The Feminist Jackboot Dug Deep in the Buzzer Round

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Feminist Jackboot Dug Deep in the Buzzer Round

  1. Jo says:

    “I am pro positive discrimination. Why wouldn’t I be, I have been the beneficiary of positive discrimination for most of my life.”

    That is the best response to this whole furore of ridiculousness I have read all day. Great article.

  2. cookwitch1Lisa says:

    Hurrah! Sense. Thank you.

  3. Good post and very good arguments. I am tired of people calling anything with more than one female present “taken over by women”, or any other formerly/currently oppressed group for that matter. Yeah!!

  4. Dean says:

    The positive discrimination is fine and necessary. The BBC announcing this policy in a press release rather than just implementing it, undermines both the policy and the women they will have appearing on these shows.

  5. john matthews says:

    If I was picked for a show because it had to contain x I would always be thinking do I deserve to be here?
    I think I’d rather see something like an all women panel show so it could have its own character and not need to conform to the surrounding male dominance. How many women commissioners are there?
    I know slippery slope arguments are generally frowned upon but I see no reason why next year going to see you have to have minority z….?

    • OhCrikey... says:

      Women are the majority. “Whaa whaa minority z” is a completely invalid argument when women make up 51% of society. If TV reflected society accurately there’d be *more* women than men.

      • john matthews says:

        Like I said I’m all for an all women panel show which could succeed or fail on its own merit. Much in the way Labour have done with their all women short lists.
        Why does comedy get so much attention and not the male dominance in tv chefs/televised sports/quiz hosts the list goes on

  6. Inga says:

    I just watched that MTW episode. It’s one of my favourites because of the drunk anecdote. But you’re right, you two could hardly get in a word.
    Apart from having a female ‘problem’, MTW has the general problem of having too many regulars on the show and hence fewer free spots to fill.

    While I support having women represented on panel shows (and all sorts of shows for that matter) I have to say that a lot of the female panelists I’ve seen just didn’t make me laugh as much as their male counterparts.
    But maybe the BBC will now go into a serious recruitment phase and pick up all the comediennes you speak of. They would definitely be welcome.

    • cookwitch1Lisa says:

      Inga – I have to agree with you. Both me and my husband said the same thing. So far, the majority of female comediennes on MTW just haven’t made me laugh. I hope that the BBC will search further afield now.

      • Inga says:

        I actually meant female comediennes on all these comedy shows. There are exceptions of course but in general I found the guys funnier (there’re unfunny exceptions among them too, though).

        I remember a QI episode where they talked about this issue. And they said that women laugh more in general but they laugh less at women. Or something like that.

      • Most of the comics (any gender) I find funny don’t deal in one-liners: like Robin Ince, they build imaginary worlds together with the audience. It needs a bit more time than the elbow-fest of shows like MTW. You don’t see Robin Ince on these shows much, nor people like Dylan Moran… Even Stephen Fry, I mean, yes he presents QI, but can you imagine him as a participant in. A panel show? I can’t. I don’t think it’s a man/woman thing, I think it’s more that the panel shows often seem to have the kind of atmosphere that people who make me laugh can’t breathe.

  7. greg says:

    It might be because I don’t watch many panel shows anymore particularly mock the week but I genuinely don’t think I’ve seen one on any channel without a woman on in at least 5 or more years.

    Plenty where there have been episodes with no female comedians and the female components have been unfunny celebrities or presenters (read: a humourless Carol Verdeman 90% of the time) but certainly none without any women. I actually thought this was already a rule and producers have simply been lazy and can’t be bothered to find any number of the hilarious women there are on the circuit to do it.

  8. Pee Pod says:

    It isn’t *an* XX chromosome, it is two X chromosomes. And In terms of sex determination it isn’t always as easy as this! Not to mention gender …

  9. mraemiller says:

    You are confusing affirmative action with positive discrimination. The former is “we’re going to try and up our percentage of women to a target” (legal). The latter is “We got to have X women an episode or we cant record” (illegal). One problem I think is women are less driven than men. Maybe there are a range of complex reasons for this but women seem to pull gigs more often than men I find. But you can bet if you book a man he’s 25% more likely not to let you down …at least in terms of turning up even if he’s not funny on stage. I dont know why. Perhaps its childcare commitments he says sexistly …or perhaps it is the result of a vicious cycle of discrimination making them lose interest more quickly. But it is my observation. Maybe it is just that because there are less of them I think about it more. Mock the Week I think someone should write a paper on group dynamics. There seems to be some kind of weird pecking order. Finally it is one of the great lies of society that anyone can “make it” with hard work. They cant. You need some level of natural talent particularly in comedy. There are some very clever successful people who just dont seem to be able to do it. Even at the remedial open spot level I inhabit. I dont know why. It’s just …how it is.

  10. Sian Louise says:

    Reblogged this on The Woman and commented:
    This has put into words everything I ever try to convey when defending positive discrimination!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s