The Jezebel-Daily Show caber-tossing match has captivated America – or at least the part of America that likes to read blog posts by 20-something Brooklynites and go to sleep watching an old Jewish man fling poop at Glenn Beck. It has also answered some important questions. How important? So important that, mere days ago, human minds were unable to conceive such riddles, much less their answers. Knowledge! Among the revelations:
1. Who is Olivia Munn? She’s a correspondent for The Daily Show, the co-host of G4’s Attack of the Show, and an occasional cheesecake model. She is also believed by some to be an incarnation of Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian death goddess who imprisoned her sister Ishtar in the underworld. This theory remains unproved.
2. What is Jezebel? It’s a blog for young ladies and part of the Gawker family of websites. Reading it is like watching Lady Gaga light a stack of Seventeen magazines on fire, then douse the flames in her own urine while Sarah Silverman tells jokes. It’s not bad.
3. Why is Jon Stewart shouting about how Jezebel called him a sexist prick? Because it did. Back in late June, when people were just starting to figure out what a vuvuzela is, Jezebel posted a piece by writer Irin Carmon that characterized The Daily Show as “a boys club where women’s contributions are often ignored and dismissed.” The piece also dismissed Olivia, the program’s first new full-time female correspondent since 2001, as “someone better known for suggestively putting things in her mouth on a video game show … and being on the covers of Playboy and Maxim than for her comedic chops.” The 32 female staffers of The Daily Show fired back with an open-letter rendition of Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man. Olivia suggested that any “b***h” who attacks another woman for being successful “just needs to f***ing turn her f***ing computer off, take the sandwich out of her mouth and go for a goddamn f***ing walk.”
Answers abound! But one (sort of) important question remains unresolved: Is Olivia Munn funny? For those who only know her from her two appearances on The Daily Show, the answer is, “Ummm, maybe?” In Olivia’s first segment, she was upstaged by fellow correspondent Aasif Mandvi and a green screen. In her second, she fared a little better, passing with a solid C+ thanks mostly to a closing joke about how Jon is old and she is not. (Old people. Heh.)
But to the dozens of fans who know Olivia from her Attack of the Show gig, dismissing her as a comedic lightweight with a nice butt no doubt seems unfair. Yes, Olivia spent a lot of her Attack time shoving hot dogs, mayonnaise, and tennis racket-wielding Hannah Montana dolls into her mouth. Yes, her butt is nice. But Attack, when it’s good, can be a seriously funny program, thanks in large part to Olivia, who as its co-host is sharp, self-deprecating, and – like pretty much every comedic performer trying to make it on TV – willing to crucify her own dignity if it means getting a laugh. Because she happens to be sexy, she occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) finds herself riffing on her looks for the sake of a gag, or gracing the pages of popular magazines in a state of undress – just as Sarah Silverman did when she showed up on Maxim’s cover in her panties, just as Tina Fey did when she donned a bustier for Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, and – wait for it – Bust, the ink-and-paper equivalent of Jezebel.
Maybe The Daily Show office is a hellish pit of misogyny and dick jokes, and maybe it isn’t. Either way, good on Jezebel for raising the issue. Comedy – in particular late-night television comedy – has a terrible, much-deserved rep for its boys’ club mentality. But before you hoist one woman up as your totem for All That is Wrong With the World, you should at least wait and find out whether or not she’s good at her job.
Daniel Holloway is the national news editor for Back Stage. You can read his columns on the business of acting here.