In uncertain times, it is a subtle act of rebellion to celebrate and uplift marginalized voices.
Stephen Colbert has made no secret of his opinions about Donald Trump. The late night host has been a ray of light in an endlessly depressing news cycle, inventing new and myriad ways to roast the president. But Colbert has been quietly staging a more subtle act of rebellion on “The Late Show,” by celebrating people of different races, genders, and orientations with a refreshingly inclusive showcase of stand-up comedians.
Countless stand-up careers have been launched by plum late night appearances, including storied debuts by Joan Rivers, Eddie Murphy, and Ellen Degeneres on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” Luckily for emerging comedians everywhere, the current resurgence of late night means the tradition is alive and well, which can be especially helpful for those comedians who might otherwise be a token at a comedy club — namely anyone who is not a straight, white man. No late night show is supporting a more inclusive roster of rising comedians than “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Of the 11 stand-up comedians Colbert has hosted in 2017, only 4 have been white men, and one of those guys’ entire opening bit is about how he doesn’t look white (for what it’s worth). All hailing from the New York comedy scene, where “The Late Show” is filmed, the talent pool is fairly evenly distributed across age, race, and gender lines, though the men do outnumber the women, and Colbert has yet to host any trans comics. (Jimmy Fallon recently had Patti Harrison on his show).
While there are no awards for being a good guy, it bears noting that Colbert is doing his part to pay it forward and give exposure to voices that might otherwise not get heard in primetime. The inclusivity of “The Late Show” stand-up line-up is all the more apparent considering the show airs on CBS, which recently made headlines for refusing to pay Asian-American actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park the same salaries as their white male co-stars on “Hawaii Five-0.” Looking at Colbert’s guests, it is easy to forget that parity is not the norm.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding — and very funny pudding it is. Each of these comedians offer fresh perspectives on topics the average white male comic couldn’t touch and would never think to explore. From topics such as gentrification, dating men in their forties, and flying as an Arab-American, these stand-ups remind us what comedy does best: Take pain and turn it into joy.
Here are 7 hilarious comics Colbert featured this year, with nary a straight white guy in the bunch:
“I got just enough white people in my neighborhood to have a good grocery store,” says out lesbian Pat Brown at the beginning of her Colbert set, making light of the sensitive issue of Harlem’s gentrification. Brown won best female comic at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, and released her first album last year, “The Pat Brown Sex Tape.”
Colbert isn’t the only high profile fan of Carmen Lynch’s; the comedian recently wrote and starred in a short film directed by Chloe Sevigny. Part of Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales series, “Carmen” is an unsettling look at Lynch’s life as a single woman comedian that begins with Lynch telling jokes to an empty room. Sans laughter, her black humor takes on an even more morose quality, which is the perfect complement to Sevigny’s pensive shots of Lynch walking the streets of New York. But not to worry — her Colbert set is much funnier, if not entirely upbeat. “I love men in their forties, they’ve lost hope,” she says. “They’re so real, they’re halfway to death and they know it.”
Muslim comedian Mo Amer’s profile rose significantly when he was unexpectedly seated next to Eric Trump on a flight to Scotland. Amer immediately posted to Instagram with the caption, “Sometimes God just sends you the material.” The two apparently had a good chat, with Trump assuring Amer their would be no Muslim registry. While those reassurances might seem hollow, there is at least one Muslim who got something good out of the Trumps. Amer details the experience further in his set, with a particularly amusing riff about how the flight attendant who upgraded him had to be a Democrat.
Cool and collected, Greer Barnes glides onto the “Late Show” stage with the swagger of a seasoned professional, after Colbert introduces him with a clip from HBO’s “Crashing,” where Barnes confronts the series’ star Pete Holmes about taking his stage time the night before he’s “supposed to do Colbert.” Barnes is no stranger to comedy; he has credits on “In Living Color” and “Chappelle’s Show,” as well as more recently appearing on Louis CK’s “Horace and Pete.” His Colbert set is confident and flawless, turning a funny bit about his fear of walking behind white women at night into a brilliant takedown of one of the most insidious examples of casual racism.
Making her network television debut, Onion writer Sarah Tollemache evokes the best of Ellen Degeneres with a clean set about aging parents, Uber pools, and counting steps. Dry and quirky, Tollemache ends on an appropriately awkward “thank you” following a joke about death as a surefire solution to crippling debt.
Sporting a bearded, megawatt smile, Ramy Youssef proudly introduces himself to the Colbert crowd, adding that he’s Muslim. “Yeah, like from the news. Have you guys seen our show?” he says. “I feel like no matter what I do, I’m just gonna turn 30 and get a Hogwarts letter from ISIS.” As the set continues, he takes it a little deeper, discussing God and the disconnect between reading the news and everyday life. It’s clear his star is on the rise; Youssef has a recurring role in the third season of “Mr. Robot.”
Sporting a mustache so handsome it made Jimmy Fallon jealous, out gay comedian Matteo Lane combines a storytelling joke style with grand old gay charm. “It’s hard to figure out who’s gay and straight in Italy, they all look gay there,” he says. “I pass for straight, that’s a problem.” Lane has also appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” and his web series, “Janice and Jeffrey,” is currently streaming on IFC.