From Channel 4’s Derry Girls & Catastrophe to RTE’s Nowhere Fast, female-led Irish comedies are coming thick and fast. Watching Irish comedy on television usually means watching something written and directed by a man.
For all the deserved admiration bestowed on
The better news is that after years of being sidelined or mostly represented by Sharon Horgan (co-writer of and the mind behind Pulling, Divorce, Catastrophe and Motherland) or on panel shows (hello Aisling Bea) it leads a new wave of Irish women playing a central role in TV comedy.
The TV industry is still a boys’ club – says Catastrophe star Sharon Horgan
There’s Can’t Cope Won’t Cope, which is now on Netflix, about two
Then RTE followed it with another female-led
The realist comedy of these shows is what unites them.
They’re peppered with the minutiae of everyday life, from finding out an ex has a baby (“A baby what? A human baby?” in Can’t Cope) to a bomb scare closing a bridge in Derry Girls (“I’m not enjoying this bomb. I’ve an appointment at Tropicana at 12.”).
Can’t Cope Won’t Cope writer Stefanie Preissner thinks the influx talent makes sense when you look into Ireland’s matriarchal family set-up.
“I suspect that many Irish people have always found the women in their family to be the ones driving the humour,” says Lisa McGee, who based Derry Girls on her childhood. “It’s possible that the more traditional comedy set-ups, which will probably always be around, needed refreshing. Derry is an interesting setting in this respect, as it has always seemed to be a heavily matriarchal society where women tend to be outspoken and forthright.”
The Derry Girls’ quick wit, potty mouths and perfectly-pitched takedowns are rich material for entertaining telly-watching. Daft, profane and absolutely brilliant its is the funniest thing on TV
“It’s said that Irish people are funnier because they’ve developed humour as a coping mechanism for the terrible stuff that’s happened in our past,” says Stefanie Preissner. “If that’s true, humour is bound to be ingrained in the DNA of Irish women given the horrors we’ve dealt with. We’ve just had a case of a woman who was wrongly charged with murder. We had the Magdalene Laundries. And we still can’t have safe abortions in this country. Historically, there hasn’t been much respect for women in this country.”
Things are shifting though thanks in part to a grassroots push to modernise Ireland, a move that began with the campaign for marriage equality in 2014.
“It brought people together who felt there was inequality in Ireland, and that showed us what could be achieved,” says Alison Spittle.
As soon as that battle was won, energy turned towards other social injustices, and is currently focused on the abortion debate, which comes to a head with a referendum this summer.
“Now, there’s real support between women. People will tweet about funny women they’ve seen and it’s become a community,” says Spittle, who organised a number of Women in Comedy meet-ups to share ideas and form collaborations. Hand in hand with the support is the rising confidence of budding female TV makers ready to carve out their own opportunities rather than rely on the limited, and thus risk-averse, slots that the small Irish industry affords.
“I’ve been in writers’ room for pilots of sketch shows where I was the only woman,” says Spittle. “I’d leave thinking I was really unfunny, having been talked over, ignored and had my ideas repeated back to me. I quickly realised that there wasn’t much space for women in comedy, and that’s when I decided to write my own show.”
Hopefully, seeing authentic characters on screen will only encourage more women to get involved, and the structure is now set for rising talent to
“I know Can’t Cope was well-liked, but it was my first output and so
Plus the financial advantages of co-productions and international distribution, means national broadcasters like RTE are investing in new comedy again. So fans of Derry Girls and Can’t Cope Won’t Cope, fear not – there’s plenty more where that came from.
Credit – Thanks to writer Shilpa Ganatra & the Guardian UK.
PS – If you are a female comedy writer be on the lookout for news calling for new half hours radio scripts for the 2019 series of Comedy Showhouse funded by RTE Radio1 and the BAI.