Adult Swim, the home of Cartoon Network’s adult programming, is demonstrably bad at hiring women to work on its shows. And according to the man in charge, this is partly because women “don’t like conflict,” and are therefore ill-suited to writing comedy.
A new Buzzfeed report found that “according to available creator credits on 58 series and miniseries aired by Adult Swim, only 1 out of every 34 credits went to women.” Conversely, Nielsen ratings indicate that 42 percent of Adult Swim’s audience are women.
In a statement to Buzzfeed, Adult Swim said that “women have contributed significantly to Adult Swim’s success,” although some former employees said the network had a passive attitude to finding new female talent. This adds up to some pretty bad PR for Adult Swim, worsened by an awkward response from executive vice president Mike Lazzo.
Lazzo is credited with turning Adult Swim into an essential destination for weird, cult TV fans, and Buzzfeed quoted an anecdote where he said, “When you have women in the writers room, you don’t get comedy, you get conflict.” Responding on Reddit, Lazzo posted this correction:
“What I actually said was-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. Nonetheless this was a dumb answer to a good question as Lucille Ball and Gilda Rather to Amy Poelher and Amy Schumer prove my statement a load of generalized nonsense.”
He went on to say he is “very accessible” at work, but the damage was already done. The idea that women “don’t tend to like conflict” felt like a new version of an ancient comedy adage: “Women aren’t funny.”
if you think women just cause problems in comedy you're probably incapable of writing humor that isn't offensive, racist or sexist
— shan murphy (@heyshanmurphy) October 4, 2016
Male-dominated comedy spaces' first response to complaints about aggressive/abusive work environments is always "bitches can't hang" https://t.co/giXHiJ8TI7
— more like squinchent (@TheAliciaKraft) October 4, 2016
Adult Swim is home to an animated show where convicted rapist Mike Tyson voices a lovable, crime-solving version of himself. This year, it also launched a sketch comedy series that appears to be targeted at alt-right trolls, marketed as a show to “unlock your closeted bigoted imagination.” It’s not difficult to spot the feedback loop between Adult Swim’s lack of women creatives and the prevalence of sexist and tone-deaf programming.
Compared to the 1-in-5 gender split among creators across all TV networks, Adult Swim clearly has a problem. It’s a crossover point between two male-dominated industries, comedy and animation, which both rely on close collaboration between creators. This kind of issue often doesn’t go away unless the people in charge are proactive about solving it.