It is just like The Two Ronnies warned us in The Worm That Turned, the women are taking over. It is a putsch by those with a pair of XX chromosomes. By “taking over”, I mean, they will be represented.
I have only read a few snippets on the announcement that BBC television panel shows have been instructed to avoid being an all-male domain. I presume there will be a slew of columns on this feminist fascism and oppression of the penis possessing observationalists. (Personally, I don’t think turning it into a BBC PR announcement was the canniest thing though).
The filthy phrase “positive discrimination” will be bandied around. As a non-Guardian reading Guardianista, I am pro positive discrimination. Why wouldn’t I be, I have been the beneficiary of positive discrimination for most of my life. As a middle class, white, male, I have been brought up in a culture and society tailored to people like me. It wasn’t called positive discrimination, it was “just the way things are”, but it was discrimination and it makes things lovely for me. In the twentieth century, it was realised by some that many second class citizens were not evolutionary follies and some, especially in times of war, could fulfill all manner of handy purposes once presumed beyond them.
Just as a woman could be a pulsar discovering scientist, a pioneer in understanding radioactivity, or even an author of ghoulishly bloody thrillers, so they might be able to say things funny about a news article on Justin Bieber or a picture of Eric Pickles.
For those of us fortunate enough to be part of the favoured background, we can presume that anyone can get there if they work hard enough, partly because we have not seen most of the battlefields and have failed to make the leaps of imagination that allow us to see how other people struggle. In a better world, each individual could be judged on their merits, but it seems that we are biologically and culturally easily wooed to being a partisan creature. Well-managed positive discrimination offers the threat of a good example. It can show people that race, gender, sexuality, class, are not a barrier, whether that is to further education, scientific careers or being on a panel show.
The worst side of positive discrimination is if those in charge are bothered by nothing more than the race, gender etc of the participant. It is not good enough to involve someone solely because they are a woman, but as long as producers/employers aren’t lazy, there is no shortage of talented people out there who also happen to fit into the biological/cultural requirements.
In the early days of The Infinite Monkey Cage, there were far too few female guests. It took a few arguments, and some searching, to ensure that now almost every episode will have at least one female guest. I do not believe we have ever put someone on who is less qualified than the alternative male choices. This can be difficult, as the choice is not as large. On the last series, I think we did have one all male panel, after our first five female choices were unavailable and we could not find any other alternative that was as well qualified for that show and a woman too. With the increase of representation, there should be a further increase in people who put themselves forward because they realise it can be for them.
With TV panel shows, there has been a sense that they are a barbaric arena of alpha males, whose fear of not making the edit has brought out their most aggressive baboon traits. I have experienced this close up. I sat next to Jo Brand on Mock the Week, and we both eventually resigned ourselves to sitting back and letting the others swipe, spit and moon their way to dominance. I know other panel shows made a gesture towards having a woman on by picking someone from a TV soap and giving them a scriptwriter to generate their wit. The bon mots tripped over the tongue with all the aplomb of a foal passing from womb to barn floor. Radio panel shows have been different for sometime. Not only have there been far more women represented, sheesh, some have even been allowed to present them, but there is a far greater allowance for mucking around and creating ideas on the spot, as opposed to arming yourself pre-show. (The TV panel show that gives me greatest pleasure is Would I Lie To You? Astonishingly, you really get the feeling they had fun recording it).
It is a peculiarity that “fun TV panel shows” can be so joyless to make. Allowing another comic to get a word in edgeways can be seen as an emasculating defeat, the terror that you will be driven out of the panel show tribe because you revealed your weakness. Hopefully, the increase of women on them may curb the angry baboons…or will it lead to territorial pissings all around the “world’s worst” microphone stand?
Some say “ah, but genetically/biologically/neuroscientifically, women are not intended to be as funny as men”. I am not up to date with this research. All I can say is that I finished touring with Josie Long and Grace Petrie, and our pre stage dressing rooms were had as much laughter in them as any I have been in. Tonight, I see Joanna Neary, who has made me choke laughing.
My all-male solo show is off to Leicester, Bristol, Falmouth, Nottingham, Norwich, Sheffield, Salford and a town near you (and I am bringing Grace Petrie to Bath). Details HERE
Here is the trailer for my latest DVD released on Monday