Amnesty International and Mock the Week under fire for not booking female acts


This week two of our better known comedy institutions have been under fire for not booking enough female talent. 

The return of Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Ball has been set for Sunday 4 March.  Multi award-winners Coldplay, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and comedian and actor Russell Brand are to be joined by a 'stellar cast' of fellow stars from the world of entertainment to commemorate 50 years of Amnesty International at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. It’s the first time the Ball has been held outside of the UK.

Whilst the Ball is claiming to bring together an incredible representation of the best comedians and musicians in the world there are no women on the bill so far, although we can only assume that several high profile female performers have been approached but were not available.  

This has been perceived in some circles as a 'wilful disregard for women artistes', particularly as the event is happening in New York and the focus is on worldwide talent. “There are plenty of funny, satirical, political, human rights focussed, freedom of expression female commentators, musicians and comedians all around the world,” cites one critic who prefers to remain anonymous. “Why are there none in this line up? It sends a very bad message out about women.”

Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen comments: "Amnesty has always enjoyed working with funny women. You only need to look at our latest episode of Amnesty TV and you'll see Sarah Pascoe at the top of the bill.

"We’ve always enjoyed top-class humour from female comedians who take part in Amnesty's annual Edinburgh Festival comedy gig, Stand Up for Freedom. And since the return of the Secret Policeman’s Ball six years ago, Amnesty has always had female talent on its stage, including Shappi Khorsandi and Sarah Millican representing two of Britain’s finest female talent.

“We look forward to having more funny women at this year’s Secret Policeman’s Ball in New York next month.  As for who exactly?  Well, watch this space. We’ll be announcing a few names very shortly!”

Meanwhile Mock The Week has also been criticised for not putting enough women on screen. The panel show has been criticised for featuring only ‘token’ female faces in a report commissioned by the BBC for the Creative Diversity Network.

The report stated: ‘Some panel shows were criticised for rarely having women represented or only having ‘token women’ on their programmes. Comedy shows, such as QI or Mock the Week, as well as current affairs programmes such as Question Time were implicated in this.’

The report came as Tory MP Nadine Dorries cited Mock The Week’s male bias as part of her ongoing campaign against sexism in the BBC.  She tweeted ‘Not a single woman on Mock the Week, not one, two panels plus chair, all male #bbcsexism.’   The fact remains that over the past seven years of Mock The Week, only 45 of the panellists have been women – that is just 9.7 per cent of the guests booked in total.

This view of tokenism has long been a bone of contention for those of us intent on promoting women in comedy and on other public platforms.  During a conversation with a male comedy promoter this week, the issue was raised that women acts don’t always appear to want to do circuit gigs, and indeed high profile female comics like Jo Brand and Victoria Wood have been quoted as saying they don’t enjoy going on the panel shows.  Is this agent power or a real reluctance for female acts to put themselves out there? 

“We are constantly arguing the case for great female talent,” says Lynne Parker, founder and executive producer of Funny Women.  “The Funny Women Awards are now in their 10th year and we are still regularly seeing a turnover of 3-400 female acts through the competition and our regular showcases.  We are confident that the talent exists. It’s up to promoters, producers and television commissioners to give these women a platform or we’ll never change the media landscape.”

Registration for the 2012 Funny Women Awards is now open – to find out how you can enter read HERE.