Being on a comedy panel show is like having sex with someone you hate.
You know it’s a career move, but you feel rather awful after you’ve done it.
I appeared on ‘Have I got News for you’ in November 2001. At that point I had only been doing stand up comedy for a year. I wasn’t experienced enough to do the show, and thought it would be a bit like Stringfellows- one woman being stared at by many men. But armed with a couple of gags and a burkha, I went on.
I was on the show with Boris Johnson who was funnier, prettier, and better dressed than me. I was on Ian Hislop’s team. He was lovely and made me feel very comfortable; it’s hard not to like the man when he looks like your favourite teddy bear. Before I’d arrived at the studios I had no idea what I was meant to be talking about or given any clues.
I was so nervous on air I kept banging my leg against the table underneath, I hit Ian Hislop a few times, I bet he thought, ‘This woman’s a bit forward’ Sorry Ian, It was just nerves.
For a comedian, the most desirable show to be on is ‘Have I Got News For You?’
These guys know what they’re doing, they do it every week, are confident and intelligent.
Some panel shows use a simple tried and tested formula: Funny men + Totty = hilarious comedy show. Whilst the men are being funny the women can be sexy, cute and flirtatious. Why on earth would they need funny women on there as well? The Big Fat Quiz of the Year has had Denise Van Outen, Claudia Winkleman Lily Allen, Cat Deeley and Trisha Goddard! Their partners have been male comedians.Why can’t we have Funny women + Pretty men, I’d clamour to get on that show, as would lots of other female comics. I’d love to be on a show drooling over Dermot O’ Leary and Vernon Kay.
If you are a comedian these days the main vehicle for getting on TV is a panel show.
But who would want to go on one? I have friends who have been on ‘Mock the Week’ who say, “Never again!” You really have to fight, shout, be rude, arrogant and cocky to get a word in. This is male dominated arena, though some women do well. Gina Yashere is great when she appears on Mock the Week, but then there’s nothing like a funny brash black woman to make a white, slightly repressed middle class Cambridge boy nervous. They wouldn’t dare interrupt.
There are always complaints from people who say, “Why don’t we see enough women on these shows?” Well a lot of female comics don’t want to go on there, some go on and never get asked back, some just never get asked. They find other places to shine, like on their own sitcom, or in a sketch show where they don’t have to be so aggressive and fight to be heard.
My tip for doing well on a panel show is pretend you’re a bloke on a building site- shout, scream, swear, get friendly with the edit man and have an ammunition of quick one liners