Late-Night Laughs: ‘A Little Late With Lilly Singh’ Shakeup Keeps Spotlight On Diversity In Writers Rooms

Ryan Pfluger/NBC

The diversity of late-night writers rooms is not a new topic of conversation.

For years, these shows have been accused of being too white and too male, and while that still might be the case, there has been improvement across the board both in terms of gender and ethnicity. Progress is being made, slowly, in the right direction.

So, it was nice to see, earlier this week, that the new team behind the scenes at NBC’s A Little Late with Lilly Singh was incredibly inclusive.

Chelsea Davison, taking over from Sean O’Connor, leads a gender-balanced and diverse writing team of Vannessa Jackson, a former writing apprentice on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; Sabeeh Jameel, who was a researcher on The Opposition with Jordan Klepper; Romen Borsellino, co-creator of Freeform’s Kal Penn Approves This Message; Nimesh Patel, a former writer for Saturday Night Live who was discovered by Chris Rock; Nelu Handa, a writer and performer on Canadian series Baroness Von Sketch Show; and Natasha Vaynblat, who previously worked at Comedy Central.

The show is now being run by Neil Punsalan, who was recently showrunner of Comedy Central series Doing the Most with Phoebe Robinson and has worked on TruTV’s Friends of the People and The Pete Holmes Show, replacing Aliyah Silverstein as showrunner.

This is not to say, however, that the show’s previous writing team was not representative, featuring the likes of Marina Cockenberg, Mona Mira and Jonathan Giles among others.

But second seasons of late-night shows are tough, especially for a show that due to Covid-19 has not been on since May. It’s positive that, as part of the shake-up, Singh stuck to her belief that she wanted a writer’s room that “looks like the world”.

Singh told Deadline this summer, “I want many perspectives. I don’t want a room full of people that all have the same point of view. I want to make sure that we learn and we kind of are being representative of the world and relating to the world.”

‘A Little Late With Lilly Singh’ Brings In New Showrunner & Writing Staff For Season 2 As NBC Late-Night Show Eschews Studio Set

There are major benefits of a diverse writers room – it’s not just a box-ticking exercise. Giving people with different experiences and voices provides new avenues for comedy. Take Jokes Seth Can’t Tell on Late Night with Seth Meyers, for instance, which provides some of the NBC show’s biggest laughs.

Late Night showrunner Mike Shoemaker has previously said “You’d have to actively be a dick to not have a diverse show because there are so many candidates.”

Late Night writers Karen Chee and Amber Ruffin both told Deadline recently that they believed late-night was becoming more inclusive. Chee said, “Everybody is changing or at least trying to change, or there are people in positions that are trying to make change happen”.

Ruffin, who also hosts her own show on Peacock, which features its own writing team of Dewayne Perkins, Shantira Jackson and Demi Adejuyigbe, admitted that there is a “lot of weird racist, sexist gatekeeping” but said that “we are cracking those boundaries.”

“Hopefully now there’s more of us and people will one day look at late-night and see a bunch of us and it will start to feel more normal and people will expect that and when people aren’t getting us, they’ll come look for us,” she added.

NBC’s Late Night Writers Workshop is also helping. This year’s virtual workshop, which was organized and facilitated by Grace Moss and Will Schnabel of NBC’s Programming Talent Development and Inclusion team, featured the likes of Latinx writer Brandon Burkhart, Iraqi-American writer Reem Edan and Korean writer Sam O, while last year’s scheme saw the likes of Shenovia Large go on to write on season two of A Black Lady Sketch Show and Mona Mira join the first season of A Little Late.

But it’s not just these shows leading the way. Across the board, people working at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show, The Late Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee have told Deadline they are trying to become more inclusive.

As Stephen Colbert said in a TimesTalks conversation in 2018, they had to “take an extraordinary step to get an extraordinary room”.

John Mulaney Explains Why He Took Late Night with Seth Meyers Gig

Fresh from hosting Saturday Night Live, John Mulaney explained how and why he took a job on Late Night with Seth Meyers during a spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live! There’s a late-night word jumble if ever you heard one.

The Big Mouth star, who revealed that he was investigated by the Secret Service for one of his SNL jokes from February, said that he realized during quarantine that he needed structure and asked his good friend Meyers to help. “My psychiatrist, who knows me well, said to me ‘Without external structure, I don’t have any confidence in you thriving’ and she would know because I told her everything about my brain. So, I called Seth and asked him for a job,” he told Kimmel. “My jokes are not useful to the show. I try hard to write monologue jokes. There’s a rhythm and brilliance to the brevity of a great monologue joke. I’m so bad at it.”

Elsewhere, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had an extended audience with former President Barack Obama. The Promised Land author is on The Tonight Show on Friday, which also had Emily in Paris star Lily Collins on this week to discuss the pronunciation of the Netflix’s title.

James Corden had Riz Ahmed on The Late Late Show, to talk about his new film Sound of Metal and how he set up an iconic club night while studying at Oxford University.

Watch the Obama, Collins and Ahman clips below:

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