Is it just me or is all comedy in the UK a bit pale, male and stale? Whilst Americans have a plethora of hilarious and intelligent female comedians making movies, writing sketches, hosting awards shows and doing stand up, on the greyer side of the pond we’re lumbered with a bunch of belligerent blokes making only each other guffaw on tired panel show after tired panel show.
You can often find the British sneering at American culture, calling it vulgar, brash, loud or annoying, but, as an experiment, compare Obvious Child, Frances Ha or The Skeleton Twins with any episode of any UK panel show. In the former, you’ll find compelling, strong-willed and sympathetic female characters (who’ve often written the films themselves, or at least another female has): the latter will feature 5 braying men and 1 woman and she’ll often just spend the entire 30 minutes rolling her eyes at the boys’ barrel-scraping UKIP-joke twaddle.
Parks and Recreation finished in America the other night. As I’m here in the UK, I obviously haven’t yet had a chance to see it, but for the love of god I love that show. Leslie Knope and her small-town box of misfits have made me laugh and cry simultaneously in most episodes, and Amy Poehler single-handedly carried the show from its small beginnings to its end. The debate isn’t, as it seems to be in the UK, are women funny?, but rather just how funny/brilliant/heart-warming/moving are women on screen – small or silver – when compared to men. A hell of a lot more.
Recent massive US comedies: Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, Lena Dunham’s Girls, Parks and Recreation, SNL. All female led, all acerbically demonstrating that ‘female-led’ doesn’t have to mean anything at all, except perhaps ‘much, much better’. Recent massive UK comedies: … Derek? I genuinely can’t think of anything else, and Derek, compared to The Office or Extras, was pretty poor.
Next week we have the absolute pleasure of releasing Desiree Akhavan’s APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR in the UK. Without wanting to shout about how this is yet more proof of the US’s gargantuan outstripping of the UK when it comes to funny women on screen, I will say this: as writer, director and star of the film, at a time when making a film is becoming more and more difficult, let alone making it brilliant, and not one of this year’s director nominations at the Oscars went to a woman, this film is a staggering achievement. Akhavan is an Iranian female making movies in a sea of white men: that in itself is to be commended.
I’m writing this as she’s about to hit the UK tomorrow to start her Q&A cinema tour (not to mention a silly amount of press), and I’m hoping, hoping, that some of that wonderful female funny will rub off on our pale, male, stale comedy culture.
Will C-H, 27th Feb 2015.