Sophie McCook

BBC Scriptwriter & Author of New Book Thinkless

A number of years ago, I was having one of my abortive meetings at the BBC regarding a promising script I’d written. The script was about a subject that the producer was (tbh) not that interested in. So we played a kind of verbal Ouija board, where he and I tried to agree on the kind of scripts the BBC was looking for. Cheap? Yes. Gritty? Oh yes. About the North of England? Well, that is very current, currently. Did he mention Cheap? Comedy? Yes! Yes, he liked comedy. But a few paragraphs later, he backtracked and said that comedy by women about women was a challenge. Being a women, I challenged him. This was just before Miranda had tripped over her first hallway rug. In my back pocket was a really good female comedy script, ‘Nancy Girl’ that had been group written by myself and some of my funniest female friends. It was very funny. It was based on the 80s comedy ‘Agony’ starring Maureen Lipman, whose writing team had included a female member. I gave our script an airing. The producer sighed, he stirred his guacamole with a breadstick. ‘Female comedy is very hard to sell. In these days of financial constraint….’etc.

Just as every girl in the house does not do prattfalls or crash into glass windows, they also don’t continuously gyrate over sports cars, washing them with impractically soapy water. Our BBC paid-for lunch time meal didn’t last long-enough for me to reprogram his TV brain. But maybe if I’d said my female protagonist was Twerky instead of quirky, that might have caught his attention. On the train home, I started to sketch out my script protagonist, and Nancy eventually became Miriam.

Can women be cost-effectively funny? We’re not as bankable as guys, who are just more reliably funny apparently. But then, no-one is as funny as millions of cats falling off tables, and they’re just cats and not particularly clever ones.  And there’s so much to laugh about right now; gay rain, concrete tube fails, zombie rat ships and Scarlett Johansson with her soda stream bomb. I also had a fab argument with an aggressive racist soldier who’s views were so far right of planet Earth, I wanted to fight all night. It threatened to go comic. (Is it a crime to incite racists?)

Lee Mack wrote a thesis on this subject. He says women comedians are less successful because they’re not natural show offs. Germaine Greer believes ladies don’t remember punchlines; we are senile eunuchs (boom boom). Christopher Hitchens says that women are not genetically disposed to being funny, because the guys are only really looking at their chests.  Without going so far as making a Groucho Mask bra – (I’m going to actually do that later, but ONLY for my own enjoyment) – there must be a way of making it normal to be funny and lady-like.

I absolutely do not agree that guys are just more muscular in the funny joints. My favourite comedy book of all time, one that has inspired my style, was written by a women on the subject of science in America. It is called ‘How to tell a Proton from a Crouton’ and was a hit at the time, but then disappeared from view.  Although a returning writer for Discover Magazine, Judith Stone only wrote one such book (she retitled it – I would never do a cheap thing like that) . Maybe female science comedy was a hard sell?

The the thing is, lonely hearts columns are full of ladies who look for a guy with a GSOH. So if we actually find jokes funny, why can’t we be allowed to join in? I have a hunch (it’s a writer thing – too many hours leaning over faded screens) that girls are primed to think that they are conversationalists. I am one of the world’s worst small talkers. I do lots of ‘non talk’ and go straight to ‘big talk.’ To try and get the laughs I crave, I make puns and quips. Half of them come from so left of field that people simply weren’t ready for them and can’t process them. But conversation is meant to be fluid and flat. If you drive your Vauxhall over it, you should still be able to drink your coffee. My conversation is so jagged, bumpy and full of crevasses, you’ve saturated your trousers and scalded your knees.

Sorry about that.

The main thing I believe that stumps the funny woman is confidence. I’m often driven to write dumb things on social networks and half of those get deleted as soon as my brain says – ‘Now there is a chance THIS makes you look a bit of a klutz. Are you sure you want to continue saying that?’

I’ve decided that over the next few months I’m going to go for full Klutz control, and no matter what my subconscious says to me, I won’t delete.


Categories: Blog

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