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Women on panel shows: ‘Positive’ discrimination and the BBC

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A stand-up comedian without a penis addresses the BBC’s decision to include at least one female comedian on every panel show

The BBC’s decision to include a woman on every panel show shouldn’t be newsworthy, but it is, and for all the wrong reasons. In the 21st century, it should go without saying that women can be and are just as funny and just as deserving of a place on Have I Got News for You or Mock the Week. So why is it still such a controversial topic? The BBC could have (and should have) quietly made its recent decision without anyone knowing. Imagine that you are a woman. You may well be a woman (in that case you won’t need to imagine); now, because of this policy, if you are in a position to be invited on to Mock the Week or Have I Got News For You will you, in a moment of insecurity and human vulnerability, think that maybe you have been invited merely as the token female? I sure as heck would.

It should go without saying that women can be and are just as funny and just as deserving of a place on panel shows as men

Maybe this is merely positive discrimination, though? Something to ensure that you are given the same opportunities as that privileged, white, middle-class man who we all agree runs the world. My problem with ‘positive discrimination’ is that it’s still discrimination. I know that I am a dreamer and an idealist when I say that I think we should live in a world where the right person should be hired. Not based on the colour of skin, or their sexuality or gender. I live in the real world, but I do dream of a place where we are judged solely on our abilities. Therefore, I do not want to tune into QI and see the same people week in and week out. I want to tune in and see good, funny, interesting people, and I especially do not want to think, “oh look, there’s a woman on it” (as though that should be a talking point).

I do not want to see the same women OR men on the show again and again and again. I should admit here that I watch a lot of Dave (the channel, not some bloke. What an awful name for a channel), so I know QI is one of the ‘better’ programmes – Jo Brand, Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Millican are just three women who have appeared more than once. But how many times has Jimmy Carr appeared? Or Phill Jupitus? Or Bill Bailey? Why have they appeared again and again? Some of them are just not quite interesting enough.

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More importantly, why isn’t there a female chairperson on any of these shows? Once in a while a woman heads up Have I Got News For You, successfully I might add (unlike some men I could mention), so it’s not as though women can’t read an autocue and be funny. Why is there no female Graham Norton or Alan Carr? Well, there have been some unsuccessful and frankly dire examples of female presenters hosting a talk show and the one thing that these women have in common is that they are not comedians.

The problem is not with those ubiquitous panel shows, but comedy generally. Comedy is seen as the realm of the man

The problem is not with those ubiquitous panel shows anyway. The problem lies in comedy generally. It is old hat and uninteresting to state that women are under-represented in comedy – the reasons for this are many and have been endlessly discussed. Comedy is seen as the realm of the man. Women aren’t funny, are they? Yes, they are (some women). Let me tell you: it is intimidating for anyone to stand under a dazzling light in a room full of strangers and have the audacity to think that you will make those people laugh. It is a hundred times more daunting knowing that, as one of the very few (and sometimes only) women on the bill, the audience doesn’t think that you can do it.

I once waited in the back room waiting to go onstage, hearing my name being read out as one of the acts and overhearing men in the crowd say: “oh, a woman! Well, I bet she ain’t funny.” “Bloody right she won’t be. Women never are. Bet she’ll talk about her period.” I didn’t, and I made people laugh. Imagine that!

A male friend of mine said, to my face, “you’re funny. You know, especially considering you’re a woman.” Why considering that I am a woman? It’s because only men are expected to be funny. Moreover, they are allowed to be funny and cheeky – they’re allowed to talk back. This is true from a young age and is ingrained so deeply into society that it is a surprise when women want to go into comedy careers. Well, it shouldn’t be.

 

Another important comedy question: What is happening to the British sitcom?

 

All images: BBC

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