On the 9th of February this year, the BBC made an announcement that lead me to write this post because it made me feel so disheartened. The announcement concerned the number of female comedians that are present on panel shows broadcast by the BBC and proposed that all new episodes of programmes like Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You and QI will have at least one woman each. The statement given by Danny Cohen, Director of Television at the BBC, that contained the proposal, was not taken well by comedians and the general public alike. As I explained in my post at the time, this was mainly because of the patronising nature of the new rule and I worried immensely about the effect this will have on female comedians and their audiences.
It is now five months later and the first half of Mock The Week series thirteen has been and gone. As promised, there has been one female comic on each of the six episodes so far and, as a result, I personally think it’s been one of the best series yet. This is because many wonderful comedians have been given the chance to appear on the show where they may not have been able to before, and many of them have been women. Now, I completely stand by the concerns I expressed in my previous post and still fear they are just as valid: I am very uncomfortable with the idea of a ‘token woman’ on such programmes and it’s always going to be an issue because of Cohen’s statement.
However, despite my worries, when I focus purely on the entertainment; when I pretend I don’t know why there are suddenly more women on Mock The Week, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. It made me incredibly happy to see some of my favourite female comedians make their Mock The Week debut, such as Angela Barnes and Sara Pascoe, and to see the wonderful Katherine Ryan make her fourth appearance on the show (an impressive achievement, looking at the statistics for such a programme). Not only were there many new female faces (also including Susan Calman and Tiff Stevenson), but I was also delighted to see one of my favourite male comedians appear on his second, third, fourth AND fifth episode: the hilarious Romesh Ranganathan.
So there have been six episodes in this half of the series and that means there have been six female comedians who got some screen time who may not have got it otherwise, and this has to be a good thing. I did some research and discovered that series eleven had five different female comedians throughout the whole of the twelve episodes: Jo Caulfield, Zoe Lyons, Ava Vidal, Andi Osho and Katherine Ryan. Likewise, series twelve only showed three on all eleven episodes and they were Ava Vidal, Katherine Ryan and Holly Walsh. Despite the humiliation of the extremely concentrated ‘positive discrimination’ that women (including the public as well as comedians) are being force-fed with, it is undeniable that Mock The Week is a better show because of it, I just wish it hadn’t been done so blatantly, before everyone’s eyes.
In February, I was made to feel embarrassed for being a girl. I felt like female comedians were being held up under a spotlight and examined; pitied. And it made me feel really helpless because if this is the only way for women to get an equal amount of time on panel shows, there is something very wrong with the world. But the effects seem to be wearing off and hopefully many people haven’t even noticed the change, which shows how unnatural it was to have so little female comedians on Mock The Week in the past.
Anyway, I don’t want this to be a negative post because I think the nation’s memory of Danny Cohen’s statement has faded considerably since February and I’d like to hope it stays like that. In general, the changes that have been made to the running of Mock The Week seem to be extremely positive and I hope this signals the start of some kind of panel-show-revolution.
PS. Another thing I noticed was that the female comic was always in the middle chair on Andy Parson’s team and that has intrigued me as I can’t think of a reason for that being so. If anyone can enlighten me as to why, that would be much appreciated.