I agree with gender equality, just not comedy panel shows

It’s been widely reported of late how head of the BBC’s television output, Danny Cohen, told the Observer: “We’re not going to have any more panel shows with no women on them. It’s not acceptable.”

Some may be cheering at this news but I was gutted after re-reading The Guardian’s coverage. I somehow, desperately, thought he’d said: “We’re not going to have any more panel shows ever again.”

I dislike comedy panel shows intensely, regardless of whether they have a gender equality policy or not.

I haven’t always disliked them. I believe they were – or could – be original and interesting. I loved Shooting Stars after hearing my friend Angela singing George Dawes’ songs down the corridors at school.


I enjoyed the Mark Lamarr/Simon Amstell eras of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, because they were the right side of mean to people who deserved it, and I even like the Lee Mack versus David Mitchell battles on Would I Lie To You?


Mock The Week and QI (bar Stephen Fry) are the main offenders from the BBC while 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Celebrity Juice just add insult to injury.

To illustrate my point fully, here’s my interpretation of the format of every comedy panel show on television at the moment.

  • Opening theme
  • The host says something smart and usually inappropriate about the subject matter of the programme. They introduce the panels, which usually include an upcoming comedian and a well-known celebrity, and the team captains. Everyone claps
  • The host may something to one of the team captains. It’s usually insulting but it’s OK because the audience is laughing
  • The host then introduces the first round
  • The round begins and someone unwittingly says something that’s ripe for a good old piss take. The comedian on the opposing team takes the piss and it’s really mean. Everyone (even the victim to show they don’t take themselves seriously), including the host, laughs hysterically and claps
  • Every time a comedian tells a joke, the dialogue stops. The audience claps loads and the comedian sits and stars into the middle distance pretending not to love that everyone’s cheering and whistling for them
  • The next round begins and the piss taking begins again. The person (usually the guest celebrity) who’s being made fun of shows some fire and stands up for themselves. The piss taker gets annoyed because they’ve been outsmarted. They shout over the celebrity to prove they are much more intelligent, funny, credible, etcetera. The audience whistles and claps. The piss-taker smile smugly as the applause continues. The celebrity isn’t offended really because they’ve gotten some publicity for their new product.
  • Yet more piss-taking continues into the third round. The host might have a go also. Someone may even walk out of the studio. The audience continues to find it funny whatever happens
  • The winning team is announced
  • The host ends the show with yet another observation no-one in real life would laugh at, but the audience does

What’s so funny about any of the above? Why show the same set up, made ‘different’ because of the theme, every week? Why insult the viewers’ intelligence, assuming people are entertained and engaged with this?

For me, comedy panel shows in their current form promote negative relationships between people on a wider scale. It justifies that, as long as you can be mean and show someone up in a funny way, it’s socially acceptable to be horrible. There’s no clever comedy in sight, just banter similar to working in an office.  You know; the one up man ship, thinly veiled insults and non-hilarity.

The only positive of comedy panel shows is they can showcase up and coming comedians on a national stage. But there are other ways to do this such as Live At The Apollo, news and chat show interviews. This reason doesn’t justify the panel show to me.

While my argument against comedy panels isn’t down to the lack of women appearing on them, they are dominated by men. Mock The Week and QI are currently littered with male comedians acting far too pleased with them selves. And when women do speak up, they get metaphorically shot down. A good example is Would I Lie To You? host Rob Brydon permitting the rest of the panellists’ to ask questions but when Kate Silverton from BBC News tries, he tells her to be quiet.


However, I genuinely don’t get how introducing more women onto these shows will make comedy panel shows more acceptable. These shows are already a flawed model in my eyes. How will they become more acceptable if they follow the same rules but with more women? Will the format change?  Only time will tell. But for now, my telly is turned off when it comes to comedy panel shows.


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