What do you get when you put four of the funniest ladies on television in the same room? A hilarious, candid discussion on everything from sexism and racism to audition horror stories.
The Hollywood Reporter gathered a group of comedy actresses to cover its June 5 issue and to get real about their professional lives. Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish), Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer), Ellie Kemper (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Lena Dunham (Girls) and Kate McKinnon (SNL) pretty much had the best girls’ day ever, full of laughs but also real conversations on what they’ve witness and what walls they want to break down as women in the entertainment industry.
We’ve compiled some of the highlights from the hilarious interview, as well as some video clips. (Note: the original transcript used last names, but we changed them to first names to make it easier to tell who’s talking.) After reading this, you’ll be even more pleased that these are the women breaking down barriers and redefining what it means to be a woman in the comedy world.
On sexism and racism in the entertainment industry:
Lena: I heard a guy on my show say into his microphone: “I hate this job. I can’t wait to be back on a show where there’s a man at the helm” … Later, that same guy came up to me at lunch and said, “You’re really enjoying that buffet, aren’t you?”
Amy: Who the f— is this?
Lena: He’s the worst person alive. I hope he reads this, which he won’t because he’s drunk.
Tracee: I think racism trumps everything. [It all] happens behind the scenes.
Lena: So many shows wouldn’t exist if you and Mara [Brock Akil] hadn’t made Girlfriends and pushed it as far as you did.
Tracee: We did 176 episodes … Being on a show run by a woman with four women leads gives you a template that when you walk out into the world, you don’t see it. It changed my expectations.
Lena: There was a lot of dialogue about race when Girls started. I’d been thinking so much about representing weirdo, chubby girls and strange half-Jews that I had forgotten that there was an entire world of women being underserved.
Gina: I don’t believe it’s an issue of hard-core racism [in Hollywood].
Amy: It’s ignorance.
Gina: Lack of being surrounded by a culture.
Tracee: We’re quick to vilify people instead of acknowledging we all have these huge blind spots.
Gina: It’s also about what Hollywood finds financially beneficial. So when we show them shows like Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat …
Dunham: And Shonda Rhimes owns the entire television mainstay. (Laughter.)
Gina: Show them it’s all a good investment. And it’s not about race. When you vilify it, people shut down.
On why there are no women in late-night television:
Amy: Because we get our periods at night. (Laughter.)
Lena: The idea of risk-taking is terrifying. I love Stephen Colbert, he’s a genius, but CBS [couldn’t] take the David Letterman slot and hire somebody who represented even an ounce of diversity? Also, when they got James Corden — another guy I love — there was this joke, “We’ve run out of white men here, we have to import them from England.” There is no shortage of established women who’ve been on the comedy circuit for years. It bums me out that someone like Kathy Griffin was relegated to Fashion Police.
Tracee: There’s a plethora of female talent, and it’s not just about moving someone into a late-night slot.
Ellie: But it’s back to that thing — until you show a new formula can work, people are too scared to take a chance.
Lena: When Letterman announced his retirement, I tweeted that [Parks and Recreationactress] Retta should replace him, and 10,000 people were like, “I would kill to see that.”
On auditioning for roles:
Gina: I was up for a role and auditioned in character. They’re like: “We love her. But can she come back in with a tight black dress?”… I said, “That doesn’t make any sense for the character.” They were like, “We need to know if you’re pretty enough to be on the cover of a magazine.”
Tracee: I tested once for a network show to play a lawyer. A Harvard-educated motherf—in’ lawyer, OK? I wore a skirt suit and heels. Seemed appropriate. Then there were many discussions about my hair. They’d printed up all these pictures of me from 15 f—in’ years ago and had me in and out of the bathroom trying on clothes. They finally pick a skirt — the shortest I brought. Then got a T-shirt from one of the people in the office. The woman says, “Hmmm, your boobs.” I was like, “I didn’t bring a bra for this T-shirt.” She screams down the hall, “Who wears a 34B?” I put on someone else’s bra, a size too small, and somehow auditioned. I remember wondering, “What did I just allow myself to do?” The other actress [who auditioned] was dressed like she was going to a club and got the role. It was one of those moments where you’re so confused and humiliated. But that’s part of the biz.
On fighting for equal pay in Hollywood:
Ellie: I’m not powerful enough to have that fight.
Kate: I’ll work for a hamburger … I just want to be onstage. And I want a hamburger.
Lena: [Lean In author] Sheryl Sandberg once asked me, “Do you know what you make compared to men who run an HBO show?” and I was like, “Why would I ever ask about that? I can pay for dog food, and I have an apartment.” I hear my boyfriend [musician Jack Antonoff] on the phone all the time saying, “I’m worth more than that.” I do not have that skill.
Amy: I do. A couple years ago, I heard how much Floyd Mayweather charged for fights. (Laughs.) He’s not my role model. I just, like, want to date him.
Amy: Yeah. I’m like, “These people are only going to be there because of me, so I’m not crazy.”
Ellie: I once heard an exec say, “If you don’t ask for it, we can’t give it to you.” We can’t go through our lives just being grateful for everything.
Tracee: I was raised by a woman [singer Diana Ross] who has high standards for what she’s worth, which has been called “diva behavior.” I have witnessed flagrant, disgusting behavior, and that is not my mother. There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate.
Lena: When it was leaked how much I was getting for my book [a reported $3.7 million for Not That Kind of Girl], there were 39,000 articles asking, “Is she worth it?” Then it came out what [comedian] Aziz Ansari was making on his book [a reported $3.5 million]. No one says a goddamn word.
Ellie: The vitriol, it’s stunning.
These discussions are only the tip of the iceberg. Before the roundtable discussion airs Aug. 16 on SundanceTV at 11 a.m., you can watch these clips of the ladies cracking jokes and getting real about women’s issues.