Olivia Munn is being auditioned as the new Daily Show correspondent. This comes at an interesting time, since Jezebel recently wrote this poorly-sourced article about sexism at the Daily Show and the Daily Show women responded. I have a lot of opinions about what Olivia Munn’s audition says about women, comedy, and TV, but those opinions are all over the map. Here they are.
Olivia Munn’s audition has caused a lot of discussion for one reason: she's hot. The first time I saw her on TV – before she even opened her mouth – I thought: “Oh, I get it. They hired a hot chick.” So, there’s an anti-hot-person bias there (by me, at least, though I know I’m not alone). People hear that she was in Playboy and Maxim and assume that she can’t be funny. We should acknowledge that some people will prejudge her because she’s good-looking.
But didn’t she also get hired because she’s good-looking? At least partly? Of course she did. If you think that her looks had absolutely nothing to do with her getting hired, you’re naïve.
On the other hand, isn’t any performer judged by his or her personality? Can you really ask people to ignore what they observe about your race, age, gender, appearance, body language, and personality? No, you can’t, especially on a visual medium. So, yes, she was hired partly because of her looks…so what?
Here’s what: isn’t the job to be funny? Shouldn’t they just hire the funniest person, regardless of physical appearance? But that question already assumes that Munn isn’t the funniest person, which gets back to my anti-good-looking person bias. Maybe she is the funniest person…the jury’s still out on her.
And what does her hiring say about women on TV? Should women be happy that the Daily Show is auditioning another female correspondent, or should they be depressed that the woman they chose to audition may end up having more in the way of looks than talent?
Here’s where my opinions stop being so fuzzy: if Munn isn’t funny, then her audition is bad for women. The Jezebel article was obnoxious: arguing that you should hire women just for the sake of hiring women does absolutely nothing to advance women’s rights. In fact, it’s insulting; the subtext is that women can’t make it in a system based on merit – instead, the system has to be based on raw numbers. That argument is a loser.
If Olivia Munn isn’t funny and gets hired, then one of two things is happening: 1) She’s being hired mostly because she’s a woman, or 2) She’s being hired mostly because she’s good-looking. Either way in that scenario, she’s not being hired for her ability, and that certainly can’t be considered progress for women.