Earlier this week, actor Brett Gelman made news when he announced that he would no longer work with the late-night network Adult Swim.
The decision, he said, came about not only as a result of the network’s overall “misogyny,” but also because of one show in particular: “Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace,” which has drawn increasingly loud criticism because of its far-right leanings and following.
In a conversation with The Huffington Post, Gelman, who starred in Adult Swim programs like “Eagleheart” and “Brett Gelman’s Dinner in America,” said that his hope isn’t to “sink” Adult Swim ― which he noted has given men of color a platform and all of its creators almost complete creative freedom ― but rather to help the network come to terms with what have become glaring problems.
“I don’t think that down deep anybody there is a bigoted person, but I do think that there’s some major mindlessness going on,” Gelman said.
In May, when the network revealed its new lineup, many noted that 47 of the series creators were men, and zero were women. That degree of the disparity surprised Gelman, but also fell in line with murmurs he had heard beforehand.
“I had heard a lot of female friends of mine, who have sensibilities that match Adult Swim, [complain] that they couldn’t even really get in the door,” he said.
I had heard a lot of female friends of mine, who have sensibilities that match Adult Swim, [complain] that they couldn’t even really get in the door.
Much of the criticism for the lack of gender equality has fallen on the network’s executive vice president, Mike Lazzo, after BuzzFeed reported earlier this year that Lazzo had said at a 2011 meeting that women lead to conflict, not comedy.
Lazzo, an influential decision-maker within the power structure of Adult Swim, did little to quell the controversy when he later clarified on Reddit that he had said “women don’t tend to like conflict, [and] comedy often comes from conflict.”
It was that reaction, Gelman said, that caused the actor to sever ties with the network.
“I was heartbroken over how he dealt with it,” Gelman said. “Mike’s reaction to it is what mobilized me to say, ‘I can’t. I need to take myself elsewhere.’”
There is also the issue of “Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace,” the Sam Hyde–led show that has drawn criticism for both its content ― for example, Hyde wore blackface in an episode ― and its far-right audience. Of the show, Gelman said, “I’m all for free speech, and I don’t need my viewpoint to be the only viewpoint. [But] I am not for something that mobilizes propaganda.”
Lazzo and other Adult Swim executives can be uncommunicative. Creatively, that can be a benefit, Gelman said: It allows creators the autonomy that has made the network beloved by so many. But with criticism growing louder, Gelman hopes that Lazzo alters his approach. “He really needs to engage with the people of his network in a much realer way, and I hope that he’s doing that,” Gelman said.
Gelman said he doesn’t believe Lazzo “at his core is a bad person.” He also made clear that there are “a lot of good people working over there who really feel the same way as I do.” But that’s exactly the issue in his mind. Sometimes, being a good person isn’t enough. You have to stand up and admit something is wrong, a message that extends beyond the issues at Adult Swim.
“I’ve been getting a lot of ‘I’m very proud of you.’ And that feels really good,” Gelman said. “But don’t be proud of me. Do something to make yourself proud of yourself.”
Have you worked at Adult Swim? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.