The face of late-night comedy

There needs to be more diversity in comedy.

by Hemang Sharma


NBC is seeking two new faces to lead their late-night comedy shows, “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night.” “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno may be replaced with “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon, despite Leno’s verbal disagreement to go forward with a deal. Rumors point to Seth Meyers or Howard Stern to replace Fallon on “Late Night.” It all sounds reckless, as NBC continues to pick “Saturday Night Live” stars or older white comedians to take hold of their flagship talk shows.

I would never imagine NBC executives to do anything so brash to mess up America’s late-night dosage of humor. Wait, that already happened three years ago. Now, don’t reminisce about how much you hate Leno and bring out your Team Coco T-shirts quite yet. That unfunny ordeal has ended, and the current drama is just heating up.

Let’s pause and give credit where credit is due. Leno has done a great job of hosting “The Tonight Show” for nearly two decades. He has seen the kind of popularity that people associated with his predecessor, the legendary Johnny Carson, the funnyman who sat on the late-night comedy throne for 30 years.

Leno, Fallon, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien, Carson Daly, Russell Brand — this is America’s line-up for late-night comedy. If these guys weren’t comedians, they would resemble a crop of a Republican presidential primary.

Now, I’m a racial minority, and I would never champion someone getting a job simply because of race, yet this is especially tricky in the ratings-driven entertainment business. Moreover, the “Tonight Show” host has become a symbol of broadcast culture, forever altering American entertainment, but I couldn’t help notice the lack of diversity in comedy hosts across the big networks.

What the country needs is someone who is funny, popular, experienced and worthy of hosting such a prestigious show.

You haven’t really “made it” in America unless you have done an HBO special. The comedian I have in mind has done eight; he hosted a live show on HBO for years and created numerous movies. Finally, even our parents know who he is. He is Chris Rock, the fifth-greatest stand-up comedian ever, according to Comedy Central.

Chris Rock would bring the needed audience boost to NBC, a network that chose Bill Pullman — the president from the 1996 “Independence Day” — to play a modern president. Clearly, the network needs something new, and NBC’s ratings allude to this fact.

People can agree or disagree about Fallon’s range as a comedian, but I think there is an opportunity to put on primetime a comedian who reflects the growing diversity of our nation and has more credentials than Fallon. American comedy has been at odds with ethics with numerous racist, sexist and other hateful joke controversies. Now, more than ever, American comedy needs a more diverse face. Rock is famous for his racially charged performances, but he has acted in ways that prove he can think critically about controversial issues while still being funny and relevant.

For the sake of diversity, there are other decent applicants for the flagship position, such as Russell Peters, Amy Sedaris or Wanda Sykes. Though they may not have the credentials that Rock does, they’re certainly funny and would reflect our diverse American culture.

While it is clear that NBC should not make a decision based simply on race or gender, the host of “The Tonight Show” has been a staple of American TV culture, and having a more diverse host will benefit American comedy.