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Comedy panel shows are annoying and full of men – there’s only one way to save them

TThe comedy panel show is becoming something of an endangered species. In 2022, the BBC announced that they needed time Mock the week after 17 years on the air. New launches don’t stick around for long before being canceled. Even the old believers Do I have news for you? feeling increasingly tired: it’s not hard to guess where the heavily signposted punchlines are going – why yes, Rishi Sunak is quite a small man, I hadn’t noticed! – which was never the case before. The genre seems to be teetering wearily on its last legs – and this is certainly not least due to the fact that it has hardly kept up with the times and casts the same, often male, faces again and again.

The track record on gender representation is remarkably poor. According to new research from data scientist Stuart Lowe, who has been analyzing panel show figures for years, the BBC’s push to reduce the heavily male-biased gender imbalance in comedy programs has leveled off in recent years, so the split is currently around 60:40. This movement began in 2014 when the broadcaster’s then head of television, Danny Cohen, promised that every panel show would – drum roll, worthy of a very dramatic policy change, please – have to book at least one woman for every episode, but has clearly led to a halt recently and stopped just short of actual parity.

Things are even slightly better on commercial channels, with women representing 45 percent of stars in programs broadcast on the likes of ITV and Channel 4. But a relatively simple way to shake up this languishing format would be to ensure that percentage equals is – or, whisper it, maybe even about-hire women for a while? Because it is clear that the current approach simply does not work.

In other parts of the entertainment industry, it has been shown that a more representative cast actually attracts viewers, and is also good for business. For example, a 2018 study found that films with female leads often outperformed films with male characters at the box office. Last summer the film was directed by Greta Gerwig Barbie film that won Barbenheimer’s battle for ticket sales supremacy over the quintessential father film Oppenheimer. Recent international data also suggests that younger audiences are more engaged with shows with a more diverse cast. And if you’re still desperate for male comedians who make jokes exclusively about male comedians? I’m pretty sure you can find several podcasts that offer just that.

However, there’s a catch and it’s a pretty big stumbling block. The lack of women on panel shows isn’t just a result of commissioners and producers failing to spot brilliant female comics. It also stems from the fact that these programs are still not particularly enticing for women to work. “Panel shows are essentially three hours of cocky waving machismo and joke-telling,” one TV commissioner told me. The times anonymously. “It’s not a great environment for a lot of female comedians to do their best material because they have a very ‘boys in the pub’ vibe.”

It is a problem, says the commissioner, that arises “constantly” across the sector, and one that QI presenter Sandi Toksvig spoke out against this in 2016. ‘There are panel shows that struggle to get women to work, and that’s because the women feel marginalized and stupid, and often in the editing just laugh at the guys and don’t say anything at all. she said. A few years later, writer and comedian Natalie Haynes gave a seriously disheartening account of her experience with her jokes being deleted. “Between recording and broadcast, the editors had managed to take out everything I had said,” she wrote in The guard in 2018. These types of edits inevitably play on the very nasty accusation that continues to be used in the year of our Lord 2024 to suppress calls for gender equality in comedy: the claim that women ‘aren’t funny’ – something that is sometimes can happen. are refuted by anyone who has actually bothered to a) talk to women and b) listen to women.

Sandi Toksvig has spoken about how women
Sandi Toksvig has spoken about how women “feel marginalized and stupid” at film panel shows (BBC/Fremantle Media/Talkback)

And in cases where there is only one “token” woman in a show, it’s often the case that only a certain type of woman makes the choice. “The pretty and the chic come first,” comedian Fern Brady said in 2014, when Cohen’s panel show promise was announced (we will have true equality, she added, when we see “a woman who has the look and class equivalent of Adrian Chiles chairing a panel show”). All the more reason for us to continue to push for more expansive representation of women on these programs, to better showcase the breadth of female-led comedy. It’s not just about achieving equality, but simply about booking the best people, which is exactly what this clearly ailing genre needs. In other words, it’s time for last orders at the bar, guys.