Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Brilliant black comics? The BBC Needs YOU!

The BBC head of Comedy Commissioning, Lucy Lumsden, has spoken in The Stage of her frustration at how “white and male led” most of the pitches she receives are, and her desire to encourage more diversity in submissions. Here’s what she had to say on the matter.

‘The majority of all our ideas are male-led, single camera shows and they are usually white male-led. It is still a very white male industry and white males tend to write about their own lives.

‘Just as it is difficult for women to break through into comedy because they feel it is not their domain, I am sure it is incredibly difficult for black and Asian writers.

‘But if you have a show that speaks to them, suddenly that changes that. They then feel it is a show they can contribute to and not that they are working within this white male world.”

She cited the upcoming hip-hop sitcom Trexx and Flipside as redressing the balance a little.

In this she echoes recent comments made by Lenny Henry –whose married to the Vicar of Dibley and is most memorable recently for his starring role in Extras- complaining of mainstream broadcastings failure to integrate black people into their programming.

Do they have a point? Lumsden is certainly in a position to know. The question is more “why?” It’s not like there’s a shortage of talented black or Asian comic minds: The live circuit is thrumming with them. Reginald D Hunter sold out his entire Edinburgh run last year and gets a decent share of TV work, yet somehow he still feels like a loan voice as a black stand up in the UK. It doesn’t seem to be the case in America- where black-led sitcoms and sketch shows are ratings staples and black stand-ups are hugely popular, most of which achieve equal popularity over here: Chris Rock probably sold more tickets, faster than any other touring comic in the UK in 2007. So why are our own talents finding it so hard to get a commission? If the head of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC is actively looking for this stuff and it’s not appearing then something, surely, is blocking the way?

There’s a horrible sense that should the really talented stuff not get to the top then the Beeb will carry on commissioning any old shit just because it ticks the box. Which is the only possible reason for the continued appearance of Little Miss Jocelyn on the books.

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