Monday, March 3, 2014

The Imaginarium of Lady Parnassus

The lack of female comedians on panel shows is neither offensive solely to women, to female comedians, or to comedians. I'd like to put forward the argument that it's quite offensive to everyone and to the concept of an enlightened British public. Here goes.

Last week I tuned into 8 Out of 10 Cats and found that of the 7 guests only 1 was a woman. The woman was Deborah Meaden.

I then flicked across to A League of Their Own and the only woman on the panel was Claudia Winkleman.

The only female representatives on either show represented nothing related to the shows they were on. Ie, Deborah Meaden isn't a comedian like her fellow panellists and Claudia Winkleman is neither a comedian nor a sports person like her fellow panellists. They are on the show to help balance the female:male ratio (which is great) without freaking you out by showing you a female face you are not familiar with (not great).

Dara O'Briain is a bit wrong when he says far more men want to do comedy than women, if he had been to an open mic gig recently I think he'd see the gender split early on is fairly even. They are not reaching the top because somebody somewhere decided that famous faces are better than qualified ones. No offence to Deborah Meaden or Claudia Winkleman, I'm a big fan of both, but they are not comedians. They have not learned or trained in the art of joke writing, telling and performing.

Why is this offensive to you? If I transcribe it across to another profession you'll see how stupid it comes across.

"Hello! We're really pleased you decided to have your open heart surgery at our hospital today. How are you feeling? Great. That's excellent. Now, just to reassure you, we have a crack team of surgeons available today - we've got 7 male surgeons and 1 female surgeon. Now, looking at your chart I can see you've got the female surgeon - ooh, please don't look worried. Are you worried because she's female? Don't worry, a lot of people feel like that. We have to have a female surgeon to keep in with guidelines, however, we know it can cause distress to our patients so what we've done is schedule your heart surgery to be performed by Caroline Flack today. No, she's not technically got any experience in open heart surgery but she is easily recognisable and quite fashionable at the moment. She's never had any surgical training or held a scalpel but you do know who she is, so that's a bonus. She's got experience with a knife and fork and cutting up things other people have already cut up and she's very popular so we really felt that was preferable for you to a woman you've never heard of. We'd hate for you to be faced with someone without shiny hair. Feeling better? Good. We'll see you after your surgery."

"Hi, how was your surgery? Ah, you feel like your surgery wasn't as good as the other 7 people who had open heart surgery today? You've got scars because Caroline Flack didn't know how to do stitches properly? She didn't really seem to be getting involved very much and you feel like she may have felt out of her depth while the male surgeons were in their element? Ah, you've come to the conclusion that male surgeons are better than female surgeons? Would you consider trying again with a woman, but this time one who's surgically trained? No, too disappointed on this occasion. And, you're saying this would actually put you off visiting a female GP in the future? Well, we're sorry about that. But, were you at least comforted that it was a familiar face disappointing you?"

Do you see now? That is the level of intelligence that the makers of these shows expect you to have. To be delighted you know who the woman is, rather than interested in finding out about a previously unknown funny woman.


  1. I totally agree that there ought to be more female comedians on panel shows. However, it's worth noting that panel show contestants of either sex are not always comedians; and unlike your heart surgeon analogy it is possible to be funny without being A Comedian, whereas amateur surgery night at the local hospital is never a thing. A better analogy might be if they made a show in which celebs play 5 a side football and regularly booked the likes of Messi or Beckham to appear on it, and then filled a token female slot with any old female celebrity, and concluding erroneously from their performance that women can't play football

  2. Hi Ben thanks for reading and your comment. I agree, your analogy is probably more accurate but I wanted to look at a really extreme example to show how ridiculous it is. I think it's funnier and clearer that way. You can be funny without being a comedian, but there are extra levels to being on a panel show and being funny... There are writers, rehearsals, toppers, knowing the other panellists to work with them better - it all adds up to stack the deck in favour of the regular male comedians. LL

  3. Also, (sorry just been thinking about this more) I'm not sure about the football. Because, surely even if you also put the best female players in the world in the panel they wouldn't be at the same level as the best male players due to physical strength limitations and speed differentiation? You would have to try and find a sport that hadn't been invented for the male physique and then played by women so that you could compare. With comedy, there's nothing stopping the best women and men being at equal levels theoretically.