In a week that has seen a lot of talk and confusion, it’s nice to see someone taking action. Brett Gelman, a comedian perhaps best known for his specials with Adult Swim, the Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends series, announced on Twitter today that he’s formally cut ties with the company after a number of allegations detailing the company’s reluctance to hire women and willingness to air an alt-right sketch show. Splitsider, Buzzfeed, Polygon and Paste have all written on the damaging hiring practices enabled by company execs, but this is the first decisive action that a comedian working with the network has publicly taken on the issue. Gelman’s decision and statement made unexpected waves, and we caught up with him today to talk the issue all the way through.
Paste: What’s been the general reaction? Have your Twitter mentions gotten ugly?
Brett Gelman: I’m surprised! I didn’t think people listened to what I have to say. I don’t engage with ugly mentions…I’m not gonna give that mentality a voice. That is how we got here. This is not the time for discussion, this is the time for action and the time to support organizations who promote humanity and equality and the good for our planet.
Paste: Why did you choose today to say something?
Gelman: It was somewhat arbitrary. I’d made the decision already. I was rallying against Twitter, actually, I was thinking, “fuck Twitter, this makes our side pacify itself and mobilizes this sick faction.” A fan of mine was like, “You’re a hypocrite, you work for a company that greenlit a white supremacy sketch comedy show.”
I did engage with him and I said, “You’re right, and I used to, but I no longer do.” I don’t get a ton of activity on my Twitter page, and I do engage politically on it, and I haven’t gotten much response. I didn’t think it would get the response it did, but I’m overjoyed that it did. I’ve gotten a lot of beautiful tweets and it means a lot that a lot of women and people of color have felt acted for, not spoken for, but acted for.
That is the clear thing that straight white liberal men need to take into account, that this is the time to act—that we are the people who have privilege, and we are the ones who can normalize activism.
Paste: Use your powers for good.
Gelman: Exactly, and there’s a lot of people who think the right thing but don’t do the right thing. And aren’t even aware they’re not doing the right thing.
I’ll say this, Adult Swim greenlit mine and Jason Woliner’s specials. And especially my last special, which is all about white liberal racism. [They] allowed us to put that on air and in no way and at no point did they try to censor us. So, I don’t think this is a network who is white supremacist—they employ a lot of people of color—but you kind of get into your own bubble and are not aware of a lot of the hiring practices. It wasn’t until I read the Buzzfeed article that I realized.
And maybe I was in denial, I’ll admit that. You think, “well, I’ll make a difference.” But I was so disgusted with the hiring practices of women and that [Million Dollar Extreme] was greenlit and was on the air, and I can’t work on a network that is so mindless about these things.
Paste: This wasn’t your experience of Adult Swim previously?
Gelman: Exactly. The network has never tried to block anything that I’ve tried to do, I have to say that in all fairness. But, I am not the only person in the world and I saw a growing swell of women feeling underrepresented there. There were a lot of women artists whose sensibilities matched the network’s and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have shows there. And that they allowed a white dude in blackface to be on the air, that’s unconscionable. I think that’s incredibly irresponsible.
Paste: Do you know the Million Dollar Extreme group personally?
Gelman: I don’t, and I don’t know what their actual politics are. I’ve heard them defend that they’re making a comment on that but dude, this ain’t the fuckin’ ‘90s. If your politics are like that, you are white straight guys…at best, you are putting your own fame above the good of other people.
Paste: What should Adult Swim be doing differently to avoid losing talent like you?
Gelman: They should cancel [Million Dollar Extreme]. They shouldn’t let people who have white supremacist agendas have shows on their network. They need to let more women and LGBT community have shows. [Adult Swim] is very supportive of men of color, they have a lot of shows that are created by men of color. But by having Million Dollar Extreme on the air, they are directing [hate] at everyone.
Paste: Have you heard from Adult Swim since this story took off?
Gelman: No. I’m sure they’re real bummed.
Paste: Any other thoughts?
Gelman: I think that liberal straight white men really need to stop patting themselves on the back for what they think they think and actually take a look at their actions. And even though their actions mean no harm, we have to admit that we are conditioned to be comfortable, and that is what guides our actions. We have to consciously make an effort to build up the muscle for comfort to not be the main motivating factor in our hiring practices, and the types of material that we create.
Every white liberal straight man needs to take action and work at unifying all peoples of our sides, and stop making women, and people of color and the LGBT community fight it out themselves and just pat them on the back. We have to take active roles in supporting them, defending them and hiring them.
Everybody should write down the phrase “write what you know” and then tear it the fuck up and replace that with, “expand your consciousness, because you’re supposed to have a fucking imagination and empathy.”
A representative from Adult Swim told Paste that the network has “no comment at this time.”
Jamie Loftus is a comedian and writer. You can find her some of the time, most days at @hamburgerphone or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.