Flagship BBC comedy show Mock the Week has come under fire from Tory MP Nadine Dorries for featuring few female guests.
Comedy website Chortle backed up this claim with figures showing that only 45 panelists (9.7%) of the past nine seasons have been female. Although this may appear controversial at a first glance, it's possible that the perceived sexism on show has been somewhat over-emphasised.
Firstly, Mock the Week isn't a show especially geared towards new talent (at least, it hasn't been for several years now); it's a tried and tested format with a rotating cast that regularly pulls over three million viewers for the channel. The typical panelist on the show tends to be a professional-calibre stand-up, often with several successful DVD releases under their belt (respectively, Dara O'Briain - three, Ed Byrne - three, Russell Howard - three, Frankie Boyle - two, Andy Parsons - two).
This track record has not been matched by many female comedians in terms of DVD releases or DVD sales, except possibly Sarah Millican, who recently set the all-time sales record for a female British stand-up DVD.
This is a possible explanation for the perceived lack of female guests. It certainly makes sense to book reliable best-selling comedians in the chase for ratings. It just so happens that in Britain, the majority of comics fitting that description are male.
Commenting on the lack of female comics in panel shows generally, Mock the Week host, Dara O'Briain, previously said: "There's a 90%/10% split the entire way down the industry, from the Edinburgh Festival to the open mic level".
If the listings on IMDB are to be believed, the show has featured 33 male comedians (not including the host), and 12 female comedians. While the appearances of female guests have been less frequent, it would be difficult to say that in light of a 90/10% industry split that many female comics haven't been given the opportunity to appear on the show.
O'Briain continued: "Every [panel] show I've done we've torn our hair out trying to find female comics and there is no industry more hungry for women to be involved".
This difficulty in finding female comics generally is baffling. For instance, if you were to search through the roster of regular female MTW performer Gina Yashere's management, PBJ, you would find listings for Cariad Lloyd, Celia Pacquola, Hannah Gadsby, Lucy Montgomery, Nina Conti, Sally Phillips and Sarah Kendall, all of whom have never appeared on the show.
If we were to extend that search to include comedy actresses, PBJ also represent Rhona Croker, Lorna Watson, Gemma Whelan and Gemma Arrowsmith.
While it is not possible to say whether all of the above would be interested in appearing on the show, there are at least two promising leads in the form of Celia Pacquola and Nina Conti, as both have a history of appearing on comedy panel shows.
As further proof of the general availability of female comics, the TV channel Dave, the one that endlessly repeats old editions of Mock The Week, has its own 'top 10 female stand-ups' listing in their online trivia section, six of whom have yet to appear on the show (Isy Suttie, Josie Long, Shazia Mirza, Nina Conti, Sarah Silverman and Joan Rivers). From what can be seen above, any claim that Britain is lacking female comics appears to be unfounded.
This suggests that there must be other reasons why many of the female comics that made it onto the panel haven't been invited back, or (what hasn't been widely considered or explored in much depth) have declined offers to return.
Victoria Wood - in a 2009 Guardian article by Jo Brand - for instance, was quoted describing panel shows as "male-dominated", "testosterone-fuelled" and "bearpit-ish".
In the same article, Brand stated that she doesn't "do Mock the Week any more and neither do some male standups I know who have tried it once. We just didn't like the prospect of having to bite someone's foot off before they let us say something". So, rather than being an issue of sexism, have we considered that female stand-ups may not be interested in appearing on this particular show at all?
While Mock the Week is a long-running ratings smash hit for the BBC, there seem to be other reasons at play as to why they have so much difficulty finding and booking female comics to appear on the show. The type of comic that succeeds on the show is described by Mark Watson as "confident, fairly bullish comics with a lot of one-liners", and at the risk of a crass generalisation, that doesn't particularly sound like many of the female comics listed above.
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