The Hollywood Reporter gathered six of the biggest women in comedy for a frank discussion of what it means to be a woman working in this industry. Lena Dunham (Girls), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) and Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) held nothing back, tackling everything from the lack of women in late night to the gender pay gap to their own personal struggles with sexism and racism at work.
Check out the highlights from the roundtable below:
On what they won't do for a laugh:While Schumer said she would never "suck a dick" and Dunham said she would never "f--k someone," Rodriguez quipped that it was different for people of color. "I'm a brown girl, so I have to cross all the lines," the Golden Globe winner joked. Rodriguez added that she does worry "a little bit" about being politically correct since her show deals so much with virginity and Catholicism, but that she relishes the opportunity to have these important conversations. "It's nice to talk about controversial things without making judgments," Rodriguez said. "I have my own beliefs and don't put them on anybody else, but when you're the lead in a show, your word is your bond, you know?"
On refusing to compromise for work:Despite the fact that roles for women of color are so limited, Ross and Rodriguez refuse to take just any role. "I remove myself instantly if something's perpetuating a stereotype. But the only way to stop stereotypes is to say, 'I'm going to wait for a journey that suits me," Rodriguez said. "When you compromise, you don't do your best work."
"There aren't many [roles in film for people of color]," Ross said. "That's why I say no to all the offers! Working on a film is one job where you look at a casting breakdown and I'll think, 'That's me!' But she's not supposed to be black." But rather than sit back and accept this imbalance, Ross said she goes for these roles anyways.
On the problems with how we talk about sexism and racism:While the women agree that a large part of the industry's poor treatment of minorities stems from ignorance, Ross pointed out that crucifying these people doesn't help anyone. "We're quick to vilify people instead of acknowledging we all have these huge blind spots," she explained. Added Dunham: "I also hate how the comedy community is so defensive. People are unwilling to learn. There was a big issue a few years ago with Daniel Tosh and rape jokes. But there couldn't be a civil conversation about it within the comedy community. I'm a sexual-assault survivor, so I would love to sit down and have a totally nonjudgmental conversation with a male comedian who makes rape jokes. But there isn't room for that."
On the absence of women in late night:"The idea of risk-taking is terrifying," Dunham said when asked why women are nowhere to be found on late night. Ross pointed out the lack of women in decision-making roles as a key factor, while Schumer acknowledged the role misogyny plays. "I think people hate women. I don't think they want to hear a woman talk for too long. A lot of people project their mom yelling at them," Schumer said. "My [career] has been about tricking people into listening. I'm not saying all men hate women, but there's an aggression."
Added Kemper: "The circles in which we run, there's an understanding that there's no difference in what women can bring to comedy. But there's a huge portion of the country that this is still news to. There are a lot of men who fly business class still rooted in the idea that women aren't funny."
On their personal experiences with sexism at work: "I tested once for a network show to play a lawyer. A Harvard-educated motherf--in' lawyer, OK?" Ross recalled. "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." Eventually, Ross was put in a short skirt, a T-shirt, someone else's bra and was allowed to audition for the role."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."
Rodriguez shared a similar story where she was asked to audition again in 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.'" Dunham's most sexist experience wasn't at an audition, but rather on the set of Girls, the Emmy-winning show she created, produces, writes and stars in. "I had 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?"
"He's the worst person alive," Dunham added. "I hope he reads this, which he won't because he's drunk."
On fighting the gender pay gap:While Dunham said she lacks the skill of negotiation, Kemper said she isn't "powerful" enough to do so and McKinnon said she'll "work for a hamburger, Schumer revealed she isn't afraid to fight for what she's worth and is learning to stop apologizing for her own demands. "I noticed when I had a suggestion for [Trainwreck director] Judd [Apatow] on set, I would say, 'Um, sorry but...'" Schumer recalled. "I started all my sentences with 'sorry.' I've made an effort not to do that now."
Dunham and Ross were also quick to point out the different ways in which men and women are treated for the same behavior. "I was raised by a woman [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," Ross said. "There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate."
Added Dunham: "When it was leaked how much I was getting for my book [a reported $3.7], there were 39,000 articles asking, 'Is she worth it?'" Dunham said. "Then it came out what Aziz Ansari was making on his book [a reported $3.5 million]. No one says a goddamn word."