) to someone else? Someone who might actually be affected by it? I’m talking about that woman or person of color you are ALL CAPS-ing at online for daring to suggest that a non-white male be given a performance opportunity every now and then.

Can you empathize with them instead?

Imagine that you are a young up-and-coming comedian (you probably are, because you’re on this website). All you think about night and day is how to become successful and famous. You spend your hard-earned Groupon salary on comedy classes. You spend your nights in comedy theaters and comedy bars. It’s your very reason for being. You watch late night TV hoping that one day, you will be the one delivering that monologue.

Now, imagine that you are a woman and/or person of color who’s a young up-and-coming comedian. Who are your role models? (Chelsea Handler doesn’t count. NO ONE looks up to her.) Who do you watch and think, “I can do that, too!”? Can you imagine why that person wishes that the person they were watching on late night TV gave them hope that one day they could deliver that monologue?

Talk show hosts tend to hire writing staff that looks like them, and writing for late night is one of many comedians’ first big jobs. Can you imagine why seeing that late night is going to stay old, white and male– for at least the next 20 years– might make that person who is working on their first writing packet a little sad? (Shout out to my girl, Second City alum Amber Ruffin, who writes for Seth Meyers. It’s easy to shout her out, because there’s just one of her.) Imagine what it might be like to feel that no matter how good you get, there is an element of your success that is out of your control: whether or not someone wants to give an opportunity to someone who looks like you. If you’re a white guy, you already know that someone does.

So, since Stephen Colbert is doing just fine (he just left the bank and is on the way to pick up the keys to the cryogenic sleep chamber late night hosts use to keep them living forever and looking camera-ready on only 3 hours of sleep a night), maybe save your defensive tactics for your friend who just wants to make it in comedy like you do. And stop yelling at people on the internet. And if you can’t be empathic, maybe just don’t join the conversation.  Women and people of color are perfectly capable of talking about their feelings without your help.

Also, I’m super-excited to see Colbert’s Late Night. Because he’s great. But also because Rush Limbaugh HATES him, and anything that makes Rush Limbaugh mad makes me happy.

Ashley Nicole Black dropped out of her Ph.D. program to focus on comedy. Her mother is super proud. You can follow her @ashleyn1cole.

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