Stephanie Smith: Women need more space in which to be funny

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“When Godfrey met Victoria” has to be my favourite BBC comedy quiz moment of all time.

If you haven’t seen it, go online and watch (my written description can’t do it justice), but it was Have I Got News for You last November, when comedian Victoria Coren Mitchell guested opposite Godfrey Bloom, the Ukip member who’s been sitting as an independent MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside since last September, after a recording emerged of him joking that a bunch of Ukip women who didn’t clean behind their fridges were “sluts”.

The programme featured a 30-year-old photo of Mr Bloom at a stag party, his face buried in the naked chest of a woman (apparently, it’s published in his autobiography). Well, no matter what he or anyone else thought, this was not an amusing image. I felt uncomfortable, queasy and sad looking at it. Fortunately, Victoria Coren Mitchell didn’t let it pass, pointing out, sensibly and with her disgust evident but not elaborate, that perhaps, for the woman, standing there “in just her pants” while a man in a suit rubbed his face in her cleavage was “not the greatest night of her life”.

It was a direct but non-aggressive challenge that made you stop, think and laugh. The Twitter appreciation for Coren Mitchell that night was buzzing, especially from women, sharing delight at her clever, un-malicious and very funny brand of savaging.

It’s rare to find humour that really chimes in TV shows like Have I Got News For You, and Mock The Week. I enjoy them, but feel a little left out, like I’m the only girl at a boy’s birthday party, where they all wrestle and josh about just as they always do, but a couple of the kinder boys occasionally give me a smile and ask if I’d like to play too.

They need more women like Victoria Coren Mitchell. The BBC knows this, and it was recently announced that the corporation would no longer make panel shows without women. I’m guessing that means one, at least.

But there seems to be shortage of women ready and willing to take part. Victoria Wood once complained about the “testosterone-fuelled nature” of shows that “rely on men topping each other”, while Jo Brand has also voiced fears about competitive aggression.

The BBC needs to consider its quiz show format, making it more appealing to both female comedy guests and female TV viewers.

Women are funny, especially to other women, and hopefully in the future, women will be funny to more men, too, if the female style of humour is given space to flourish. After all, it’s just like men’s humour – except that women are more concerned with making points than winning them.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ