Ever since she joined The Daily Show as a correspondent in 2015, at the same time that Trevor Noah was enlisted to replace Jon Stewart as host, Desi Lydic has slowly (but surely) been making a name for herself. Like her fellow correspondents, the improv comedian has transformed her acting chops into a veritable smorgasbord of comedic goodies — from her faux training session with the professional translators who interpret Donald Trump for global audiences, to a deep dive into the “raw water” craze.
On Monday, Lydic will venture outside the typically five to seven-minute-long bounds of her Daily Show field pieces for a new hour special about gender equality titled Desi Lydic: Abroad. Along with head writer Lauren Sarver Means and a largely all-female team of producers that includes Khoby Rowe, Jen Flanz and Jill Katz, Abroad tackles the World Economic Forum’s decision to rank the United States 49th in its 2017 Global Gender Gap Report. Ahead of the special’s premiere, Uproxx spoke with Lydic about how Abroad came to be, as well as The Daily Show‘s own experiences with gender (in)equality.
When did you, Lauren Sarver Means, and the team first start grappling with this idea?
We started talking about it in December. Not this past December, but the December before. So, it was quite a while ago. I found out that the World Economic Forum had ranked America 49th in the world when it comes to gender equality in the global gender gap report they do every year. I just was… When you’re a woman in this country, and especially with the current administration and working in politics, you certainly feel it. You certainly feel like, “Okay, things could definitely be better for women right now.” 49th in the world! When we’re talking about America, the country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world. That was really shocking to me and it still is. When women often speak out about this — we make our voices heard, demand more and we say we want equality in this country — there’s a bit of a pushback that tends to happen.
People get resistant and say, “What are you talking about? Women have all the rights that they could possibly want. Look at some of the other countries in the world. If you want to know what it’s like for women to be hated, why don’t you go visit this country or that country?” No, we want America. So, we started from that place and went from there. The thing that I love about being on The Daily Show is, we get to talk about these things that interest us. We get to shine a spotlight on issues that matter to us by going out into the world and making pieces about them. This obviously seemed a bit too large to cover in a five-minute field piece on the show, though, but luckily, Comedy Central was happy to do a bigger special. “Great. Can we do it in a special? Can we do it in 41 minutes?” I was like, “Of course.”
Comedy programs like The Daily Show are often put at the forefront of progressivism in entertainment. At the same time, there are Paley Center clips of panel discussions with The Daily Show writers from 10 years ago in which almost everyone onstage is white and male. So it was nice to see that, including yourself and Lauren, Abroad is being led by the likes of Khoby Rowe, Jen Flanz and Jill Katz.
Yeah, absolutely. The great thing is that there is a new conversation happening now. The tides are turning now. I know this just from my experience in the four years that I’ve been at The Daily Show. It has always been a pretty progressive place, but in recent years there’s definitely been a real request to have a lot of diversity in the room. I mean, Jen Flanz is our showrunner. She’s been an executive producer for quite a while now. She’s spoken a lot about how things have changed over the years at The Daily Show.
Plus, Trevor [Noah] feels very strongly about having a variety of voices in the room. In particular, on the creative team. The more diversity you have in the room, the more of an opportunity you have to reach a greater pool of people. We see it happen all the time. Sometimes a subject will be brought up and the men in the room might think one thing, but it takes a woman in the room to speak out and say, “Actually, from my perspective, this is the take we should look at.” That never would have happened if that woman wasn’t in the room. We never would have reached the women in the audience as a result. It’s important to all of us to have a wide variety of diversity in the room.
Like Jordan Klepper did with his guns special, you’re playing a version of yourself in Abroad. This isn’t the real Desi Lydic, but The Daily Show correspondent Desi Lydic. At the same time, your real life bleeds in occasionally. I’m thinking specifically the brief snippets we get of your husband and child. I was wondering if you could talk about operating in that space between caricature and reality.
It was something that we spoke a lot about. It was really important to the network, and to the other producers and myself, that we tell this story in a way that explores policy and legislation in the context of the show. We’re also going to experience other parts of the world, but we kept asking ourselves, “What can make this personal?” Because if I can get really specific and tell part of my own personal story, then maybe it will make it more relatable and more universal for the audience. So we tried to talk about the fact that I am a full-time working mother. I travel for work. I mean, I left my screaming toddler at home with my husband for three and a half weeks while I was on an international work vacation.
Let’s be honest, my husband would do the same thing to me. What’s fair is fair, but it doesn’t come without challenges and we wanted to talk about all of those things. What’s it like? What are the drawbacks? What’s hard about it all? What’s funny about it? So we used a lot of my own personal experience to inform the special, but at the same time, it’s definitely a docu-style show and I’m definitely playing my version of myself. But yeah, we spent a lot of time discussing the line between the two. Where does it stop at satire and become more like a reality show? We didn’t want it to dip too much into reality show territory. We wanted it to feel personal and real, but still within the context of a slightly satirical piece about an investigative reporter who stops at nothing and has a sort of heightened American entitlement we can play with.
Was it challenging to strike that balance?
Definitely. I was experiencing all of the challenges that we were talking about in Abroad. Like when we went to Iceland, one of the things we talked about was the fact that they have paid parental leave. It’s “parental” leave, not “maternity” leave. The fact that they have that for both mothers and fathers, and that they get paid 80 percent of their paycheck during the nine months they take leave — it has really helped to level the playing field in the workplace. Your employer cannot discriminate against you just because you’re a woman of childbearing years because the father is just as likely to take time off. That doesn’t exist here in America.
I’m lucky that I happen to have a husband who is just as involved as I am in childcare. When I travel for work, when I say, “Honey, I want to go shoot this thing in Iceland and Namibia and Spain for three and a half weeks,” without batting an eye he says, “I’ve got this.” Of course, he and my child are perfectly happy while I’m gone and I have to deal with feeling like I’m so far away and missing everything. I’m going to come back and I’ll have to reintroduce myself to my kid. There was no doubt in my mind that they would be fine, but I was just a train wreck trying to work on this project while knowing that I was so far away from my family. It’s not easy.
As you’ve mentioned, Abroad heads to places like Iceland, Nambia and Spain. They were all other countries listed in the same report that ranked the U.S. 49th for gender equality. Were they always the top choices?
Yes. We went down the list and explored all of the other countries, but Iceland was kind of a given because they’re number one, so it felt like a no-brainer. Plus, we didn’t want to go to three countries that felt very similar to Iceland. We didn’t want to do Sweden and Denmark. We talked a lot about going to New Zealand because we were really interested in interviewing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But in the end, she wasn’t available so we crossed New Zealand off the list. A lot of it was trying to figure out who we wanted to meet with. Who would be interesting? Whose stories would make the most sense? Whose stories hadn’t been told before?
‘Desi Lydic: Abroad’ premieres Monday, May 13th at 11 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.