Opinion, Television

WOMEN ON PANEL SHOWS: THE ‘WOMEN AREN’T FUNNY’ DEBATE

4abe1f543c81658ccd489a104cd7d91977e2f63eLast week Jimmy Carr, host of 8 out of 10 Cats, reignited debate over women on panel shows when he told Newsbeat that positive discrimination was needed to get more women appearing on them. This is an issue that has been hotly debated following the BBC placing a ban on all male panels last year in an attempt to deal with the under-representation of women on these sorts of shows.

This led to a variety of reactions from comedians, with Jason Manford arguing that it was a positive step but should not have been publicised, as it will now make any female guest feel like the ‘token woman’. This was a view also taken by Mock the Week host Dara O’Brien, who criticised the ban in a Radio Times interview. O’Brien also argued that the problem was mostly due to there being a much smaller pool of female comics, meaning that any female panelists have less experience and are faced with a hard time appearing on shows. It is true that often the female personalities  on panel shows are not comedians, with many presenters opting to make appearances, though this could arguably be also down to the fact that many female comedians now refuse to go on said shows. Jo Brand, for instance, publicly states that she no longer accepts invitations to go on Mock the Week.

At least one thing is totally clear, and that is that there is a problem. Watching re-runs of Mock the Week, you will often find totally male panels, and the show is not alone with countless others following suit.

“Turn on the television and it’s a familiar sight. Five, or sometimes seven men, making jokes about Kerry Katona, mothers-in-law and breasts. Occasionally a woman creeps in – but when did you last see more than two?” Helen Lewis, 2011

It is great that the BBC is so committed to making these changes and working towards equality on panel shows – and Sandi Toksvig as the new host of QI is going to be fantastic – but there is perhaps some truth in the fact that announcing the ban could be detrimental to its effectiveness.  However, the fact that there are so many less female comedians suggests a much deeper running problem.

The cliche that women aren’t funny is one that, despite being entirely baseless, has stood the test of time. Even now in 2015 you get plenty of otherwise totally rational people who steadfastly believe that women just aren’t funny. The reaction that so many women get when they appear on panel shows exemplifies how worryingly prevailant this view remains – look to Twitter or indeed any social media platform and you are sure to see these women being put under much more intense scrutiny than their male counterparts ever are.

p02dny84Comedienne Bonnie McFarlane produced a suitably funny  film on the subject last year. Women Aren’t Funny (2014) dons a mockumentary style, with McFarlane being an investigative journalist looking into the idea that women aren’t funny. She interviews a whole range of comics and whilst it may not offer the deepest investigation on the topic, it is well worth a watch.

As I detailed in an earlier post, 2015 has seen the rise of female comedy in Hollywood. There are also more and more female comics rising up on the comic scene – think Amy Schumer, Sarah Millican and Chelsea Peretti. This is hugely important in countering the women aren’t funny myth, because one of the main factors in its continued existence is the fact that the population is generally being exposed to only male comedy. This means that, rather than outright believing men are funnier than women, it is more that people are only seeing men being funny. This also has a knock on effect in the number of female comics. Without role models, it is less likely that women are going to want to enter into what is clearly a male dominated industry.

Here is the trailer to Women Aren’t Funny:

What do you think – should the BBC have made their rule public? Let me know in the comments section.

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