Comedy’s infamous lack of gender (and racial) diversity has remained a relentlessly discussed issue lately, especially since SNL made the bizarre decision to hire a batch of no less than five white male cast members in the fall, took the brunt of the internet backlash that followed, and worked to fix the problem by holding emergency black female auditions. On the other hand, just last week Jerry Seinfeld got touchy when asked why most of his Comedians in Cars guests are white males, which he punctuated with a damning question: “Who cares?” Those two words blew up the internet.
But now the kicker: Gloria Sanchez Productions, an addition to Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company Gary Sanchez, launched this week with a focus on cultivating female voices in comedy. Heading the new venture is Leslye Headland and Lizzy Caplan collaborator and longtime Gary Sanchez exec Jessica Elbaum, who pitched the idea to Ferrell and McKay after years of scheming it in her head. The guys supported the idea instantly according to Elbaum, who called the decision a “no brainer” for all parties involved.
“It’s kind of something you know I’ve obviously quietly – well not so quietly – been doing for years now,” she says. “Will and Adam are such strong supporters of it, so I thought why not get out in front of this and create a space for women to know that they can come and create and be supported? Men have been behind women things which is great, but I wanted to really declare a woman behind women. Women know what women need, and that’s the point here.”
Launching what initially amounts to a lady-themed offshoot of a wildly successful production company helmed by two white dudes might prove problematic if you want to dub Gloria Sanchez a feminist pursuit. Already it’s stirring up criticism for potentially hurting women in comedy rather than helping them, with Laughspin posing an interesting counterpoint: “But when you create a special space for women to be funny – even if the goal is positive — doesn’t that further cement the idea that women should be treated differently in the world of comedy?” Even though an outlet for talented females is great news, isn’t it kind of disconcerting how underrepresented voices only get heard when they’re all isolated in a room together for producers to pick and choose from?
“That was something I thought about a lot, because it’s such an easy thing to attack,” Elbaum says. “All I can say is that Will and Adam could not be more supportive of women, and I think that since I’m a strong female voice here, they recognized the value in getting behind a woman getting behind other women.” Hopefully Gloria will be contagious too: “Everybody should be doing this. Every single company should get out and do this. Even without having Gloria, I’ve really tried to make it a point to work with women and be that person. So now it’s just exciting that it’s out there and everybody knows about it. You just realize – even though it’s stuff we already knew – how much untapped talent there is. It’s bananas.”
The announcement of Gloria Sanchez poses some confusing questions for female talent, though – if you’ve written a script and happen to be a woman, which company should you take your pitch to? Is Gary Sanchez reaffirming itself as a maker of mostly bro comedy and leaving the future Bachelorettes, Tammys, and Welcome to Mes to its woman-helmed counterpart? “It’s just another way to expand the brand,” Elbaum explains. “Will and Adam have really done a good job doing comedy and also Will doing drama with Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go, so we’re trying to do everything. I think Gary and Gloria are going to work beautifully together. I don’t think that keeps Gary from doing it too. I just really want to make Gloria the place that women just wake up in the morning and have an idea and go ‘Oh yeah, of course I’m going to Gloria Sanchez.’ [laughs] And I’m also going to continue to work with men – I have several projects with Will that I’m excited about. Everybody should just play well together. There’s no reason to keep them separate, but I felt strongly that there needed to be a go-to place for women – of course supported by men, but with a woman truly behind it.”
If there’s one thing that hints to a successful future for Gloria Sanchez Productions, it’s how excited Elbaum is to get started. June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Lizzy Caplan, and Jenny Slate are mentioned as well as a slew of yet-unknown writers she’d like to feature under the Gloria banner. And will the female-centric aspect of Gloria also extend to the staff she hires? “There’s plenty of men working here, you know?” she jokes. “It’s important to represent what the messaging of this is in a really proper way, so yeah, my plan is to go to women. I want to make Gloria very female. It’s an amazing moment in time for women right now, and I’m excited to be a part of it.” When I tell Elbaum I think she’s onto something, she sounds grateful. “I hope we’re onto something!” she says. “We think we’re onto something.”