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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Film, Opinion

THE RISE OF FEMALE FRONTED COMEDY:

 2011 was hailed as the year of change for women in comedy. With the release of smash hit Bridesmaids, which made over $287 million worldwide, it seemed that Hollywood was finally taking note regarding the depiction of female characters in comedy. For years women have been sidelined in the genre, usually appearing as one-note depictions or romantic interests to further the agenda of male characters, and it seemed as though the tide was finally turning.

Funnily enough, it’s taken a further four years for this change to really come to the fore, with 2015 seeing a string of mainstream female fronted comedies proving to be hugely successful. Spy and Pitch Perfect 2 are particularly lucrative examples, bagging well over $200 million each at the worldwide box office. Other films such as Hot Pursuit were of more dubious quality, but it is still great to see attempts being made to shake up the status quo. Then of course there was Amy Schumer shaking up the tired rom-com format with Trainwreck. It is also worth noting that the more typical male driven comedies of the year have been much less successful than Spy and Pitch Perfect 2 – Kevin Hart’s vehicles Get Hard and The Wedding Ringer were average performers, whilst Entourage and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 underwhelmed both critics and the box office.

There are some exciting prospects on the horizon, with Amy Pheloer and Tina Fey coming together for Sisters at the end of the year, an all female Ghostbusters on the horizon and a female driven comedy by the writers of the hilarious Broad City. Whilst there is certainly room for more diversity, with Sofia Vegara of Modern Family fame being one of the few ethnic stars to appear in any of the years comedies, these are all steps in the right direction.

 What is so notable about these films is its depiction of women as fully rounded, human characters. Films such as Feig’s The Heat (2013) and Spy are taking movie scenarios so typically inhabited by men and putting women at the helm. Spy is perhaps the best example, providing a hilarious yet empowering take on the tired spy format. These are all films that pass the Bechdel Test – which requires females to have a conversation not to do with men at some point in a film. This is a positive step away from the Sex and the City style chick flicks of the early 2000s, as whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with those sorts of films, they should not be the only way women are depicted in female-centric cinema.

This could finally signify a change that has been a long time in the coming. Dubbed the Bridesmaids Effect, we are finally seeing female driven comedies take their rightful place in the mainstream. Paul Fieg, a director who is deemed to be a part of this revolution for his work with Melissa McCarthy, has said: “it’s an amazing sign of progress, but it feels a little silly to be celebrating it. It’s good, but it’s not enough. And this should have happened years and years and years ago.”

 This is an interesting and wholeheartedly valid point – the fact that this is a big deal in 2015 is frankly ridiculous, and it’s still too early to tell if it is a permeanant development. It’s an area that has certainly seen a few false starts. Geena Davis – who made the news recently when she spoke out to highlight gender inequality in Hollywood – appeared to be kick starting a revolution back in the early 90’s with Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own, so why has it taken another 20 years for the trend to take hold?

Quite simply, like everything in Hollywood it comes down to money. Before Bridesmaids there was nothing to convince studio executives that people would pay to see these kinds of movies. For far too long Hollywood has catered mostly for the teenage male, meaning that women are generally depicted within the limited guise of male fantasy. Whilst this trend in comedy suggests change may be on the horizon, the battle is far from over. We are yet to see a female led comic book movie from either Marvel or DC, and though there are ones in the horizon the balance is way off. Hopefully the financial and critical success of these comedies will help pave the way for progress in other genres too.

Here is Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon discussing female comedy when they were promoting Hot Pursuit – whilst the film was only average you can’t fault this duos talent!:

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