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Dream Job

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Rachel Axler ’99 has a dream job.

In front of a gathering of about 30 people at the Slifka Center on Tuesday, “Daily Show” staff writer Rachel Axler spoke about her career path and her experience over the past two-and-a-half years at what she called her “dream job.”

Axler — a Williams College graduate who earned a degree in English and theater in 1999, and one of 11 writers on the staff of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” — told the audience she did not envision doing television writing until she was in college.

“I actually didn’t have a background in comedy,” she said. “It was just something I was good at. I had a personal monologue of jokes in college, but that was it.”

Read the whole thing to learn about the importance of drive and networking in getting your own dream job. (This is a hint to Ephs interested in finance who have not applied for my summer internship.)

In addition to applying to a competitive job, Axler said, she was attempting to become the first woman on the show’s writing staff in three or four years. In her interview, Axler was asked numerous questions about how she would work in an environment dominated by men, she said.

The show’s leaders had become especially cautious because a female writing assistant on the set of “Friends” had recently filed a lawsuit because she had felt uncomfortable in another male-dominated setting, she said.

Correct. And that is one of the big problems with the legal enforcement of discrimination claims. If women A sues Friends, then woman B (Axler) finds it harder to get a job at The Daily Show than she otherwise would.

Jacob Abolafia ’10, who attended the talk, said he was interested to hear about Axler’s life in the TV industry.

“She was original about her perspective of women in comedy writing,” Abolafia said. “She had interesting things to say about her career. More events like this should take place at Yale.”

No. They should occur at Williams. One of the reasons that I rail so much about the stupid stuff that Williams administrators and faculty spend time on is because resources are limited. Why has no one invited Axler to speak at Williams?

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#1 Comment By rory On December 9, 2007 @ 10:36 am

David, David, David…

I love how you always find a way to argue the completely absurd backlash argument. Before gender discrimination laws, women weren’t even getting interviews for these jobs.

Further, (a lawyer can correct me if I’m wrong) but becoming extra-cautious after a peer was sued is a bad legal footing to be on for the daily show–the proper answer is to change the male-dominated environment (men can tell other men “hey, no more penis jokes and porn at work!” also. it shouldn’t take a woman to realize that), not to only hire strong women who won’t complain about the environment. Those types of questions might help prove that the management knew there was a potentially hostile work environment and then did nothing.

in other words, david, the problem is not in enforcing the laws, it is in the knuckleheads running workplaces.

#2 Comment By rory On December 9, 2007 @ 10:36 am

all that said and i agree: Axler would have been a very cool speaker at williams.

#3 Comment By frank uible On December 9, 2007 @ 10:50 am

It is also about the intractable problem of potential abuse of the laws.

#4 Comment By David On December 9, 2007 @ 11:33 am

The issue is not whether anti-discrimination laws are good or bad. (My personal opinion is that the federal government should have nothing to do with them but if an individual state like California wants them, fine. More power to them.) The issue what the effects of those laws actually are, which is often not the same thing as what the proponents of those laws want those effects to be.

Often, when one of these laws in under consideration, the Hayekians like me will claim that it will have all sorts of ill effects, that social engineering is tough and that the best government passes few laws. We are, in general, shouted down. This is just a nice, concrete example of the sort of reverse effects that we are talking about.

Now, it is perfectly reasonable to wish that this were not so, that making it easier for woman A to sue has no impact on the job prospects of woman B. Or, it is nice to hope that the effect will be a small one. But here is an example of the effect being large. You think that this doesn’t happen elsewhere? You think that every TV producer doesn’t worry about the Friends case? Think again.

#5 Comment By ex-academic eph On December 9, 2007 @ 11:51 am

hey david, let’s try a rephrase: you think that every woman interested in working in a male-dominated field doesn’t worry about it? think again.

#6 Comment By David On December 9, 2007 @ 11:58 am

Huh? I don’t get your point, ex-academic Eph. Everyone has worries, about their job, their boss, their co-workers. Some of those worries are gender related. Most are not. I used to worry that my politics would get me in trouble. In fact, I still worry about that.

Hey! I have an idea! Let’s make it illegal to employers to discriminate on the basis of politics! Would that make the world a better place? Would that make it easier for someone of outlier politics to get and keep a job? I have my doubts.

#7 Comment By PTC On December 9, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

The place I work is 100% male. There are some females in supporting roles but very, very few…and they are extremely tough.

It is everyone’s responsibility to tell people when they are offended, and why. It is management’s responsibility to take complaints seriously, and correct the problem if it persists after being reported. Having a complaint turn into a legitimate lawsuit is almost always managements fault…

In the military, Tail hook comes to mind. Had leadership lead during that event, the Navy/Marine Corps aviation community would have never suffered the black eye that it did.

Many people truly do have a legitimate complaint… and such laws are important. Harassment cannot be tolerated. I have some very strong women in my family. My wife is strong. Actually, I learned the other day that my wife got into Williams but chose a different institution…. which made me laugh after bogging here for so long… and reading posts about those that choose not to attend….

If the women in America were not strong, we would not have anyone cool to marry….and our combined incomes would suck!

But I digress…

My view is that we promote and support strong independent women, through the use the law when management fails. The idea that someone would not be considered because of “what some other member of their race/gender/ religion/sexual orientation had done” is not only downright offensive… it is immoral, and not in keeping with the standards of our ethics. “The shows leaders” should be fired if they actually hold the discriminatory hiring practices claimed. The network should be sued. It is outrageous!

#8 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

In the litigious-crazy, PC era in which we find ourselves, people have learned to be extremely careful about what they say. While this isn’t a horrible thing, it is in total opposition to the kind of atmosphere needed for a comedy writing staff.

In the entertainment business, the behind-the-scenes humor can be incredibly bawdy, often raunchy. I have been privy to some of these settings and have learned that, for the most part, it is pretty harmless. It all depends on the intent behind the words.

A lot of people, especially women, are not at ease in this kind of atmosphere. I would guess that the interview process that Axler went through was designed to uncover to what degree she had this ease.

Creating this interview must have been very tricky business…and yet somehow, a fitting challenge for The Daily Show. Axler would undoubtedly have some wonderful stories to share.

#9 Comment By JQP On December 9, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

Great post David. As educators tend to be education consumers, colleges tend to invite academics to speak on campus. You’re right about inviting Rachel Axler ’99 and other alumni with dream jobs back to campus to speak.

For too long private business discriminated against women as prospective employees. I joined the workforce when businesses began complying with the new laws. It was a sea change for the senior executives. I agree government enforced equal opportunity does cause inevitable and undesirable blowback. I saw it at a privately held investment advisor.

A man was fired because of allegations of harassment (not sexual harassment but harassment) from a woman employee. There was a secret investigation and the man was terminated notwithstanding he was never confronted with the allegations until the termination meeting. Some investigation, huh? The man was fired because he had a personal relationship with a female co-worker, subsequently ended it, in response to which she made a workplace claim of harassment. There was no policy against romantic relationships in the workplace.

This incident came on the heels of litigation against the firm when they fired a newly hired female portfolio manager because she was unavailable to work within a few months of her start date. She was unavailable to work because she was pregnant and the firm felt she had not been honest with them about her plans to start a family during the interview process. She sued and they settled but it was a substantial financial loss for the firm. Understanding these kind of gender issues in the workplace was new to them and their first significant encounter was a traumatic loss. They were determined to avoid this kind of problem going forward but I don’t know if they recognized the issue as their lack of understanding and poor decision-making or more likely as a legal trap where a reasonable business practice looses in litigation and costs a few million in profits.

The firm’s expedience in resolving the aforementioned claim of harassment by terminating the man clearly resulted from their risk assessment and not the truth of the claim. The woman who made the claim was surprised when they terminated the man; she thought her charge of harassment (as opposed to a more serious charge of sexual harassment) would result in a reassignment. She kept her job. He lost his. Blowback. I’d like to think the investment advisor has gotten more sophisticated and adept handling workplace issues in an equal way regardless of gender. That’s the objective. It’s worthwhile.

#10 Comment By frank uible On December 9, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

It is my experience that truly strong independent women don’t need extraordinary support – they make their own.

#11 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

So true, Frank.

But it isn’t easy. And strong women are very often misinterpreted and subject to horrible criticism…. from women as well as men.

#12 Comment By raxler On December 9, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

Hi, David & all–

Just saw this, and wanted to thank you both for the mention and the interesting discussion that stemmed from it.

As the person who was actually IN the interview, I also wanted to clear the air a bit…. First of all, this was the last step in a much longer process of applying for a writing position, so I’d already passed the creative hurdles. What they were trying to determine, meeting me in person for the first time, was a) whether I was a homicidal maniac, b) what the chances were that, if given the job, I’d become a homicidal maniac, and c) barring homicide/mania, what kind of presence I’d be in a very close-knit, necessarily jokey, somewhat un-PC environment. They were, as any good bosses would, being cautious about whom they hired.

Their caution was absolutely necessary on two parts: theirs (making sure the writers on staff maintained an unhampered ability to joke around and be creative, without feeling they had to censor themselves — as FROSH mom said, a crucial part of the process) and mine (making sure I, a person who’d never been on a comedy writing staff before, would be comfortable in that environment).
I wasn’t being more rigorously interviewed due to my gender any more than I was given unfair consideration due to my gender.
…Which I wasn’t. Just to clarify.

Oh, and if anyone would like to invite me to speak to Williams students? Thanks to the strike, I’m unfortunately very available.

#13 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 2:30 pm

Yahoo!! A “fellow” female!!!
Welcome Raxler!

The writer’s strike is affecting our household as well. Obviously not my line of work, but definitely my husband’s. Williams should take advantage of you and your availability…if you know what I mean!

Please, tell us more!

#14 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

For instance, what role did Williams play in honing your sense of humor?

There seems to be a high level of fairly sophisticated hilarity on WSO…is that typical of today’s campus atmosphere or particular to Williams?

#15 Comment By Anonymous On December 9, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

Who at Williams do you think should invite her? It is probably a good idea, but it does not seem she was invited by Yale’s administration (so the criticism of the Williams admin is maybe misplaced) but by the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale (a self-supporting non-profit that serves Yale students).

#16 Comment By Anonymous On December 9, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

“There seems to be a high level of fairly sophisticated hilarity on WSO”

David and Frank have said some wacky things in their day, but this is BY FAR the most absurd thing I have ever seen written on this blog.

#17 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

To anon who spoils all the fun:

Thankyou, at least I have earned some distinction.

And so much better than yours…which is “resident wackjob” of the site….which I may be in danger of winning away from you the longer you are around.

#18 Comment By PTC On December 9, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

Raxler…. good to hear. If they do not hire women because of gender, they are on the wrong side of the law. I was shocked to hear that accusation, actually….

#19 Comment By Resident Wackjob On December 9, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

FROSH mom,

Seriously, have you spent much time at WSO? It’s a small number of guys who post constantly and almost every discussion (admittedly with some nice exceptions) ends up as an exchange of obscenities or crude comments about one’s mother. It’s “funny” in the sense that most Williams students consider it a joke, but only about 1% ever post to it because most of the discussion can be so obnoxious. WSO is to current Williams students roughly what Ephblog is to Williams alums.

But if “resident wackjob” is what one gets called for finding something lacking with WSO, then I’d wear the name with pride. Of course many people post here without a moniker (and you, of course, are “anon” as well, unless you have the unlikely name of “FROSH mom”).

#20 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

To Res WJ:

As an anon poster you run the risk of being confused with all the other anon posters on this site.

That said, it is my opinion that WSO can be incredibly funny. Yes, there is a lot of profanity and vulgarity, but there is also a very sophisticated level of wit, in which, I might add, many women participate. And I have not once seen a vulgar comment about mothers.

And while you may not be a certifiable wackjob, you are most definitely a spoilsport.

#21 Comment By Anonymous On December 9, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

I understand why parents will from time to time engage in ephblog discussions, but why would a parent post on Williams Students Online?

#22 Comment By JQP On December 9, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

Of course many people post here without a moniker (and you, of course, are “anon” as well, unless you have the unlikely name of “FROSH mom”).
Posted by: Resident Wackjob at December 9, 2007 04:33 PM

FROSH mom posts pseudononymously not anonymously. It’s a small but significant distiction. If one person only posted anonymously, we would have a little less confusion about which “voice” is speaking.

As far as I’m concerned. posting pseudononymously or anonymously facilitates conversation. If you want to put a chill on the conversation, require that everyone registers with their actual name. There would be limited discussion of politics, law, and social commentary, which I find enjoyable and informatative (with smart people).

The issue of lack of respect/civility is wrongly identified as a cause and effect of allowing people to post pseudononymously or anonymously. It may contribute to it but it doesn’t cause it.

I find the tone of the disagreement here mostly constructive. That’s why I participate.

#23 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On December 9, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

@all, @’resident wackjob:’

Please note that the poster who is identifying him/her/itself as ‘resident wackjob’, above, is likely not the same anonymous poster as in other ‘anon’ posts, nor, for instance, the ‘anonymous poster’ that ‘rory’ makes reference to (and whom ‘rory’ may, perhaps, consider as something of a resident … odd anonymous poster, at least.)

In fact we have, in all evidence, at least several distinct regular and occasional posters who post as ‘anonymous’, in one form or another, without a differentiating pseudonym or alias. One clear difficulty with this situation is that they tend to get mistaken for each other, comments in response to one may get directed at another, and, in turn, each may respond to comments not really addressed at them personally, but at a ‘different’ ‘anon.’ Speaking of mistaken identity problems!

I have attempted some weak steps to clarify this situation– which has a few more dimensions on top of this ‘mistaken identity’ component– and will be exploring other responses with our Board in coming weeks. “Please stand by.”

In the meantime, for our regular readers, please keep in mind that, despite similarities, each post marked ‘anonymous’ may be from a different poster. And if you are one of these posters, please consider helping us all keep track of things, and avoid misunderstandings, by posting with an alias.

#24 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 8:19 pm

To anon at 4:33:
I do apologize for calling you a wackjob. I confused you with another “voice” and probably over-reacted because of that confusion.

To anon at 7:14:
Parents don’t post on WSO, but the site is accessible. I would not have even known about it but for the link on EphBlog. I love kids, miss my own terribly and will admit to eavesdropping on the site occasionally. It not only helps me have a better idea of the life my frosh is leading, but in a wierd way , it encourages me that these young people have the chops to take on the world they will shortly be facing.

As for my posting on EphBlog? For my own personal reasons it has been way more than “from time to time” and the diversion has been a welcome respite. Like JQP, I enjoy the level of discussion and disagreement…..usually.

#25 Comment By FROSH mom On December 9, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

To Ken Thomas:

Also…thanks for your efforts in clarifying the snafus and mysteries inherent in blogging.

Much appreciated.

#26 Comment By Ghost of Listless Past On December 9, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

David,

You’re against states passing many laws? What about, say, federal statutes that prohibit anti-miscegenation laws at the state level? Should states be left to make their own decisions on that?

I’m just curious about exactly how you interpret the equal protection clause.

GLP

#27 Comment By ex-academic eph On December 9, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

let me try again:

me: hey, women in male-dominated fields have concerns that men don’t, and that’s an unfortunate state of affairs.
DK: well, I’m a conservative.

is that really what just happened?

seriously, david. have your bosses asked you to show them your breasts because you’re a conservative? have they asked you about your sexual habits because you’re a conservative? have higher-ups said “it’s your word against theirs and my hands are tied” because you’re a conservative? if you can’t see any difference, there’s nothing I can do for you.

#28 Comment By David On December 9, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

GLP,

Please pay attention. I don’t care what laws are passed in states in which I don’t live. I leave it to our Eph lawyers to defend the sort of originalism that I, and most believers in the importance of limited government, support.

EAE,

Can we keep on point? The issue is the effect of sexual harassment laws on the employment prospects of women like Axler. I know that you want to believe that the effect is zero. Alas, reality seems to disagree.

Also, you think that employment decisions based on gender are bad but those based on politics are fine. Good to know! Then you have no problem with the Hollywood blacklists . . .

#29 Comment By eae On December 9, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

geez that was snide! good to know!

I’m trying to remain on point. you think that discrimination based on politics is bad and that based on gender is bad. also good to know!

#30 Comment By eae On December 9, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

actually, wait.

your point, originally, had nothing to do with gender. you said, simply, “And that is one of the big problems with the legal enforcement of discrimination claims.”

you explicitly stated that you disagree with protecting any groups whatsoever from discrimination. that would include women (the group under discussion), communists (like you just invoked), etc. but wait, wouldn’t anti-discrimination legislation (which you oppose) help everyone, whether female, communist, conservative, or some distressing mixture of all three? consistency!

#31 Comment By David On December 9, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

I think that it makes little sense for the Federal Government to involve itself in employment relationships among American citizens. Maybe I want to work for you. Maybe I don’t. Maybe you want to hire me. Maybe you don’t. The Federal Government is poorly positioned to make that process work more smoothly. My point in bringing up politics was to show that, once the Feds decide that certain things are fair or unfair, it is not clear where that process ought to (or will) stop.

Are there any limits to what the Federal Government can (or should) do in regulating employment contracts and behavior?

#32 Comment By eae On December 9, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

dammit, one more.

I meant to write:
“I’m trying to remain on point. you think that discrimination based on politics is bad and that based on gender is acceptable. also good to know!”

#33 Comment By GLP On December 9, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

“I don’t care what laws are passed in states in which I don’t live.”

Are you joking? So let me get this straight- if for some reason you had to move to another state, all of a sudden you would start caring? What if your daughter goes to college in another state? Will you then start caring about those states, but if not, then not? So if a state with which you have no connection has rabidly unjust laws that harm its citizens (let’s say a minority in a disadvantaged position), you don’t care, but if you live there and are affected, all of a sudden you do?

Does this strike you as at all absurd? I’m not saying you have to be a strict deontologist, but your position is utterly devoid of compassion and grossly oriented around self-interest.

Is this an accurate reflection of your character?

#34 Comment By frank uible On December 10, 2007 @ 6:09 am

Does the condition of the law contribute to, detract from or be indifferent with respect to the general climate of equity, freedom, order and efficiency?

#35 Comment By rory On December 10, 2007 @ 9:41 am

you know what I find particularly funny about this exchange now? the fact that Rachel Axler herself corrected David’s interpretation of an article about her and her interview, and yet we continue to bicker about that interpretation.

it was wrong. let’s just move on, knowing this anecdote in no way supports David’s original claim. Actually, we can’t move on–David’s continued to claim that it does: “The issue is the effect of sexual harassment laws on the employment prospects of women like Axler. I know that you want to believe that the effect is zero. Alas, reality seems to disagree.”. Yet Axler herself states: “I wasn’t being more rigorously interviewed due to my gender any more than I was given unfair consideration due to my gender.”

moving on…David, your argument that you don’t care about other state’s laws is blatantly flawed. the civil rights movement shows that. good god.

#36 Comment By FROSH mom On December 10, 2007 @ 10:51 am

In fact, Rory, I think it could safely be said, that Axler is probably more at ease behind-the-scenes of The Daily Show, than many of the men now discussing her.

No insult intended here, gentlemen…it’s just kind of funny to me.

#37 Comment By JQP On December 10, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

Axler is probably more at ease behind-the-scenes of The Daily Show, than many of the men now discussing her.

I don’t really understand your point. This is what Axler said:

what kind of presence I’d be in a very close-knit, necessarily jokey, somewhat un-PC environment. They were, as any good bosses would, being cautious about whom they hired.

Their caution was absolutely necessary on two parts: theirs (making sure the writers on staff maintained an unhampered ability to joke around and be creative, without feeling they had to censor themselves — as FROSH mom said, a crucial part of the process) and mine (making sure I, a person who’d never been on a comedy writing staff before, would be comfortable in that environment).
I wasn’t being more rigorously interviewed due to my gender any more than I was given unfair consideration due to my gender.

The discussion that has evolved from the post is about the bigger issue which happens to be not in evidence in the Axler interview at The Daily Show. Still, I’m not sure why you perceive them to be “not at ease.”

#38 Comment By FROSH mom On December 10, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

One of the comments made had to do with the obnoxious nature of the profanity on WSO. That combined with Axler stating that comfort in an uncensored male environment was a determining factor in getting the job, just led me to believe that she is probably more at “ease” than say, someone who is uncomfortable with the language on WSO….

Yup, it was a pretty lame comment…and it wouldn’t be my first. But I have outdone myself in this particular thread!

#39 Comment By FROSH mom On December 10, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

Hey JQP:

If you aren’t too mad at me…go read my last post on Deafening Silence.

The world is indeed small.

#40 Comment By Jeff Z. On December 10, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

I shouldn’t even dare to say anything lest I inspire David to post at length on this topic again, but I will note that Axler is listed on wikipedia as an Emmy award winner (as a member of a writing team, of course), and I don’t believe she has won a bicentennial medal. (Regular readers surely recall the conversation to which I refer). Boo-yah!

Rachel, if you are still reading this post, were you involved in America: The Book? IF so, kudos upon kudos. One of the funniest things I have read in a long time. I rarely laugh out loud reading, and I was totally collapsing in fits of laughter during more than a few sections of that book. Brilliant stuff (and a great holiday present for anyone still looking).

#41 Comment By Jeff Z. On December 10, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

P.S. You have no idea how jealous I am of your job …

#42 Comment By Seth On December 10, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

I second all sorts of things said here, such as the fact that Rachel Axler helps produce some wonderful stuff, and that Williams should get more speakers like Rachel Axler, and that Rachel Axler has a job which I envy, and perhaps if I say Rachel Axler’s name enough it’ll be like Beetlejuice and she’ll appear in reality to help my achieve my dreams, even if it involves anthropomorphic shrimp cocktail attacking my dinner guests.

#43 Comment By Jeff Z. On December 10, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

If Axler has the power to compel certain Ephblog contributors to arhymically jerk around to Harry Belafonte music, screw the bicentennial medal, put her on the board of trustees.

#44 Comment By JQP On December 10, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

Frosh MOM. I’m not mad at you. Sorry if I left that impression. Thanks for the explanation.