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What Are Women Doing Watching Letterman?

david-letterman-extortion“Letterman’s prickly personality and sarcastic humor seem tailor-made for a young, male audience.”

The AP’s David Bauder on David Letterman’s female audience — which, despite his unsupported claim, comprise 58% of his total viewers. So maybe his humor actually isn’t tailor-made to exclude one half of the population!

At first, I was with David Bauder in this article, “Will women viewers turn away from Letterman?” — not necessarily because I agreed with the premise straight out, but I agreed with the legitimate questions raised:

“How many women were involved? Did the relationships end well? Did women feel pressured by the boss’ advances, or were they happily consensual? Did any other staffers feel the way to get ahead was through Letterman’s bed? Are women who did not have intimate relations with Letterman upset that those who did may have gotten special treatment or career advances? Is anyone talking to lawyers?”

Issues of pressure and preferential treatment are topmost here, insofar as this is a CBS workplace issue. On a broader level, there are certainly women who are appalled at Letterman’s infidelity to his girlfriend/wife — as there are men, judging from conversations I’ve had over the past few days (and wow has this ignited conversations since Thursday night!). So — it’s certainly a fair question to ask.

But: The quote above is not fair. In fact, it makes no sense. Why? See below:

Letterman’s prickly personality and sarcastic humor seem tailor-made for a young, male audience. But the facts tell a different story: Letterman’s typical audience was 58 percent female last season, with an average age of just under 55, according to the Nielsen Co.

Okay, so: If “the facts tell a different story” than your wholly unsupported assertion, don’t you think that maybe you should amend that assertion? Like, “Letterman’s prickly personality and sarcastic humor has broad demographic appeal, but women take the lion’s share — Letterman’s typical audience was 58 percent female last season, with an average age of just under 55, according to the Nielsen Co.” Or how about “Women respond well to Letterman — between Stupid Human Tricks, goofy Top Ten lists and genial but newsmaking interviews, Letterman’s typical audience was 58 percent female last season, with an average age of just under 55, according to the Nielsen Co. No doubt his habit of featuring his mom as a roving correspondent helps, too.” At least these conclusions fit the data — because if you say “I think X but it’s actually Y,” then what’s actually off is your thinking.

This sort of sloppy assumption-making always drives me crazy, but especially here, where it’s meant to draw gender distinctions along the lines of “what’s funny,” which is pretty much code for “what’s cool.” (Play the “Leno or Letterman?” game sometime; have fun by accusing your comedian friends of secretly liking Leno.) To suggest that women don’t appreciate edgy, acerbic comedy is ludicrous, and plays into dumb notions that women aren’t funny (other dumb notions: pretty women aren’t funny, women over 35 aren’t funny, etc. etc. etc). Me, I’ve watched Letterman since I was in high school, and still think “Uma/Oprah” was hilarious.

I’m aware that artistic appreciation of all sorts can skew along gender lines, but I need a little more fact with my sweeping generalizations. In the case of a comedian whose been hosting a show watched by millions for nigh on three decades, it would probably be safe to assme that his was tailor-made for a few women, too. And oh, look, the facts bear that out.

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