Comedy Too

Comedy research, diversity, Gender, Reclaiming spaces



So it’s happening. Just as with the wider entertainment industries before them, stand-up comedy is having another moment of reckoning with itself in relation to abuses of power. We can look back to the impact of the Louis CK affair for a template here – CK admitted to masturbating in front of non-consenting women comics. The incident highlighted both how, depressingly, other comics defended his behaviour, and how quickly the US comedy industry welcomed him back to the stage (despite the justified disgust of women in the industry).

This particular moment has been provoked by a combination of things. The reporting of comic and actor Chis D’elia’s behaviour with underaged fans and the resurfacing of footage from The Joe Rogan Experience podcast (from 2011), in which Joey Diaz talks about forcing women comics to give him blow-jobs in exchange for assistance furthering their careers (referring to this practice as ‘the fucking gateway to Hollywood’). The mind-blowing ease with which Diaz wheels out this story and the other male guests (including Rogan, the host) laugh along with each other is genuinely disturbing. As a result of the press attention (and the sharing of this footage via Twitter), the US (where the two examples above originate), UK and Irish comedy scenes are coming under scrutiny. What is of course disconcerting is that so few people (mostly women) working in this industry are surprised…. And those people that are surprised need to really think about why this is.

Women have come forward via social media with tales of abuses of power and the numerous ways in which people have exploited and disadvantaged them and their careers. As someone who isn’t a comic, but has spent the last 7 years researching the UK comedy circuit and its inclusion (and marginalisation) of women, I just thought I’d lay out a few of the key things I observed as part of my study. I believe the points below highlight how the live comedy industry often creates a perfect environment for these abuses to occur.

1) The comic environment and ‘just-joking defence’:

Comedy is a place where taboos can be explored and norms subverted…. But it is also an art form that has a loooong ol’ history with gender/ racial/ homophobic and ableist stereotypes. Your ability as a performer (a freelancer) to make and sustain working relationships is key for being successful in this setting (‘who you know’ etc) – and this has meant that for a number of women trying to make a career in comedy, simply putting up with a lot of bullshit (that’s the academic term) has become the norm. In society more widely, we see in many instances of abuse or sexism (and racism) the classic ‘just joking’ rhetorical defence is provided for inappropriate behaviour or language. So, when someone (say another comic or a promoter) crosses a line it’s easy for the abused party to become the issue (they ‘don’t have a sense of humour’, they are ‘over-reacting’). The joking around in a comedy context means inappropriateness can be snuck in easily and be really hard for someone to pin down as inappropriate. And the issue here is that to have a sense of humour in the comedy industry is LITERALLY a stand-up’s job, so it becomes about their professionalism really quickly. Opportunities for lines to be crossed or professional boundaries breached is, in many ways, baked into the context of live comic performance.


2) Lone working:

Up until relatively recently, women, when they were included in stand-up line-ups, worked alone. When I started my research project back in 2013 this came up all the time and is a key theme of my findings. It was felt that more than one woman was unnecessary as the box had been ticked – the quota of femaleness reached. This lone working for women comics is changing (indeed it has changed since my research began) but the issue with working alone is two-fold here in the way it relates to abuse of power. Firstly, it creates and upholds a power discrepancy – the woman is placed in the position of representing all women and therefore othered (by audiences and other comics on- and off-stage). The need to assimilate into a male dominated workplace is already a challenge, so those working in these environments already have to work harder to fit in / get on. Secondly in terms of maintaining a toxic working environment, divide and conquer is a textbook tactic. How are women supposed to know what is happening if they never get to work along-side each other? It’s the ideal space for gaslighting and making women doubt their experiences and blame themselves when things go wrong. Who do you turn to in moments where abuses of power are occurring? Do you appeal to the other men in the space to step in and acknowledge the inappropriateness of the behaviour – you’ll be waiting a while (watch the clip again – observe the affiliative laughter at the blowjob story). That’s the kicker here – in order for this to change it needs men in positions of power to step the fuck up. It is not up to the oppressed or victimised parties in cases of abuse to make the change, or to put in the additional work to make the things better. This is an argument clearly relevant to the dismanteling of structural racism too, and of course it is important to note that black women and women of colour face additional challenges in these spaces.

There is hope. Women-led organisations and nights are pushing forward in reaction to the points I articulate above (The UK Women in Comedy Festival, Funny Women are providing specific spaces for women comics, and nights such as Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s Suspiciously Cheap Comedy and Sophie Duker’s Wacky Racistsare trying to establish new and more inclusive environments where this shit would not fly). The recent establishment of the Live Comedy Association provides a newly established framework for collective action on matters such as this.

With the current pandemic causing a huge amount of problems for the performance industry (and with specific issues for comedy) an opportunity exists to develop a more inclusive circuit when live performance returns. Perhaps choosing to leave the sexism and abuse behind would be a good idea – the best start to that process would be to listen to what women are saying.

Missing something?

BBC, Comedians, Comedy research, diversity, Gender

The audience after the panel

Last night I went along to the launch of the BBC Comedy Caroline Aherne Bursary, a new initiative promising to award £5k and a development opportunity to a ‘Funny Northern Woman’ in memory of the legendary comic. The bursary was launched at the BBC’s offices in MediaCity Salford and was preceded by a ‘Women in Comedy panel’ where several women from across the industry discussed their careers in comedy and tips for new entrants.

Having been researching the UK comedy industry since 2013 I was particularly interested to see how this new initiative was presented to an audience (made up of the ticketed public as part of the Salford Sitcom Showcase events). I should note that none of my criticisms are directed at the panel members themselves, all of whom were talented women with a lot of experience to offer. However, several stark issues were brought home for me both during the panel discussion and the subsequent hasty ‘launch’ of the bursary.

  1. An all white panel. In 2017 this is not acceptable. It is especially relevant to consider when the issue under discussion is about diversifying comedy with ‘new voices’.  A panel of 5 cis-gendered white women (and confusingly, considering the subject matter, only one northern voice) does not send out a message of inclusion, it simply perpetuates a situation of privilege. This was compounded by the fact that when all the panel members were asked about their comedy heroes all comics referenced were also white (as were the performers featured on video clips played at the event).  What I found astonishing was knowing that the Women in Comedy Festival, an organisation without any core funding which is staffed by volunteers (whom I have been working alongside since 2014), regularly consider this issue and adapts to find ways to be more inclusive across all aspects of diversity. I have witnessed and been involved in these honest and difficult conversations about our responsibility to be inclusive (something the festival’s director Hazel O’Keefe is incredibly passionate about) and for a huge organisation like the BBC to not have considered this is frankly unbelievable. You cannot just replace white men with white women – that is not inclusive and it is certainly not any kind of feminism I recognise. (More a post-feminist denial of the need to collectively challenge structures that continue to exclude and marginalise?)
  2. Complexity of language. The first comment made by the host was that often the panel members (herself included) get invited along to ‘women in’ panels and that often they make the point that they are just ‘people in’ a particular field. This was confusing as the chair was from the BBC, who I’d imagine had control of the name of the event…. so maybe simply give the panel another name rather than starting off on this awkward note? The first question after this statement was ‘which women inspired you to go into comedy?’ – if gender really is irrelevant (I’m not saying it is, but this seemed the position of the chair) then why kick off with a gendered question? This was further complicated by the chair using the term ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and a panel member’s repeated use of the word ‘comedienne’. You cannot make a statement erasing the need to discuss the ways in which systems ‘other’ people (along gendered, racial, classist or ability lines) whilst simultaneously using language that reinforces and maintains difference.
  3. Will this change anything? The timing of this event, in the week after high profile revelations about the BBC’s pay gap across racial, gender and class lines, meant that structural considerations were fresh in my mind when listening to the speakers. Although, of course we must bear in mind that these inequalities exist across all broadcast organisations, and not just those required to publish the data publicly. A question I was left with after the panel was ‘How does this initiative fit with the BBC’s overall strategy to be more inclusive in its comedy output?’. As with the 2014 ‘no more all-male panel shows’ announcement it felt very much like this initiative needed to be connected up to a wider strategy about what happens behind the cameras too. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that a new Northern female voice will be given an opportunity to be heard, but at the same time we have to ask ourselves will this person just be dragged into a faulty system? A system that continues to discriminate along gendered and racial lines? Will this bursary be used to tick a box without making any real tangible change that will impact many more women than just the winner? The bursary was hastily mentioned at the end of the panel with the key advice seeming to be ‘look on the website for how to apply’ and there was no opportunity to publicly ask questions after the bursary was announced.

I didn’t feel as if I could articulate a (non-confrontational) question during the Q&A (which consisted of three comments disguised as questions about pitching to/ approaching commissioners….which is kind of understandable in a way considering the event was supposed to be about launching the bursary). These are just my initial thoughts and I think and feel many other things about this event too – I will find a way to articulate the complexity of this experience and the initiative within my research. My concern is that small one-off initiatives and awards from large organisations are used to distract from much more complex and challenging structural issues which need addressing.

Kid most likely

Comedians, Comedy research, feminisms, Gender, Reflecting, self-deprecation



February 2017 was notable – I was published for the first time…. and no I will not stop banging on about it. I can (nay will) be referenced!

Tomsett, E. (2017) ‘Twenty-first century fumerist: Bridget Christie and the backlash against feminist humour’. Comedy Studies. 8:1. Taylor and Francis.

I get to use the best of all phrases in my PhD thesis now… the textbook ‘as I have argued elsewhere’. Exciting times.

The article evolved from a conference presentation I gave way back in 2014 at the University of Hull and centres around the argument that 2013, although notable for its many high profile successes for female comics, was not the ‘FINALLY THE WOMEN HAVE ARRIVED’ all-out party the media seemed to think it was. In terms of the party metaphor, it wasn’t really even time to open the buffet. In fact just as with every advancement for women into areas of labour outside the home, there was a swift inverse reaction, this time played out through reactionary and sexist humour.

I’m in the process of finishing the draft of my follow up article which will explore uses of self-deprecation in stand-up comedy. I was in total lock down over the Xmas period finishing the thesis chapter upon which this article will be based and am now counting the seconds until the end of term so I can get a day off.

Oh yeah and I have also recently co-founded a research network (Mixed Bill) – more on that here.

In other news…..

A random recent moment was the sudden posting of this image to social media by a fellow student of my high school (a school that has subsequently had both a name change and a complete facelift… as if in a kind of witness protection programme for buildings). The classic Sixth Form leaving book activity of ‘Person most likely’ – decorated with some pretty flipping snazzy clip art.

I had a vague memory of this… but there it was again in black and white. Five words that drive at the very heart of everything that, as an adult, regularly and completely does my head in.


This was the early 2000s (equality was achieved by then right, guys – *eye roll*) and 18 year old me didn’t really think twice about this – fast forward 3 years and this would have not stood for a second. At university I learnt that I’m not the female version of anything, thanks very much. I’m not some kind of rubbish tribute act to a guy who’s funny on TV.

I’ll be tackling this kind of subtle reinforcing of gendered expectation in the introduction to my research – as this really gets to the crux of why I am interested my area. The enduring need for society to define people in binary and to give women power or station only in its relation to their male counterparts. This renegotiation of gendered expectations constantly plays out through humour… another thing for the introduction to the thesis then.

Oh and my bestie Amy is kick-ass CBT therapist, not an interior designer – so take that The Man!





Comedians, Comedy research, Gender

Last week I headed up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of my research to see some funny women in action. As is traditional all of the weathers were happening as illustrated in the image below.


What is particularly great about Fringe for me as a researcher is the opportunity to see so many varied performances in such a short space of time. As I have just started putting together the brochure for the UK Women in Comedy Festival (taking place in Manchester 20th-30th October – more info here) I could work out who I would be able to see on my home turf later in the year and prioritise accordingly. Nothing beats experiencing the Fringe first hand and even between shows I picked up a lot of useful information and did some really helpful thinking about how this festival is directly linked to my subject of study.

Fringe-specific things of note for me:

  1. The competition – There is an overwhelming amount of shows happening simultaneously so it is interesting to see how different things effect the decisions made by audiences – weather, location, art-form, shows scheduled time in relation to other shows, cost (we were there during the 2 for 1 days at the start of the festival) and…..
  2. Critical commentary – The role of reviewers, bloggers and journalists in informing the decisions of the audiences is an interesting thing to consider (Sam Friedman’s  work Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour (2014), remains highly relevant here). The journalism around the Fringe clearly impacts in different ways to how touring comedy is reviewed, and can be a stressful aspect of the Fringe for acts. How does getting a great review impact on the expectations the audience have for a show? Conversely how does getting an awful review impact on attendance? How do the reviews that the acts get in Edinburgh inform the audiences that they may attract when on tour? These questions definitely feed in to my own work.
  3. Flyers – I accepted every flyer handed my way with the view to seeing how in this highly competitive environment acts promote their work. How do you get the audiences attention in this environment and are do themes emerge in the way artists promote themselves? For me a key consideration is how the language of empowerment or equality may be evoked as part of the marketing of  a show by a female performer (and critically how this sits with ideas of post-feminism and the current cultural context for women).
  4. Social media and the Edinburgh Bubble – From social media it was clear that the focus during August is all things festival. Even those not performing at the Fringe were tweeting about it – either to recommend other acts, lament the fact they weren’t there or commenting on the journalism surrounding the festival. The last of these points directly relates to a tweet by comedian Sara Pascoe, who, whilst not performing at this year’s festival, publicly challenged the way journalists repeatedly ‘make a thing’ of the rise in the number of female performers by writing articles about women and comedy. She argued that the only time the ‘women aren’t funny myth’ is wheeled out is as part of a defence of women in comedy. She comments  that “we [female comedians] are not a sub-culture and talking about us as if we are plays a huge part in reinforcing that comedy is ‘A Man’s Job’ and we’re novelties.”. This was obviously interesting to me as someone investigating this area, especially as I am acutely aware of how much of the writing on this subject (predominantly but not exclusively journalistic rather than academic) perpetuates a divide in humour along gendered lines. A timely reminder then that when writing on a subject it is all too easy to replicate internalised inequalities and inadvertently reinforce rather than challenge stereotypes. Pascoe is definitely not the only performer on the circuit with this view point. As part of my interviews I have encountered similar attitudes, and this is something I wish to explore further in my research.

Apart from this trip being useful in terms of experiencing the environment of Edinburgh I also tried to see as much as I could. Some plans fell by the wayside due to the bad weather, my inability to leave enough time to get to venues and general tiredness. We also took in some other Edinburgh cultural activities including the Museum of Scotland, The Scottish National Gallery, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (specifically the Facing The World exhibition of self-portraits), and trekked about looking for record and books shops. I also had chance to catch up with a friend who I’d not seen in ages and was coincidentally sat behind me for David O’Doherty – hooray for the Edinburgh Bubble and Sam Freeman’s aggressive coffee shop table defending tactics!

So what did I see??

Mon 8thLolly Adefope – Lolly 2, David O’Doherty – Big Time, The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (incl. Alison Spittle and Elf Lyons)

Tues 9thDaniel Kitson’s work in progress, Tez Ilyas – Made in Britain, Grainne Maguire – Great People Making Great Choices, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Gameshows (as embodied by the talented Matt Tedford) .

Wed 10thEllie Taylor – Infidelity, Viv Groskop – Be More Margo, Tessa Waters – Over Promises.

Thurs 11thBridget Christie – Mortal.

All in all a great trip and lots of things to think about going forward.



Advertising, feminisms, Gender, Reclaiming spaces

I’m not sure where to start with this one. It is something that I have seen a few times and always prickled at but I think I have finally worked out what my issue is and I am going to attempt to articulate it here…it is not really research related and it will 100% come across as a rant so this is your chance to get out now – you’ve been warned.

What the hell is this???!!??

stupid 1


Statements such as this are prolific Facebook memes and go, in my opinion, far beyond faulty logic and venture into the somewhat offensive woodland beyond. *I am willing to accept that this may be particularly frustrating for me due to the context in which I encounter these messages (mostly amongst Facebook and Google’s ham-fisted brainwashing attempts to get me to get my head down and conform, that involves changing all online adverts to ones for Clear Blue Pregnancy tests – subtle). I see these images as just another extension of cultural reinforcement of outdated notions of women’s roles. It’s a good day to air this frustration thanks to the ongoing issues  the Tory leadership contest has thrown up.

The similarity between this and the ‘Facebook mothership challenge’ nonsense (more here) which has already been covered in detail, cannot be ignored. I’ve worked out my problem with this one specifically….

I take issue with the idea that giving your mother a grandchild is somehow a reflection of how good they are as a parent – err word up guys its not!

I’d counter the claim within the meme, by arguing that the best parents will love their children irrespective of their willingness (or ability) to procreate. Statements like the one contained in the meme not only shackles a woman’s decision to have kids to her own self-worth (which is a long standing issue – for our society to be a woman you simply must want children) but it also implies that it is a reflection on the parenting that a woman experienced herself. Again if we are getting into a debate about quality parenting I’m pretty sure making your daughter aware of her reproductive rights and ensuring she has the ability to make her own choices is pretty high up the list.

This link between an individual woman’s decision in relation to procreation and the idea that they must have had some terrible experience to make that decision is offensive and reinforced everywhere.

I feel like popping on a pair of sunglasses like the ones in John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live and revealing the truth.




It is part of what could be considered the ultimate guilt trip for women. I say women because there is not the same level of pressure placed upon males of a similar age and the male identity, under western capitalism, is not entwined with fatherhood in the same way.  Those deviating from the path of motherhood are often considered by society to be oddballs doomed to be repeatedly told what good mothers they would have been(see Kate Fox’s work on otherhood)

I’ll never forget the look of sheer confusion and bafflement on a male colleague’s face (years ago) when, upon enquiring if I wanted children, I told him I wasn’t going to answer that question because I didn’t think it had any bearing on me as a person. I believe my first response (before having to qualify it due to his inability to understand) was ‘nope don’t answer that, not relevant, next question’. He just couldn’t compute that I might not want to talk about this topic with someone I didn’t know and worked with. Worked with is the key thing here – we know that there continues to be discrimination in the workplace against women of a certain age who may become a liability to a company by going off on mat leave (see this here from The Guardian in 2015). So why, even if I had the sudden urge to discuss my reproductive abilities with a virtual stranger, would I make myself more vulnerable to workplace discrimination?

Yes some women are mothers, some women aren’t can we just get on board with that concept now. And can we stop pitting women with kids against those without them like this awful patronising piece of rubbish (here) from Kate Spicer in 2013 who uses the term ‘motherhood deniers’ and says she thinks that every woman who says she is happy without children must be lying! Wow for a writer she has a very small imagination, I don’t find it hard at all to think that within the 51% of people in the U.K that identify as women that there might be some that are happy without children. Just think if we freed up all the time we spend competing against other women, or beating ourselves up for our perceived failings, what we could achieve in terms of parity with men.

Today’s news only compounds this issue – why in 2016 are we not questioning why it is still ok for journalists to ask women ‘do you feel like a mum in politics?’ – this is just as problematic as Andrea Leadsom’s reply! (Again Kate Fox’s blog today is an excellent read)

I have plenty of friends with kids and I respect their decision to start families and vitally they respect my decisions too. They don’t see my current childlessness as a comment on their life choices and nor should they. So can we all just take a moment to consider what messages things like these memes sends out to women and respect everyone’s decisions – whether they match our own or not.



Comedians, Comedy research, Gender

Some Whitstable sunshine

This week I went along to the Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter As Resistance? Conference. The event was a collaboration between the University of Kent’s Centre for Critical Thought, Centre for Comic and Popular Performance and the Aesthetics Research Centre. I also snuck a day off from marking on the Bank Holiday Monday and ambled about on a beach (see image above) – huge win for me.

One of the major draws of a conference like this is the chance to explore the diversity of approaches taken to humour and engage with people from such a wide range of disciplines. I expected many of the papers to be way out of my comfort zone but actually that was part of the fun. A reminder of just how much there is out there that you know nothing about is liberating – I am consciously incompetent of even more things than before.

Day one kicked off with James Williams discussing a Deleuzian critique of existing theories of humour (incl. Critchley and Freud). Although this felt a bit less like being thrown in at the deep end and more pushed into the shark tank at an aquarium, this presentation has enabled me to find a more definite articulation of one of the key aspects of my methodology. Although I am sure Williams’ presentation, which was discussing ‘Process Philosophy – How does critique operate when everything is connected?’ had much greater significance for others in attendance, I found what I did grasp illuminating and useful.

It reinforced for me why I have always been frustrated by a content analysis approach to comedy research. My decision to go beyond straightforward content analysis in my own methodology is precisely because by objectifying the humour (making it fixed and reducing it to words so it can be analysed) you remove the context, the before and after, and attempting to remove it from this context is unhelpful and naïve. As Williams put it (according to my hastily scribbled notes) we should be considering the multiplicity of these disruptive events of humour, getting beyond the binary found in the likes of Critchley and Freud (where only two different series are at play, the ‘norm’ and the ‘disruptive’, in terms of incongruity).

So basically the first keynote had me questioning my own existence. I can actually still feel my brain thinking. I’m not a fixed thing, I am a process and I am becoming. Mind blown.

Other highlights included Dr Shaun May’s discussion of the neurodiveristy movement’s use of humour in highlighting the flaws in neurotypical pathologising of autism and Asperger’s, and Dr Rosie White’s paper on the work of Kathy Burke in queering understandings of femininity. Having been inspired by Rosie’s work on Lizzie and Sarah (a TV comedy created by Jessica Hynes and Julia Davis) and her arguments about the presentation of feminist messages within it, it was great to see her present in person. All attendees also got the chance to have a peek through the current exhibition of comic art as part of the Uni’s Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

Another key aspect of attending this event was the opportunity to meet with other comedy researchers. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time talking through things with Kate Fox (based at University of Leeds) whose own practice-based research is exploring a similar theme to my own (decidedly non-practice-based) research. The opportunity to talk to other comedy researchers is invaluable. The chance to be challenged and reassured is helpful when, as a PhD student, you spend so much time fighting the fight solo. Kate is also conducting qualitative interviews and so discussing the complexities of the ethical aspects of this, and how this will fit alongside the analysis we are both conducting, made me feel a million times more energised for what is left to achieve.

So, all in all, a really engaging and worthwhile event for me. One that I am still processing.

A Sorry State of Affairs

Comedy research, Gender, self-deprecation, Teaching


I’ve been so busy but I have finally managed to find some time to draft a response to a comedy conference’s call for papers. I’ve decided that I’ll focus on self-deprecation, a topic I’m exploring as part of my research and something that really winds me up. (fingers crossed it gets accepted)

As a general rule I find it very difficult to listen to people being negative about themselves, not just in terms of comic performance but in my day to day interactions with people too. I think the amazing comedian Kristen Schaal sums this habit up best and funniest….


Hearing people talk negatively about themselves, be it because of their weight, their appearance or some perceived flaw they think they have, makes me feel that I should be apologising for that fault as well, as I too deviate from the current idealised version of a woman. I don’t like being made to feel like I’m being invited to collude in that negative thinking and I certainly don’t want to reinforce how you feel about yourself, firstly because I don’t think it’s a true reflection of your worth as a human being (we are all our own harshest critics), and secondly because I don’t like the way it makes me feel like I should be ashamed of aspects of myself either. I like myself just fine thanks very much.

Unfortunately self-deprecation in day to day life is a slippery thing to pin down. I do my absolute best not to put myself down or engage in negative chat about myself. However, women have historically used self-deprecation to appease those who struggle with the idea of women with power – power over their own bodies, power in the world of work or power over their own opinions. By lowering our own status in this way, we have been acquiescing to the needs of others (and others’ egos) and somehow softening the challenge to another’s sense of self. Why would we ever want to come across as less than our best selves? Unfortunately it’s so ingrained in our culture that we do it without thinking, as just a way we communicate about ourselves to others. This is obviously then reinforced and emphasised by the critique of women in the mainstream media and god-awful women’s magazines.

So having said all this I have noticed that it is a really really hard habit to break and is not at all straightforward. I’ll give an example  – my new year’s resolution this year was to apologise less. Sounds odd right, but my constant need to apologise was getting out of hand. The number of emails I send that start with the sentence ‘sorry to bother you’ or ‘I know you must be busy but’ is OFF THE CHART.

I seem to fall into the ‘sorry’ trap in correspondence more so than in person and also when I am really busy and don’t have chance to check myself (I have sent at least 2 emails this week which I wish I could recall and delete the numerous apologies therein). I think in the real world I can hear myself about to say the words and pull myself back from the edge just in time. Plus in-person there’s more room for nuance and context than in stone cold black and white text. By apologising I’m not really self-deprecating in the same way, I’m not saying there is a flaw in me, but I am creating the idea that someone else’s time or feelings about something should take precedent over mine. Somehow I am in the wrong for asking for their help or requiring attention. I draw your attention to the interesting work of comedian, writer and director of the Bath Literature Festival  Viv Groksop in an article she penned for the Guardian last year about women and the word sorry (here).

Last year I wrote the following in an email to my PhD supervisors. I sent them through my RF2 report (a major/ stressful part of the process of submitting my work) to get their feedback in advance of the assessment. When one mentioned she was printing it out, as not to read it from the screen, I responded with a textbook

“Yeah it is a bit of an epic, sorry”

ARRRGGHHHH. This was in regard to a piece of work I had worked my absolute hardest on – seriously why would I do that?

Luckily for me another one of my supervisors immediately shot back with

‘never apologise for hard work’

They called me out on it and rightly so. When I am finished there are going to be plenty of people that’ll want to tear that work down (haters gonna hate) and I should be proud of the good work I do – not apologise to people for having to read it. Be self-critical sure, reflect on what it is you are doing, but self-deprecation is not helpful to anyone. I am going to do my absolute best to not only stop ‘sorry-ing’ all over the shop but also to check others too. I have so far achieved this once this week when one of my students started an email with ‘Sorry it’s probably a dumb question’ to which I responded ‘Don’t apologise and don’t feel bad for asking questions – it’s how we all learn stuff’.

Elton got it wrong – annoyingly sorry seems to be the easiest word.





That’s what I’m talking about! (AKA Aisling Bea Take a Bow)

Comedians, Comedy research, Gender

I spend a lot of time talking about comedy panel shows. I’ll be giving a lecture on them in a few weeks time to my very lucky second year students. Part of my research has been to discuss this very topic (amongst other things) with stand-up comedians and comedy audiences to understand the role these programmes play in the wider U.K comedy industry.

There has been huge amount of media coverage about lack of diversity on panel shows in the wake of the BBC’s announcement in 2014 that it would include more women in its comedy programming (see here). This came about because the BBC Trust identified that the comedy output (especially panel shows) were overwhelmingly male. There are obvious failings on many levels of diversity in lots of aspects of public life, but in this instance the BBC were focused on lack of gender parity, and the (then) Director of Television Danny Cohen pledged publicly to put an end to all-male panel shows (in an interview with The Observer, see here). This announcement garnered a significant level of attention in the media with even Newsnight covering it (with Paxman patronisingly referring to the assembled panel of commentators on the subject as ‘testicle free’).

Often some of the sticking points in my conversations with interviewees is what exactly will be different if we include more women in these formats. Will the comedy change? (the idea that female comedians make jokes solely for women still casts its long shadow over any discussions of this nature) How will these formats accommodate women? Will any woman do, or does the fact they are a comedian make a difference? I feel very strongly about the latter as do many people I speak to – having female comics on the panel shows means that they have the SKILLS to be as funny as the male comedians who are team captains or recurring panellists – add in a female actor, newsreader, journalist etc. and it’s very unlikely they will be hilarious (because their talents are elsewhere), reinforcing the ‘men are funnier than women’ stereotype by default. This is also unnecessary as there are loads of female comics that would be awesome on panel shows (see the megalist of people I’ve seen recently).

But now in 2016 and we might actually be starting to see the outcome of this new policy introduced back in 2014. Insert Name Here, a new BBC2 panel show, has a female host, Sue Perkins (sans Mel) and is clearly making a concerted effort to be more inclusive (although as always these things take time). The show that aired on Monday 25th Jan (at 10pm on BBC2) contained within it something that had me punching the air… Aisling Bea please take a bow!

When marriage was flippantly referred to as the best day of a woman’s life (in this case the life of J.K Rowling) Bea swooped in immediately to call ‘Bullshit!’. (18mins in to the episode which will be found here for a little bit whilst it’s still on iPlayer). Her take down of this was not only funny but made the point that this is exactly the kind of old school patriarchal stuff we don’t even spot any more. Her comment, delivered with an incredulous tone – ‘can I just pick bones with ‘the greatest day for a woman, the day you can legally give yourself over to a man?’ – exposed the way that a lot of comedy plays in to and reinforces traditional norms, especially gendered expectations of people.

She then stuck her tongue out at THE MAN. I actually whooped out loud.

So this is it guys, this is what I mean when I say a diversified outlook on life. No the formats don’t have to change, women are more than capable of being just as aggressive or forthcoming as men on panel shows, and no it doesn’t mean it’ll be less funny – what it means is that alternative viewpoints about life will be considered and broadcast. It will impact positively because the humour will be diversified and more reflective of the diversity of our population (ideally longer term in all aspects of diversity – ethnicity, sexuality, ability, age also). Outdated ideas will be challenged – challenged through comedy, rather than reinforced through comedy – which is so often the default setting for panel shows.

If you ever get chance to see Aisling live, do it.



My year in lists

film, Gender

Last January I spotted a link to a list of everything director Steven Soderbergh had watched and read in 2014 (Click here). It intrigued me to see that a) he had bothered to keep a list (in fact he’d been doing this for some time) and that b) his viewing habits were pretty run of the mill (we both love Girls, House of Cards and Veep #Besties). So I thought I’d try the same… in this notebook with an elephant wearing a beret on it (it felt like the right choice).



I decided to keep track of just the films I watched for 2015 (I thought I’d start small and build up to a list of everything I culturally consume).

…..So here is a list of all the films I saw in 2015.

1) I watched 84 films in total (a few instances of multiple viewings – mostly stuff I was teaching with)
2) I watched 38 films in a cinema – indicated with a (C)
3) I re-watched some that I’d seen before – Indicated with a (B4)


1/1/15 – Bambi (1942) Algar, Armstrong et. al.(B4)
2/1/15 – Birdman (2014) Alejandro G. Iñárritu (C)
3/1/15 – Run Lola Run (1998) Tom Tykwer (B4)
4/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott
5/1/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter
6/1/15 – Lost Highway (1997) David Lynch
9/1/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock
10/1/15 – Enough Said (2013) Nicole Holofcener
11/1/15 – Foxcather (2014) Bennett Miller (C)
22/1/15- Educating Rita (1983) Lewis Gilbert (B4)
28/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott (C) (B4)
29/1/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross
30/1/15 – Chef (2014) Jon Favreau
31/1/15 – Ex Machina (2015) Alex Garland (C)
3/2/15 – Our Idiot Brother (2011) Jesse Peretz
4/2/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock (C) (B4)
7/2/15- Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (B4)
10/2/15 – Rashômon (1950) Akira Kurosawa (B4)
20/2/15 – Blood Simple (1984) Joel and Ethan Cohen
25/2/15 – Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (C) (B4)
28/1/15 – When Harry Met Sally (1989) Rob Reiner
28/2/15 – It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell (C)
1/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (B4)
1/3/15 – Gravity (2013) Alfonso Cuarón
4/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (C) (B4)
7/3/15 – The Red and The White (1967) Miklós Jancsó
11/3/15 – The Red and the White (1967) Miklós Jancsó (C) (B4)
15/3/15 – Still Alice (2014) Richard Glatzer (C)
17/3/15 – Locke (2013) Steven Knight
18/3/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross (C) (B4)
21/3/15 – Mulholland Drive (2001) David Lynch (B4)
23/3/15 – Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock (B4)
25/3/15 – Mulholland  Drive (2001) David Lynch (C) (B4)
3/4/15 – While We’re Young (2014) Noah Baumbach (C)
4/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (B4)
5/4/15 – Cinderella (2015) Kenneth Branagh (C)
6/4/15 – A Long Way Down (2014) Pascal Chaumeil
10/4/15 – The Ninth Gate (1999) Roman Polanski
11/4/15 – Wreck it Ralph (2012) Rich Moore (B4)
11/4/15 – Atari: Game Over (2014) Zac Penn
12/4/15 – Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma
18/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (C) (B4)
22/4/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter (C)
2/5/15 – Whip It (2009) Drew Barrymore
4/5/15 – Force Majeure (2014) Ruben Östlund (C)
10/5/15 – Girlhood (2014) Celine Sciamma (C)
16/5/15 – Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) Olivier Assayas (C)
17/5/15 – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) Declan Lowney
19/5/15 – Begin Again (2013) John Carney
30/5/15 – Carnival of Souls (1962) Herk Harvey (C)
31/5/15 – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) Elizabeth Banks (C)
13/6/15 – Jurassic World (2015) Colin Trevorrow (C)
14/6/15 – London Road (2015) Rufus Norris (C)
19/6/15 – The Two Faces of January (2014) Hossein Amini
19/6/15 – Mr Holmes (2015) Bill Condon (C)
25/6/15 – The Wicker Man (1973) Robin Hardy (C) (B4)
27/6/15 – Tracks (2013) John Curran
1/7/15 – The Heat (2013) Paul Feig
3/7/15 – Amy (2015) Asif Kapadia (C)
11/7/15 – Before I Go To Sleep (2014) Rowan Joffe
12/7/15 – Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles (B4)
15/7/15 – The Fog (1980) John Carpenter
16/7/15 – Enemy (2013) Denis Villeneuve
24/6/15 – Inside Out (2015) Pete Docter (C)
25/7/15 – Fatal Attraction (1987) Adrian Lyne
30/7/15 – Love is Strange (2014) Ira Sachs
31/7/15 – A Single Man (2009) Tom Ford
29/8/15 – Side Effects (2013) Steven Soderbergh (B4)
5/9/15 – Trainwreck (2015) Judd Apatow (C)
24/9/15 – The Babadook (2014) Jennifer Kent
26/9/15 – 99 Homes (2014) Ramin Bahrani (C)
30/10/15 – The Intern (2015) Nancy Meyers (C)
2/11/15 – Suffragette (2015) Sarah Gavron (C)
21/11/15 – The Lady in The Van (2015) Nicholas Hytner (C)
14/11/15 – Steve Jobs (2015) Danny Boyle (C)
5/12/15 – Carol (2015) Todd Haynes (C)
15/12/15 – Another Country (1984) Marek Kanievska
18/12/15 – Mean Girls (2004) Mark Waters (B4)
19/12/15 – Sisters (2015) Jason Moore (C)
20/12/15 – A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Brian Henson (B4)
21/12/15 – Gremlins (1984) Joe Dante (C) (B4)
22/12/15 – Senna (2010) Asif Kapadia
27/12/15 – Meet Me in St Louis (1944) Vincente Minnelli (C)
28/12/15 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) J.J Abrams (C)

I was really lucky to be able to see so many up on the big screen – the film narrative module at SHU, on which I was delivering seminars, holds all lectures and screenings in a cinema to enable this (The Showroom).

The films that stood out for me this year were Carol, which I loved, 99 Homes and Amy, but also Force Majeure (which many did not enjoy… including the box office guy at HOME who, when selling me a ticket for another film, noticed on my records I’d seen it recently and gave me his pretty brutal appraisal of it). The central moment of the film really stayed with me. The film explores a close call with an avalanche and the repercussions of fight of flight behaviour – the abandonment in the moment as terrifying as the near natural disaster itself.

Interestingly for me Steven kept a list for 2015 too (Click here) although it seems he was really into Magic Mike XXL…. so maybe not besties after all.

The first film I saw this year was The Danish Girl, which I was a bit disappointed with. More importantly on the way in (AMC Manchester) I was given a survey by some idiotic cinema marketing company…. first question on the survey (no kidding)… bear in mind The Danish Girl is a film about the complexities of gender identity…..


So not even worded as ‘How would you describe your gender identity?’ and no 3rd box, really, in 2016?!! Gender is not a binary issue as explored IN THE FILM YOU ARE SURVEYING ME ABOUT.

Also question 18 on this form was ‘rate the following characters…’ with absolutely no indication of what you were supposed to rate them against. Height? Fashion sense? Believability?

The marketeers need to enrol on the Research Methods course I did as part of prep for my research…. then they’d learn not to ask so many stupid questions.