The national discourse around late night talk show hosts has centered around the fact that the industry is white and male dominated. Just look to one of the many articles covering the topic, one including an article from TIME titled, “People Angry That Late-Night TV Features Mainly White Dudes.” Although this is true, there a glaring detail about hosts’ backgrounds that tends to be skipped over – the fact that a majority of these hosts are college educated. Why is this an issue? The powerful monologue, written to be relatable to the “average American,” often comes from the voice of someone who simply doesn’t reflect the makeup of our country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 65 percent of Americans over the age of 25 don’t have a college degree. Further, it reinforces the myth that to speak intelligently on world events, you need a college degree. We need more diverse TV hosts – ones that don’t necessarily have the privilege of attending university like we do. This issue is not only surface level and skin deep (literally). It goes beyond race to education and social class, as well.
The majority of today’s late night hosts have college degrees. Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert attended Northwestern University, Samantha Bee went to McGill University and Conan O’Brien went to Harvard University. The people whose voices are meant to resonate with a wide audience actually come from privileged, college-educated men and women. Where are the underrepresented voices advocating for a change? One should note the separation this causes with the audiences; it’s the feeling of someone with an Ivy League degree talking down to you about issues that you should know about. This “woke” America we want to live in must be awoken by clear conversations with voices that represent the ears that are listening.
When we look at a breakdown of the number of Americans who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, we find they are in the minority (see chart). This is an issue because late night shows should be talking to all Americans. Why do hosts only represent the minority? This is important because when you listen to a highly educated, Ivy league graduate talk about crippling student debt, the need for free community college and more issues involving non-college-educated people, there is no connection from the host to the issues themselves. TV hosts are talking from an outsider’s perspective, and that is not OK.
There is something to be said about the ability to relate to the backgrounds of the people we see on TV. There is a dissonance in laughing at what these comedians say and realizing that they spent four years studying at prestigious schools and come from neighborhoods and communities that do not reflect African American, Latinx and other minority communities (who are still disproportionately only high school-educated). Simply said, these hosts do not look like us, weren’t educated like most of us and do not reflect most Americans. There is something to be said about a TV host’s job, which is to make audiences laugh, think and learn. In an article published by College Census, “Top 10 Highest Educated Comedians,” they write, “Comedians sometimes play dumb, but they are typically highly intelligent people. It takes a lot of brain power to be able to dissect politics and culture and make people laugh while doing so.” While brain power is notable and important, going to college is not the only way to be intelligent. “Brain power” from different backgrounds is something we are lacking in depth on late night TV.
This simply boils down to the relationship between the viewer and the host. The news my ex-boyfriend (who only holds a high school diploma) gets from Stephen Colbert, a Northwestern graduate, isn’t delivered from the same voice as his, and that is a problem. So, next time you laugh at a quick pun made by the white man on your TV with the sharp suit, be cognizant of who wrote the joke.