Women are funny. No, that’s not a misogynist comment, comedians who happen to be female are as funny, often more funny, than their male colleagues. That statement may sound as misogynist as the first line, but the subject of women in comedy has been the subject of books, TV documentaries and University dissertations. Comedy is still a male dominated industry, but the balance is shifting.
To be fair it’s been shifting over many years. Most people refer back to the 1980’s “alternative comedy” scene where the likes of French and Saunders, Jo Brand and Jenny Eclair came to the fore. This was primarily in the field of stand-up which, with the exception of a certain Miss Joan Rivers, has been a virtually exclusive “Boys Club”. Women did fair better in sit-com land, in America anyway. Lucille Ball’s antics in I Love Lucy dominated the 1960’s and Mary Tyler Moore picked up the mantle and carried it onto the 1970’s with The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) and Rhoda (1974-77) which were both made by her production company MTM. But these shows were still largely written by men. In the UK in the 1970’s Carla Lane broke the mould with The Liver Birds, a show written by a woman about two female flat mates (a format this still works today as we shall see shortly).
But three of this week’s stand out comedies all have female central roles and they were laugh out loud funny. Derry Girls is written Lisa McGee and manages to find humour in the lives of four catholic girls living in Derry, all set with the backdrop of the troubles. Initially this might not appear as the most promising of premises (I would love to have been in the pitching meeting when that one was proposed) but the humour of the four leads shines out. Critics, or should I say “other critics”, have hailed it as a “female Inbetweeners”. Whether they are the same critics who hailed E4’s Drifters as the “female Inbetweeners” and where so chuffed with the comparison they wanted to use it again, or whether they completely missed Drifters and think they are the first to use it, I don’t know, but the point stands…it is like a female Inbetweeners.
What I think is so remarkable about the programme is that by the end of episode one, you had a clear idea of each of the characters traits and foibles. Whether this is down to the writing or acting, I don’t know, but unlike many sit coms which are “growers”, this one works straight out of the box. What’s also unusual is that there is no one stand out dominant character (well ok, maybe one). It’s a real ensemble piece and I still haven’t worked out who I like the best. Is it Erin, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who’s facial gymnastics could challenge Rowan Atkinson. Or swotty Clare (Nicola Coughlan), hard faced Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) or Orla (Louise Harland) who seems to spend most of her time on another planet. I’ve even got a soft spot for the nun headmistress Sister Michael (now there is a line I didn’t think that I would say when I woke up this morning) playe by Siobhan McSweeney. Oh and there is the “wee English fella” as well, but I’m afraid all the men are all overshadowed by the women in this show.
Witless (BBC 3 and iPlayer) returned for its third series this week. I’m not going to explain the ins and outs of the plot. It would be like trying to explain what happened in the lead up the Red Wedding in Games of Throne, but in a nutshell though it’s about two flatmates (I told we would come back to that scenario) who witness a gang land killing and go into witness protection. Yeah, on paper that summary sounds about a humorous as a sit com set during the troubles, but it is very funny. Kerry Howard steals the show but Zoe Boyle provides an excellent foil to this most unlikely double act. The good news is that all 3 series are on iPlayer so you can binge watch all three series in one go. Go on, there’s only 15 of them. Treat yourself.
It would take you a bit longer to binge watch 2 Broke Girls as it’s now into its sixth and final series. Originally created by Whitney Cummings (who you remember from the Comedy Central series Whitney. No. It was just me that watched that then) and Michael Patrick King. The premise of this is that a disgraced millionaire, Caroline, end ups working in a diner to make ends meet and ends up sharing a flat (here we go again) with her co-worker, the street wise, wise cracking, constantly smirking, Max. Oh, and Caroline’s horse Chestnut lives with them (but less so after season two. Presumably the horse put up his rates or something, but he only seems to appear in two episodes per season these days). The driving narrative is that the girls (I’m not being sexist, I can call them girls as that is the title of the programme) are trying to make enough money to set up a cup cake business, which they did in season two…and then it went down a bit downhill.
The problem with having such a simple yet strong narrative is that once they achieved it, it was effectively game over. But it was popular so they dragged it out for five more seasons. I have persevered with this for six years now and feel that I need to complete it. I have watched 128 episodes and so have to watch the last ten for closure, even though it pains me at times. It’s always been a “broad brush strokes” kind of a comedy with stereotypical characters but there is still usually at least one good “zinger” in there.
Personally, I think this will be the last series of Witless as I think it will have run its course. Derry Girls, like the Inbetweeners before them (did I mention it was a like a “female Inbetweeners”?) will be limited by the age of the cast. As with The Inbetweeners the cast are all in their early twenties anyway and overtime it will be harder to keep playing teenagers. Perhaps 2 Broke Girls could have learnt a lesson from the UK. Quit when you are ahead.