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10 female comedians who could break late-night TV’s glass ceiling

Because white guys already have their spotlights.


Nico Lang


Posted on May 6, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 8:58 am CDT

After Craig Ferguson announced that he won’t renew his contract with CBS in 2015, the Internet erupted with speculation about who could replace him, throwing around white dude names as diverse as Joel McHale and Norm MacDonald. But CBS president Les Moonves (who, no, is not a character in Tropic Thunder) suggested that late night might finally be ready to do something different and hire a woman this time.

This conversation always ends up being like Lucy holding out the football, enticing the Internet until we all kick at nothing—but if you have to get your hopes up, these are the names that should be on your prayer list.

10) Sarah Silverman

Why she would be perfect:

Sarah Silverman’s comedy pilot was one of the most buzzed-about projects in 2012—before NBC dumped it. (You can watch it online, if you know where to look.) The cult comedian had been a regular on her ex Jimmy Kimmel’s show (memorably crooning the 2008 viral hit “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”), proving herself a surprisingly natural fit for a talk show audience. She’s sharp, quick and a great improviser, exactly the kind of presence you want behind the late night desk.

Why it won’t happen:

Anyone familiar with Sarah Silverman’s very off-color stand-up knows the notorious pottymouth would likely drive the censors at CBS crazy. With the reward of a female Lenny Bruce comes the risk of FCC fines or completely alienating the CBS audience who sticks around after NCIS is over. Silverman would be a much better fit a network like NBC, who already decided to pass on her. If E! is looking for a replacement for Chelsea Handler, Silverman could do worse.

Odds: 100/1

9) Wanda Sykes

Why she would be perfect:

Wanda Sykes’ Wanda at Large was a surprise hit after it debuted on Fox with 14.3 million viewers, boasting the fourth-highest ratings of any program on the network during its first season. After the show was mishandled by the network and cancelled the following year, Sykes found steady supporting gigs on The New Adventures of Old Christine, Alpha House, and the critically acclaimed Curb Your Enthusiasm. She remains a recognizable comic presence today.

Why it won’t happen:

Wanda at Large was canceled over a decade ago. Although Sykes is still well-liked, women unfortunately don’t get many chances in Hollywood—especially black women—and her moment has likely passed. If this were 2003, she would still be a viable candidate for the job. Today, CBS would be more likely to appoint her as a sassy sidekick to a younger, sexier, whiter name. Hollywood is a lot like The Help that way.

Odds: 75/1

8) Tina Fey

Why she would be perfect:

Tina Fey is, arguably, the defining female comic of her generation, the 21st century’s answer to Elaine May or Carol Burnett. She’s found success on SNL, written the most memed-movie of the decade, won the Emmy for Best Comedy three years in a row and given us a sandwich-loving feminist hero for the ages. If Liz Lemon can find her Prince Charming, there’s no reason the actress playing her can’t have it all, too.

Why it won’t happen:

Does she even want this? Tina Fey is already working on two comedy pilots for next year, as well as co-producing a starring movie vehicle for herself and her real-life best friend, Amy Poehler. She just released Muppets Most Wanted last month and later this year, will be appearing in This Is Where I Leave You, the hotly anticipated adaptation of Jonathan Tropper’s novel, co-starring Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, and Adam Driver. Tina Fey already has it all.

Odds: 50/1

7) Amy Poehler

Why she would be perfect:

Amy Poehler is the other half of everyone’s favorite hosting duo, the comic force that made the punchline that is the Golden Globes into must-see viewing. Parks and Rec only has one shortened season left before its run ends, and Poehler would be smart to stick to television; as Tina Fey’s own career shows, the movies aren’t kind to the Leslie Knopes and Liz Lemons of the world. If she decides to make TV her permanent home, late night is a good spot for her.

Why it won’t happen:

If anything, Amy Poehler should be taking over Letterman’s chair, not Ferguson’s. She’s achieved too much in her career to play second fiddle to Stephen Colbert, who won’t be retiring anytime soon. It’s also not likely her schedule would be able to accommodate a late night gig, as Poehler is pulling double duty producing TV shows for Aubrey Plaza and Natasha Lyonne, in addition to working on the underrated Broad City.

Odds: 40/1

6) Samantha Bee

Why she would be perfect:

For the past 11 years, Samantha Bee has been the most consistently funny of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show correspondents but hasn’t gone on to enjoy the mainstream success of Steve Carell or Stephen Colbert. After a decade, Bee is likely looking for something bigger, and joining her former Daily Show co-star would be a great way to do so.

Also, wouldn’t her Daily Show correspondent husband, Jason Jones, would make a terrific co-host? They would be the Sonny and Cher of late night.

Why it won’t happen:

Samantha Bee is great, but she has less name recognition than anyone on this list and won’t bring in much of an audience outside of The Daily Show crowd. After Conan O’Brien‘s departure from as the host of NBC’s late night program, there’s increasing pressure to perform right out the gate, and Bee would likely take time to build a wider viewership. Facing off against Seth Meyers, who looks like he was born in that chair, doesn’t put her in an enviable position to do so.

Odds: 30/1

5) Jane Lynch

Why she would be perfect:

Glee’s light fades more with each passing day, and Fox will be airing a shortened season next year as the show fades into the abyss. After the show debuted in 2009, Lynch remained the breakout star, even as the show diminished in popularity. She’s one of the few celebrities who enjoys both cult success and widespread recognition, as well as a beloved gay icon. Ellen DeGeneres has proved a huge hit in daytime. Why not make Lynch her late night successor?

Why it won’t happen:

Although CBS has made strides for LGBT inclusion on shows like Two and a Half Men, it’s not exactly known for being gay friendly and has a bad reputation for transphobia. They might be willing to make inroads with the community through Jane Lynch, but they’re not the type to shake things up. To quote the Lynch-starring For Your Consideration: “You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby.” CBS is the definition of a moist infant.

Odds: 25/1

4) Amy Sedaris

Why she would be perfect:

Why doesn’t Amy Sedaris already have a talk show? It doesn’t make any sense. Sedaris has long been a favorite guest of both David Letterman and Craig Ferguson, as well as an accomplished comedian, actress, author, lifestyle guru, fat-suit wearer, and all-around wonderful human being. Hiring Sedaris would be a huge coup for the network, considering that her Strangers with Candy co-star, Stephen Colbert, will be hosting The Late Show.

Why it won’t happen:

Sedaris’ humor is willfully weird in a way that might make the CBS suits nervous, especially considering that her most iconic role is as an alcoholic drug abuser with buck teeth. Sure, she’s lovably quirky, but is that what CBS wants? Craig Ferguson’s own niche instincts never quite found a broad audience, and CBS won’t want more of the same in a replacement. After all, Ferguson was barely even factored into the Letterman conversation. That doesn’t bode well for Sedaris.

Odds: 20/1

3) Amy Schumer

Why she would be perfect:

Inside Amy Schumer showed the strongest year-to-year improvement of any of last year’s freshman comedies, finding both its voice and embracing its feminist undertones in season 2. Schumer has shown with “Food Room,” her Aaron Sorkin parody, that she can create viral hits, and her recent Gloria Awards speech showed the woman can deliver a monologue. If she can give America’s ladies all the feels, Schumer can continue to inspire them as late night’s first female host.

Why it won’t happen:

Although Inside Amy Schumer is far from an un-jumpable ship, would she be willing to abandon the show after only two seasons, just as its starting to pick up steam? The Comedy Central deal landed her a gig writing Judd Apatow’s next screenplay, and it’s likely to lead to much bigger things. The freedom of cable and the Apatow factory allows Schumer to be as outspoken as she likes, something she’s unlikely to get on conservative CBS.

Odds: 10/1

2) Chelsea Handler

Why she would be perfect:

In addition to enjoying an enormously successful stint on Chelsea Lately, Handler is a best-selling author with a huge female (and gay male) fanbase. If she gets the job, she’ll bring bring a huge chunk of her E! audience with her, as well as bringing in viewers who might not otherwise tune into late-night TV. Handler also does well with the 18-49 demographic, one that the elderly-skewing CBS struggles to bring in.

Why it won’t happen:

Viewership for Chelsea Lately has been steadily declining in recent years, and her most-watched recent episode was one she didn’t even host: Lindsay Lohan sat in her chair for the evening. Although her acerbic, detached style is reminiscent of Letterman, Handler is far more divisive than anyone else on this list, as hated as she is loved. A number of viewers likely won’t watch just because she’s hosting.

Also, rumors are that Handler is close to a deal with Netflix, so she may be unavailable.

Odds: 7/1

1) Aisha Tyler

Why she would be perfect:

Aisha Tyler is such a no-brainer that the stand-up comic and voice actor might as well just hire herself for the job. She’s got previous hosting experience with Talk Soup on E! and the Whose Line Is It Anyway? reboot and has been the standout on The Talk, CBS’ knockoff of The View, since joining in 2011. It’s likely the network will move to keep her in the family with a promotion.

Why it won’t happen:

Tyler is a well-respected character actress (with notable gigs on Friends, 24, and CSI), but her biggest role is on FX’s animated series Archer, where she never appears onscreen. She’s far from a household name, and CBS is notoriously risk averse when it comes to programming. And as CBS’ core viewer predominantly old and white, they might go with someone who better fits the demographic. This is why television sucks.

Odds: 3/1

(Odds that CBS will say “screw it” and just give it to some white dude: 2/1)

Photo via The White House/Flickr (PD) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: May 6, 2014, 1:39 pm CDT