Allison Silverman's award speech for the New York Women in Film & Television.

Allison Silverman's award speech for the New York Women in Film & Television.

Allison Silverman's award speech for the New York Women in Film & Television.

What women really think.
Jan. 29 2010 6:09 PM

Girl Wins Award

Allison Silverman's award speech for the New York Women in Film & Television.

Earlier this month, Allison Silverman, former executive producer of The Colbert Report, received the Muse Award from New York Women in Film & Television. This is the speech she gave.

I'm so happy to be here with you in 2009, and not in 18th century Scotland where we would all be decried as witches.

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I am humbled by the Muse Award. As many of you know, until now I was deemed a muse only by Nashville superstar Billy Currington, who used me as the model for his hit song "That's How Country Boys Roll."

But it feels very natural being honored by New York Women in Film & Television.

To begin with, I live in New York. In gritty Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where the grit actually comes from the unwashed organic kale we pick up once a week to braise with pancetta and caramelized onions.

I am a woman. I know that primarily because of how strongly I relate to commercials for yogurt.

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I am not technically in film, but I am often coated in a thin film of scented moisturizer to hide my revolting natural odor.

And I am in television. I have written and produced late night shows for the last 10 years, and thanks to this award, I think I may finally be able to say, "Well, Allison, you really showed them."

Who are them?

I don't know. But them don't want to believe in me. Them have made that pretty clear over the years.

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I am thrilled to be alongside such gifted women as America Ferrera, Andrea Wong, the team at Chicken & Egg Pictures, and perhaps especially Julianna Margulies.

You see, I grew up with curly hair in Gainesville, Fla., the second-most humid city in the United States. It's not easy having curly hair in a town with an average of 91 percent humidity. I figure if there's a bigger fan of Julianna Margulies as Carol Hathaway out there, she would have to have hair curlier than mine and live in the No. 1 most humid city, Quillayute, Wash., but I've done the research and there are no synagogues there, so I think I'm in the clear.

There are so many things I was planning to talk to you about today. How it's the male bowerbird who spends hours tending his ornamental garden to impress his mate; why the Russian space dogs were all female; whether letting friends stay at your place over Christmas is a holiday don't.

But something happened last week. I had a pitch on Friday, and the day before, I went into my agency to rehearse it. It was my first time attempting this; I'd been up late working; I was exhausted; we had a lot of material and very little time to perfect it. When I finished my presentation and got a blustery response, something horrible happened in front of five men in suits: I cried.

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It was a disaster. With those tears, I knew I'd personally let down Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Cleopatra, Grandma Moses, Sojourner Truth, Betty Friedan, and everyone in Josie and the Pussycats. Now that five men had seen me lose it, there would never be a female president.

Humiliated, using my iPhone as a tissue (and sadly there is no app for that), I remembered something that happened when I was 19.

I was in a college comedy improv group, and we'd spend winter breaks going on tour. The 10 of us rented a van and headed to high schools, churches, rotary clubs—anywhere we could get a few hundred dollars to put on a show.

The men outnumbered the women by more than two to one, and wherever we managed to find housing, fights broke out. Not necessarily real fights. I mean, there wasn't always a reason why people were punching each other in the head other than to film it.

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One time, we slept in a school's administration building, and late in the night, a drunk senior slammed a freshman, Austin, into the corner of a file cabinet. Austin was more upset than hurt, so I took him outside into the hall where we sat and talked. After a few minutes, Austin told me "You're the most human of all of them."

And I thought, "Fuck. Does that mean I'm not funny?"

Somehow, I'd been convinced that humor didn't come from people with humanity.

In his 2007 article "Why Women Aren't Funny," Christopher Hitchens argued that "[w]omen, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is."

Well, to begin with, you know you're reading something groundbreaking when a white man educated at Oxford explains to you that life isn't fair. And, of course, Hitchens has a point. Men are hilarious. After all, reading that article, I heartily laughed at his impression of an old geezer completely out of touch with the times. But he's wrong. It's the preference that life be fair that makes the sordid mess so funny in the first place. Comedy writers, male and female, know that.

Still, people tell women in all kinds of professions that humanity is a weakness. Earlier this year, the Senate judiciary committee gave the word empathy a beating when senators made the argument that identifying with the lives of others made Sonia Sotomayor a danger to the Constitution.

So when I sat in the hall comforting Austin, and suddenly he called me "human," well, it really knocked the wind out of me. And in my comedy career since, I always felt it was a real personal liability.

I've cried in front of Jon Stewart. I've blubbered in front of Conan. Across the city, I've left a trail of snot and tears, interrupted only by the moments when I found protection under a fallen log or man-made planter.

Then for four years, I had the honor of working for Stephen Colbert, who is one of the most hilarious and truly kind people walking this earth. When he interviewed me recently, Stephen kindly said:

I think one unusual thing about you is that you've maintained your humanity, which I maintain is your clubfoot. In Native American societyand please don't write me, Native Americans, if I'm getting this wronga shaman has something wrong with him. He's maimed. In this world, strangely enough, your deformity is that you still have emotions. As my executive producer, you provide a level of humanity and decency in the writing, which I think is easy to toss out in comedy because we try to top each other in terms of how outrageous we can be.

In response to that, first I'd like to say "Boobie, penis, vagina, diarrhea."

But secondly, I'd like to thank Stephen for so many things, but especially for helping me realize that I'm better at my job because I'm human.

Snot and tears are humorous. Literally. Merriam-Webster's first definition of humor is "a normal functioning bodily semi-fluid or fluid." They don't get to "something designed to be comical" until definition 3c.

Maybe some of you out there worry that you're too human, too. If you do, I hope you begin to see it as a strength. If you don't, please keep it to yourself. Because if it turns out I'm the only one, I'll be bawling all night.

Thanks again.