When Comedy Punches Down: Parental Leave Edition


I will start by saying that I’m a few days behind on this because I watch The Nightly Show on the day after at earliest because I don’t have cable.  Generally speaking I highly recommend The Nightly Show.  It’s a fantastic replacement for The Colbert Report and they do a great job.  …Mostly.  What I have observed is that Larry Wilmore and cast are excellent when it comes to issues of race.  They strike both hard and true.  On the other hand, there have been several instances when discussions of gender and/or LGBTQ issues got downright painful to watch.  This week contained one of those episodes.

On the Tuesday, August 11 episode, the big issue of the night was Netflix’s announcement that they would offer one year of paid maternity or paternity leave for new parents.  While initially feted as a huge progressive leap in supporting paid parental leave (just calling it parental leave from here on out unless I’m quoting someone), the other shoe quickly dropped when we discovered that this leave wasn’t going to apply to all Netflix employees.  And in fact that employees of Netflix’s DVD service (yeah, that’s still a thing) would not receive this benefit.  The Nightly Show did actually do an excellent job of jabbing at Netflix over this particular issue.

Where things started to steer off the tracks for me was during the panel portion of the show.  The guests that night were comedian Carey Reilly of notsoskinnymom.com, actress Regina Hall, and comedian/Nightly-Show-writer Jordan Carlos.  The panels starts off directly with the bang as Carey Reilly declares a year of paid parental leave “baloney”, following up by saying that especially paternity leave is baloney because “what did he do to get those kids?”  This is to say that men aren’t even remotely as physically taxed by the pregnancy/birth process and thus a father will not have “earned” a year off.  So let’s begin with this.

Having a baby is not a medical condition.  It’s not getting a growth removed, it’s having a baby.  It’s a thing that a certain segment of our population is built to be able to do if they so choose.  And yes, sometimes people have to/choose to give birth via c-section which in fact is a surgery.  Nevertheless, there is more to having a baby than recovering from the process of giving birth.  Parental leave is about being able to adequately bond with your child not to mention to figure out how the hell your life is going to work with another person in it who is dependent on you for every aspect of their existence.  This is a taxing process.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the parents of that child got to do that without having to tack it onto their pre-existing schedule like it’s an unspecified number of extra trips to the dry-cleaner?

The United States clearly does not have a culture that is accepting of the idea of longer paid parental leave.  Often what casual criticism like Reilly’s boil down to is “that’s not how I did it and my child is fine.”  Because we live inside the internet most of the time and the internet is full of people that want to yell at you about how you’re not doing your life right, most especially for…I was going to say women and moms but let’s just say anyone who isn’t a straight white cis man, we’re constantly trying to preemptively defend our (child-rearing) choices.

Although, in all honestly, lots of our child rearing choices weren’t really choices at all.  For instance, I stayed home for six years because I didn’t have a college degree and could not possibly have gotten a job that would pay for child care with more than gas money left over.  It didn’t make solid financial sense so I stayed home.  I didn’t stay home because I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  Honestly if someone gave me a year of paid maternity leave I’m not even sure I’d take all of it.  That’s not me not loving my kid, that’s just me being a human being that prefers work outside the home.

As the discussion progresses, Regina Hall asks if this hypothetical year of paternity leave is going to a “father” or a “baby daddy”.  In other words, is this leave going to some guys who just knocked a woman up but aren’t involved in raising the child.  So, let’s take a moment to figure that the way that your company is assured of your having a baby is likely via the stuff going on with your health insurance and so when you add another human being to your health insurance, you are probably involved in that new human being’s life.  If you aren’t involved, you’re probably not adding that person to your health insurance …et voila!  You don’t get a year of paternity leave.  Maybe there are other ways of going about this confirmation.  Still, my point is that there are likely forms to be filled out and due diligence to be undertaken.

Jordan Carlos then jokes that he’d like eternity leave because he loves his daughter so much he’d just like to hang out with her forever.  That’s adorable.  Then he makes a joke about being a progressive dad and says that he needs leave to be able to recover from the birth process.  That’s not adorable.

All this, by the way, is the first minute of the conversation.  One minute in and the general tone of the conversation has been set to: parental leave is the joke.

So we continue this discussion and Larry turns us toward the idea that an actress in the process of making her name would never step out of the biz post-pregnancy (let’s be honest, if she even got pregnant in the first place).  This was, I suppose, by way of wondering whether people would be afraid that someone would steal their work-thunder while they’re away.  And yes, this is a real problem for women.  One of the reasons that this is a real problem for women is that even though women are expected to have babies, we’re expected to do it in a way that is convenient for the rest of the world or face the consequences and women do all the time.  Imagine, however, a world where paid parental leave was an option for everyone.  Maybe you aren’t taking a whole year off, but you’re taking the time you need to a.) recover b.) bond and c.) integrate a child into your life.  Even if you’re adopting and you’re only doing b and c, that’s still something that families should be able to do.

And by the way, let me take a moment to address this aspect of the parental leave discussion, how about adoptive families?  Parental leave is definitely not about recovery time for parents who adopt.  It is certainly about bonding and integration and those are processes which take time and which we should support.

So the conversation moves briefly onto the way that women are penalized for having babies to which I wanted to scream at the television: THAT’S WHY WE NEED PAID PARENTAL LEAVE!!  We need leave that guarantees that you can have a baby and come back to work without fearing the loss of your position or employment.

Hey, do you ever wonder if single people, presumably here we mean people who don’t have or are choosing not to have children, think people taking parental leave are lazy?  *ahem*  Fuck those people.  I’m not in any way sorry to resort to swearing right there because that is simply an asinine thing to say, especially coming from Larry Wilmore who I’m pretty sure actually has kids.  Though Larry then goes on to refer to maternity leave as “a year off”.

Think for a moment about the implications of this statement.  Do you think stay-at-home moms are perpetually “off”?  They aren’t.  Staying at home is not for the faint of heart.  As I mentioned, I didn’t do it because I wanted to but because it was fiscally more sensible at the time.  It is mentally draining for an adult to be alone with children constantly.  You need other adults to talk to.  You just do.  Stay-at-home moms don’t have lunch hours.  They don’t have hours at all.  All the hours are your hours when you are a stay-at-home mom, which, by the way, is why it’s so important for men to have paternity leave because households where men take paternity leave are more likely to share house work equally.  Just because a parent isn’t at work doesn’t mean they aren’t working.  Even if you like cuddly, cooing babies you will eventually need a break for your own mental well-being.

Sloppy conclusion time: I’m disappointed in The Nightly Show because I think Larry Wilmore can do and has done far better than this.  There have been multiple occasions when the show has included guests that could be considered experts.  It seems logical to me that if you’ve wandered into territory that you find unfamiliar, it might behoove the show to call an expert.  In this case, they could maybe call someone from any of the more than 170 countries with some form of paid parental/family leave.  This episode was, for me, rage-inducing and painful to watch.  Do. Better.


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