Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 15/31: Women comedians are not funny. Discuss. (suggested by Zoe Pattullo)

Josie herself

Comedy Just to show some of my workings for a change, the first version of this opinion began with a paragraph which listed a vast range of women comedians, from Maureen Lipman to Shappi Khorsandi pausing briefly to mourn the loss of Linda Smith in an attempt to demonstrate the fallacy that women comedians aren’t funny because there are plenty that clearly are, just as there’s a fair share of awful, awful male “comics”. I don’t happen to like the kind of comedy which seems designed to shock, the Frankie Boyle / Jimmy Carr irony black-hole, but they sell millions of dvds. It’s all about personal taste.

This unfunny perception of comediennes is however perfectly understandable. Much of the time, the history of funny women in the UK is reduced to a footnote in the history books (and I know because I’ve read a couple) were the author, usually male, finds themselves giving grudging deference to Victoria Wood somewhere between offering a justification for the comic genius of Bernard Manning and talking up Harry Enfield’s accomplishments. When they are covered in any detail it tends to be in relation to men, Caroline Aherne being a late rare exception.

It also doesn’t help that less funny comediennes have drowned out the rest. French & Saunders bestrode the eighties and nineties to such a degree that when they lost focus later (at least in relation to performing their own material which at some point became more interested in celebrity cameos and spoofs than saying anything genuinely interesting), I’d argue people assumed that all female comedians had stopped being funny too (even Wood has lately developed the same affliction not helped by turning up in interviews and saying that she knows what’s funny – we’ll be the judge of that).

It’s also not until very recently that comediennes have been allowed to expand their comic repertoire to mirror the men, covering biographical to observational to topical and in the case of Khorsandi all three. Radio 4 in general has been very good at expressing this kind of change, and it’s been gratify to hear The Now Show asking more female stand-ups to cover the news stories of the week, Sue Perkins is especially good on The News Quiz when she’s allowed to take an idea for a walk and even Laura Solon is growing on me. On tv, say what you like about Catherine Tate, but she can bury a catchphrase with the best and worst of the men, though she was still funnier in Doctor Who.

Which rather demonstrates, it depends on where you’re looking. If you’re looking at some tv panel game like Mock The Week in which “comedy” becomes an intimidating masculine pursuit, then admittedly, the intellectual rigour of a female comedian isn’t necessarily best suited – how often has the seat next to Hislop on Have I Got News For You been filled by a giggler with an XX chromosome? But if you make a point of searching out a Josie Long, you’ll find someone making observational comedy with big heart and emotional weight, that isn’t just funny but memorable. Which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but certainly suits mine.

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