I've also had an interesting exchange on twitter with Jonathan Ross. As everyone knows, he's been suspended from school for being a naughty boy. The annual Big Fat Quiz of the Year therefore, missed his presence. There was the usual ratio of 5 men, 2 women. The five men, all comics or comic actors, were funny in varying degrees. The two women were not comediennes but attractive presenters, in other words 'totty' who act as foils for the funny men. Davina McCall, who presents Big Brother, generally comes across well, but Claudia Winkleman, an intelligent woman, decided that her only route to keeping up with the boys was to act as if she were ditsy and a bit thick. She did that 'I'm so silly' act to which women often resort.(1) It was truly embarrassing. I twittered this observation to Jonathan Ross who wrote back:
"Find me a woman who can be funny for hours without a script. It's a huge problem. Plus Channel 4 will not use women that are not already known."How do women become known in comedy? By doing the stand-up circuit, which is notoriously gladiatorial. I would also argue that confidence, an essential component, comes later for women, who often take time out for bringing up children. Combine that with the obligation for women on TV to be young and beautiful as well as funny, and you end up with a dearth of comediennes. Women can be funny. I personally know several who are as quick as men although it is said that women's humour is more observational, less combative and therefore less suited to the quick-fire repartee of panel shows.
In this Guardian article from 2004, the writer optimistically predicts that women will become more visible in comedy. It didn't happen. There is still the same minority trickle of humorous women. I found this quote from Ronni Ancona, the female impressionist(2) revealing:
'You're sitting in a room with male writers and you say something, and it's ignored.' she complained. 'You say it again and it's ignored. And then a man will say it and everyone goes, "That's brilliant."' ...Ancona says she had to petition the BBC to get the show's title changed from Alistair McGowan's Big Impression ."
(1)Apparently the suffragettes were well aware of the uses of humour in politics and used 'sillyness' as a weapon.
(2)Meaning she is a female that does impressions not a man dressed up as a woman, ha, even the job descriptions for funny women have been co-opted by men!