Earlier this week, Adult Swim’s executive vice president and creative director Mike Lazzo was accused of purposely not taking on any female creators or showrunners by anonymous employees at the network because "when you put women in the writers room, you get conflict, not comedy."
Adult Swim, according to a recent Buzzfeed report, has the lowest number of female writers on staff out of any network. Only 1 in 34 credits on any given series were by a woman, which pales in comparison to the other television networks’ 1 in every 5. According to Buzzfeed’s anonymous sources who worked at Adult Swim, Lazzo was one of the main reasons why more female writers weren’t being brought on board.
On Monday, Lazzo took to Reddit to clear up what he said. According to Lazzo, he believed "women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects." He added that despite what employees had told Buzzfeed, he was considered one of the most approachable executives at Adult Swim and that he tried to help everyone tighten their idea or pitch into something that the network would actually want to get behind. Lazzo then went on to say that if unnamed sources were mad at him, it was an issue on their end, not his.
"If unnamed sources want to complain, complain about me after I’ve read the script you asked me to read or tossed you out of my office for pitching something I didn’t like," Lazzo wrote on Reddit. "If you did come to me I bet I offered some decent suggestions on how to accomplish whatever you wanted to do."
"When you put women in the writers room, you get conflict, not comedy."
The bottom line is that Lazzo’s explanation of why Adult Swim didn’t have more female creators wasn’t an apology and a promise to do better, but more excuses as to why he wouldn’t bring on more. It’s not a new trend for white men to outnumber women and people of color in a writers room, but Lazzo’s approach to rectifying the issue is to simply ignore it and carry on like there’s nothing wrong in the industry.
But there is something wrong in the industry, and it’s time for action, not just excuses.
According to a study from the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, women only made up 26 percent of all showrunning, producing, writing and editing jobs between 2015 and 2016. That number is a slight increase over the 2014 and 2015 period, but it’s been a snails' pace growth. Certain networks, like ABC, have made more of an effort to diversify their talent both behind the camera and in front of it, but there hasn’t been a strong movement from any of the networks to actually change the writing landscape.
For every Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) there’s five J.J. Abramses or Chuck Lorres. As long as creators like Lorre and Abrams continue to bring in the numbers that they do — Lorre practically owns the primetime comedy scene with shows like The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly — the networks don’t see a need to diversify the talent creating its shows, and that’s the main issue.
If other executives are like Lazzo, who seems to have an excuse for why more women can’t be brought onto network shows ready to go whenever he’s asked about it, then television isn’t going to become any more diverse anytime soon.
Men still don’t view women as funny
It’s not okay to say, "I wish we had more people like Tina Fey or Amy Schumer" when networks aren’t willing to give female writers the chance to prove they can be.
This is especially true in the realm of cartoons, where women make up even less of the creative body than they do on network or premium cable. It’s still very much a man’s world, and as many sources explicitly state in that Buzzfeed article, it’s because men still don’t view women as funny in the way cartoons are often portrayed. Women aren’t viewed as people who can write a great fart joke or a fantastic, raunchy punchline, but we know that’s not true from the handful of women that are in the cartoon space.
Female creators and writers like Rebecca Sugar (Adventure Time), Kristen Schaal (South Park) and Wendy Molyneux (Bob’s Burgers) have proven they can write mouth-dropping one liners just as well as the men in the industry can.
Rick and Morty co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon spoke about the lack of women both on their show and in the cartoon space in general last year. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Roiland joked that they didn’t have women in the writers room because it made his "wee-wee feel weird." The co-creator was lambasted with angry tweets and in a follow up interview a year later, fellow co-creator Harmon said that they had plans on hiring more female writers, but he didn’t want to force it.
"[But] the day there is a female writer in that writers room, that person is definitely not going to be thinking that they're a quota writer," Harmon told the magazine.
It’s because of the passing interest in hiring more women writers that we have more female creators working on independent series that are crowdfunded because they can’t get a foot in the door at a major network like Adult Swim — all of which is a direct result of having someone like Lazzo in charge. In his post on Reddit, Lazzo acknowledged that this way of thinking was outdated and that it didn’t make any sense, but he never admitted things needed to change.
We don’t need more creators acknowledging there is a problem: we know there’s a problem. We need executives to start hiring more women, more queer folk and more people of color.
No ifs, ands, or buts. It’s time for a change and it’s time for those in power to be the ones who do it.
Correction: The "wee-wee feel weird" comment was originally attributed to Dan Harmon when it should have been attributed to Justin Roiland. The story has been updated to reflect this correction.