Women: It’s time to stand up and do stand up

I couldn’t have done it without my trusted partner: quirky eyeliner.

I’d like to break away from the topic of Berlin’s weather for once to talk about something that I find genuinely beguiling and worthy of more debate. Specifically: who is this woman? Well, I know who she is. She is Lauren Laverne, general TV personality and go-to person whenever a telly show needs a woman with a bit of moxie to make up the numbers. She is, apparently, a comedienne, although she began the most notable part of her career presenting the Culture Show on the BBC where she managed to gain significant attention by her sheer talent to talk about cultural things in a banterous and vaguely arrogant tone of voice which seems to have been mistaken as ‘wit’. Now, Lauren Laverne is all fine and dandy – she is at any rate confident, erudite and at least by no means fey or wimpy – and I have nothing particularly against her as a concept, but watching her in the otherwise excellent series 10 O’clock Live always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. Why? Because she makes me sad to be a girl.

For those of you who haven’t seen any of the show yet, let me paint you a brief picture of what it’s like. Channel 4 have taken three of the UK’s best and cleverest comedians – Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr and the unspeakably brilliant David Mitchell – and given them an hour a week to discuss, make fun of and ask politicians about the week’s news and political/social affairs. They interview people who are important with a capital I, make hilarious jokes about the haha-ridiculous bits of the news and draw attention to the ohgoodgrief-ridiculous bits. The writing is ninja-sword-sharp, Jimmy Carr’s costumes are always wonderful, Charlie Brooker is hysterically venomous and David Mitchell’s interviews are so incisive it makes you want to bottle the things he says so you can savour them later. And then there’s Laverne. She may as well have ‘token’ tattooed across her forehead, for all the good she does in the programme. She supposedly is the ‘MC’ for the show, doing the neat segues and chairmanning the discussions between the three men, but is significantly not even trusted enough as a chairman to chair the real discussions between interesting people who actually have things to say. Occasionally she might do her own comic bit, which is usually laboured and cardboardy and delivered in her usual taunting pub-voice which doesn’t so much make it funny as make it feel vaguely as if she is trying to make you laugh by being as feisty as is humanly possible. I am sure she could do more, but her immaculate hair and best-friend’s-wedding outfits all point to one obvious explanation: the producers knew the show needed a bit of eye-candy and at least one member of the cast with a uterus. Enter Laverne.

She isn’t allowed to do anything worth speaking of on the show and her segments are so hackneyed she ought to just give up and honk a big comedy horn every now and again instead. The potential is great, but she isn’t given the chance to be anything more than the ‘woman’, and this is the problem. Women just aren’t funny. Sure, you get women comedians, but they are either sorted into the ‘big, loud, Jo Brand-style, making jokes about menstruation, let’s assume they’re a lesbian’ category or the ‘tee-hee, sweet little girl who twists her pigtails and then says penis’ category. Funny or not, the majority of these women are not particularly judged on the quality of their material but are rather given pats on the back and places in panel shows merely as a gesture to say “well done dear, at least you tried.” The fact is that when put on their own, very few people will pay to go and see a female comedian on stage and very few women even dare to become comediennes in the first place. You will get labelled a lesbian, or feminist, or ‘ball-busting’. Bill Bailey can roam onto the stage looking like a cross between Hagrid and an Icelandic heavy-metal singer, but if a female comedian isn’t well-groomed she is ‘in your face’ or simply using comedy as a means of expressing deep-seated insecurities. In panel shows the women sit back and watch as the men exchange a testosterone-fuelled volley of jokes in a tiring display of one-upmanship. In the newspapers every new comedienne is lauded as ‘the new face of women’s comedy’ who is revolutionising the concept of ‘funny women’ simply by giggling on stage and making jokes about biscuits and women’s yoghurt adverts (I’m looking at you Lucy Porter). Sarah Silverman has only managed to achieve notoriety by having the sheer gumption to make ragingly foul jokes about Jews and rape, at which half of her audience only laugh out of genuine fear. 

So come on women, let’s not let this happen. Women are hilarious too, and we have good things to say about the news and politics and genitalia, just like men. We need to get out there and be more than just ‘TV personalities’ like Lauren Laverne. We need to start pulling Russell Howard crowds, and stop feeling the need to make jokes about being fat or ovulating or being like our mothers just because it’s our lot in life. We want to chair the discussion about alternative voting, not just the brief chat about the Hitler house. Until we stop being the token and start being a main ingredient of these shows, we’ll always be a box-ticker, and if you don’t believe me try to imagine any panel show or comedy programme with more female than male comedians making up the cast. Yes, I’m just imagining French and Saunders clones occupying every seat in Have I Got News For You, too. Ooh, now they’re kicking Jeremy Clarkson in the nuts. This idea might just have legs… 

Rose T