If there's two things we know for certain about the British, it's A.) that they're bad at keeping America and B.) that they love love love their comedy panel shows. While the medium of television has struggled to find its footing in the U.S. since the 1970s, TV series featuring panels of celebrities competing in various bouts of trivia have only become more prevalent in the U.K. It's no wonder why — start watching old episodes of QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Would I Lie to You on YouTube and you'll find yourself with a new and seemingly endless stream of entertainment. The shows are often delightful. They're also overwhelmingly male.
Enter the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation has recently announced a ban on all-male comedy panel shows in an attempt to turn the genre into little less of a boys' club. As Director of BBC Television Danny Cohen told The Guardian:
"We're not going to have panel shows on any more with no women on them. You can't do that. It's not acceptable."
Cohen's new rule is certainly an admirable one. Panel shows should offer more diversity than they do currently (they're also chock-full of white people, btw), but is the BBC treating a symptom rather than the disease?
I spend a lot of downtime watching panel shows on my laptop and one unfortunate observation I've come away with is this: The male guests are usually more fun to watch than the women, not because men are somehow funnier than women (they're not. We all know this, right? No need to go over it again? Good), but because the men are generally professional comedians and the women are more often television personalities from shows like X Factor or whatever. Male guests also tend to be recurring guests — the audience loves them and has a relationship with them — whereas the women are a revolving door of generically pretty reality show hostesses with the exact same ombre hairstyle.
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(There are some notable exceptions! Jo Brand, Josie Long, Sandi Toksvig and Susan Calman are all members of the small group of women who are on the panel circuit and Never Mind the Buzzcocks once hosted Germaine fucking Greer.)
Maybe the real problem goes back to that tired old issue of comedy not being the most welcoming industry for women. That's not to say that the comedians thrive in it are sexist (although some of them certainly are), just that the comedy industry in the U.K. — and in the U.S. — is set up in a way that makes it harder for women to succeed at becoming visible and popular.
As Caitlin Moran wrote about panel shows back in 2012:
"I think that's a boys' game that works for boys. It's not like they built it to screw women over, it's just that boys built it so they made it to work for boys. If I go on there as a token woman, it's not going to work for me."
But opting out of the system isn't an option for a lot of female comedians. Panel show appearances are how a lot of UK entertainers make their livings, so it's pretty fucked up that a whole gender's worth of performers could easily be left out of that. Hopefully, the BBC's step towards diversifying will lead to better opportunities for everyone, not just the few token women who get looped in just to fill quota.