The Hollywood Reporter hosted an especially candid and entertaining roundtable interview with some of TV’s best and brightest comic actresses, and the results speak for themselves. The participants (and probable Emmy nominees) — Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Kate McKinnon (“SNL”), Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) and Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”) — spoke out about what it’s like to be a prominent woman in comedy and, in some cases, running their own TV shows.
Here are the best bits of the roundtable, in which the actress-comediennes discuss nudity and sex on set, overt and covert sexism at the workplace, the difficulty of actually asking for higher pay, death and rape threats on social media, the limited roles for women of color, the late-night gender gap and the ongoing issue of “fuckability.”
THR: Is there something that you would never do for a laugh?
SCHUMER I would never suck a dick for a laugh.
DUNHAM I would never f— someone.
RODRIGUEZ I’m a brown girl, so I have to cross all the lines. I did just recently give birth onscreen [in Jane the Virgin].
MCKINNON Me, too!
RODRIGUEZ The actress playing my OB-GYN, Julie, was in right between my legs. I have Spanx on, this big [fake] belly, legs spread wide open. I probably should’ve showered that morning.
DUNHAM I stopped wearing the nude patch after the first season of Girls. There’s not one guy who works on that show who hasn’t seen the inside of my vagina. …
ROSS On network shows, there are a lot of instructions: “Close the mouth. You can move, make the sounds, but no tongue.” I had some incidences on Girlfriends. This guy’s tongue jammed in like a lizard out of nowhere.
SCHUMER When I was filming [Trainwreck] last summer, I had a bunch of sex scenes. Full penetration. We went for it. (Laughter.) This guy we were going to have make out with me was like, “Um, do you want our first kiss to be on camera?” I was like, “No, no, come to my trailer and we’ll make out beforehand.” It was so grotesque. I’m like, “Did you think I cast you because I want to make out with you?” Then there was a lot of unnecessary touching. I was like “Get that guy out of there.”
THR: What’s the most overtly sexist thing that’s happened to you working in Hollywood?
DUNHAM I heard a guy on my show say into his microphone: “I hate this job. I can’t wait to be back on a show where there’s a man at the helm.”
SCHUMER I hope you sent [Girls actor-comedian] Colin Quinn home for that. (Laughs.)
DUNHAM Colin is actually the world’s biggest feminist! Later, that same guy came up to me at lunch and said, “You’re really enjoying that buffet, aren’t you?”
SCHUMER Who the f— is this?
DUNHAM He’s the worst person alive. I hope he reads this, which he won’t because he’s drunk.
ROSS I think racism trumps everything. [It all] happens behind the scenes.
THR: Tracee, Chris Rock wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter in which he talked about how you can go to the movies once a week for months and never see a black woman in a substantial role.
RODRIGUEZ I think that also goes for Latinos as well. …
ROSS There aren’t many [roles in film]. That’s why I say no to all the offers! (Laughs.) Working on a film is one job where you look at a casting breakdown and I’ll think, “That’s me!” But she’s not supposed to be black.
RODRIGUEZ One hundred percent.
ROSS But I go for them anyway. Gina, what’s been your experience?
RODRIGUEZ I remove myself instantly if something’s perpetuating a stereotype. But the only way to stop stereotypes is to say, “I’m going to wait for a journey that suits me.”
DUNHAM I got into Jane the Virgin after reading your early interviews. You were obviously grateful, but rather than going, “I’m so lucky to have this part!” you took back the power and said, “I waited for something that spoke to me as a Latina and didn’t feel like I was compromising.”
RODRIGUEZ When you compromise, you don’t do your best work.
ROSS I can’t sleep at night.
RODRIGUEZ You’re only left with your integrity. You can’t take those Jimmy Choos with you!
SCHUMER [To Ross and Rodriguez] I never thought how bad it could be for you guys until I had a TV show and we had to do auditions. Many black women who auditioned thought that we wanted them to be “sassy.” … We’re like, “No, just be yourself.” I thought: That sucks. It meant they’d been in a lot of rooms where they were like, “Uh, can you be more like (snaps her finger).”
THR: Amy, your name came up when people were talking about who should replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, sparking a conversation about why women are so absent from late night. Why are they?
SCHUMER Because we get our periods at night. (Laughter.)
DUNHAM The idea of risk-taking is terrifying. I love Stephen Colbert, he’s a genius, but CBS [couldn’t] take the David Letterman slot and hire somebody who represented even an ounce of diversity? Also, when they got James Corden — another guy I love — there was this joke, “We’ve run out of white men here, we have to import them from England.” There is no shortage of established women who’ve been on the comedy circuit for years. It bums me out that someone like Kathy Griffin was relegated to Fashion Police.
ROSS There’s a plethora of female talent, and it’s not just about moving someone into a late-night slot.
KEMPER But it’s back to that thing — until you show a new formula can work, people are too scared to take a chance.
DUNHAM When Letterman announced his retirement, I tweeted that [Parks and Recreationactress] Retta should replace him, and 10,000 people were like, “I would kill to see that.”
THR: Why don’t those opinions make it to the higher ranks?
DUNHAM Les Moonves is asleep in a cave somewhere far away. I don’t know!
ROSS We’re not making the decisions, obviously.
SCHUMER I think people hate women. I don’t think they want to hear a woman talk for too long. A lot of people project their mom yelling at them. My [career] has been about tricking people into listening. I’m not saying all men hate women, but there’s such an aggression.
DUNHAM The way women are spoken to in social media is truly shocking. It’s how you imagine people screaming at prisoners in Guantanamo.
THR: How much does self-deprecation figure into how you connect with your audience?
DUNHAM The “12 Angry Men” sketch Amy did is the most important thing that’s happened on TV in a long time.
SCHUMER It’s very important to me. I heard this heated debate once between two male comic friends of mine about whether [actress] Michelle Williams was hot. One was like, “I don’t think I’d have sex with her.” I’m looking at them, both in their 40s …
SCHUMER Gargoyles. (Laughter.) Actually, gargoyles are interesting to look at. And I’m like, “You guys would both die to f— her.” Then I watched [SNL‘s] Cecily Strong host the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. She did a great job. Then right away, the cable news anchors are deliberating whether she was funny. Um, are you guys comedy experts? People love burning somebody at the stake. So I just burn myself first! …
RODRIGUEZ I was up for a role and auditioned in character. They’re like: “We love her. But can she come back in with a tight black dress?” … I said, “That doesn’t make any sense for the character.” They were like, “We need to know if you’re pretty enough to be on the cover of a magazine.”
ROSS I tested once for a network show to play a lawyer. A Harvard-educated motherf—in’ lawyer, OK? I wore a skirt suit and heels. Seemed appropriate. Then there were many discussions about my hair. They’d printed up all these pictures of me from 15 f—in’ years ago and had me in and out of the bathroom trying on clothes. They finally pick a skirt — the shortest I brought. Then got a T-shirt from one of the people in the office. The woman says, “Hmmm, your boobs.” I was like, “I didn’t bring a bra for this T-shirt.” She screams down the hall, “Who wears a 34B?” I put on someone else’s bra, a size too small, and somehow auditioned. I remember wondering, “What did I just allow myself to do?” The other actress [who auditioned] was dressed like she was going to a club and got the role. It was one of those moments where you’re so confused and humiliated. But that’s part of the biz.
THR: Another ugly side of the business that was revealed in the Sony hack … was the pay disparity between male and female executives and talent. What’s the biggest fight you’ve had about money? …
DUNHAM [Lean In author] Sheryl Sandberg once asked me, “Do you know what you make compared to men who run an HBO show?” and I was like, “Why would I ever ask about that? I can pay for dog food, and I have an apartment.” I hear my boyfriend [musician Jack Antonoff] on the phone all the time saying, “I’m worth more than that.” I do not have that skill.
THR: You fought for more money for a stand-up gig?
SCHUMER Yeah. I’m like, “These people are only going to be there because of me, so I’m not crazy.”
KEMPER I once heard an exec say, “If you don’t ask for it, we can’t give it to you.” We can’t go through our lives just being grateful for everything.
SCHUMER I noticed when I had a suggestion for [Trainwreck director] Judd [Apatow] on set, I would say, “Um, sorry but …” I started all my sentences with “sorry.” I’ve made an effort to not do that now.
ROSS I was raised by a woman [singer Diana Ross] who has high standards for what she’s worth, which has been called “diva behavior.” I have witnessed flagrant, disgusting behavior, and that isnot my mother. There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate.
DUNHAM When it was leaked how much I was getting for my book [a reported $3.7 million for Not That Kind of Girl], there were 39,000 articles asking, “Is she worth it?” Then it came out what [comedian] Aziz Ansari was making on his book [a reported $3.5 million]. No one says a goddamn word.