It is never surprising to me when I hear horror stories from behind the scenes of late-night talk shows. Diva guests, demanding bosses, frustrated writers cranking out dozens, if not hundreds, of jokes a day only to get nothing on air—a late night talk show is a particular stew of rough hours, competitive environment, and an industry that excuses, and even encourages, awful behavior in the name of “genius”. So when former Jimmy Kimmel Live! writer Jack Allison took to Twitter to pull back the curtain on his time at JKL!, I wasn’t exactly shocked by what he had to say. With erstwhile presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg set to guest host JKL! on Thursday, Allison gave some background context to his visit:
For me it kinda feels like news if the gay presidential candidate hosts a show where the writers were saying “f*ggot” openly in the writers room until they hired a gay writer. In 2015— jack allison (@jackallisonLOL) March 9, 2020
This is, obviously, appalling. 2015 is not another era. 2015 is not some less-enlightened past when Kimmel’s show ended with girls jumping on a trampoline. Our culture today is not much different from 2015. 2015 is, for all intents and purposes, yesterday. Also, the excuse for garbage language in 2015 was “locker room talk”, so unless Kimmel wants to trot out that tired excuse, he should address this publicly and transparently. And Kimmel, apparently, isn’t denying the behind the scenes culture of his show:
I texted jimmy about all this before posting. Oddly he did not deny that people say racial and homophobic slurs behind the scenes at JKL— jack allison (@jackallisonLOL) March 9, 2020
The use of slurs in the workplace shocks me because I would think, just as a matter of “cover your ass” management, you would not tolerate anyone using that kind of language. Like even if you’re a terrible person who believes anyone different from you is sub-human, you’re still answerable to EEOC regulations and labor laws, and wouldn’t you want to cover your ass? What kind of manager is letting something like that slide? I have a lot of questions for Jimmy Kimmel about the environment he’s nurturing on his show. But after this basic management 101 failure, the other issues Allison lays out are entirely too common to even “good” work environments. For instance, he was chastised for sharing salary details with a female co-worker:
“Keep it between us” is the password to the boys’ club, by the way. But this “salary blindness” is a universal experience and it’s not limited to the unique environment of late-night talk shows. We’re told not to talk about money, we’re told not to discuss our salaries with one another, but the taboos about money never benefit us, as women or as workers. Knowledge is power, but too often we’re actively discouraged from understanding how our compensation relates to the rest of our peers, especially for women, since statistically we’re making less than our male peers to begin with. And yet, there are people who work in offices they consider a positive work environment who do not have that understanding. We accept it as par for the course. It’s rude to talk about money, so why on earth would you be comparing notes with your co-workers? I mean, besides the fact that it empowers workers to ask for more. It was sh-tty of Kimmel to ask Jack Allison to “keep it between us”, but it’s hardly surprising because that is pretty much the universal approach to compensation in the workplace.
And then there is the stigma that surrounds mental health, sick days, and work, which is especially bad in America because we’re such an unhealthily work-obsessed culture. Allison details in a couple tweets how he was “ostracized” after taking a day—a single day—off work for mental health reasons, and how that ultimately led to him leaving the show.
I had a mental breakdown at @JimmyKimmelLive and took one single day off for mental health. Then I was ostracized for nearly a year before I quit. Later, Jimmy told me on email that my bosses (including his wife) pushes me out because they didn’t believe me about my mental health— jack allison (@jackallisonLOL) March 9, 2020
Here’s jimmy on record saying the staff of the show didn’t believe me about my mental health struggles because I had the audacity to stand with the writers and tried not to be embarrassed when I came in after a day of literally contemplating suicide pic.twitter.com/qa2cjMonzC— jack allison (@jackallisonLOL) March 9, 2020
Notice in the second tweet that Kimmel is the good guy who totally believes and supports Allison, it’s everyone else who is mean and ostracizing, as if Kimmel—whose name is on the marquee—has no say in how his office conducts itself. In my experience, a boss who doesn’t accept responsibility for the things happening in their office is not a good boss, and usually, they are the fount from which all toxicity springs. But again, as bad as this treatment sounds, it doesn’t surprise me. Work in any industry in America and you will find similar attitudes toward sick leave and mental health. I’ve worked in places where people have had to bring in doctor’s note to “prove” their depression required them to take time off.
Jack Allison has revealed an ugly portrait of working life at Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but he’s also revealed an ugly portrait of working life, period. Shady, non-transparent salary practices that feed an inequal workforce and demeaning attitudes toward leave and mental health issues are all too common at work. Allison’s experiences are, unfortunately, not unique to the late-night talk show scene. These kinds of stories can come from anywhere, and they do come from everywhere. This isn’t just about Jimmy Kimmel addressing shortcomings in his office—though he should most certainly do that—it’s also about bosses asking themselves if any of this sounds familiar. We still have a long way to go to create truly healthy, respectful workplaces.