Fin Taylor created and performed one of the stand-out shows of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Whitey McWhiteface was a ruthlessly funny, angry and articulate discussion of white privilege that received universal acclaim.
Ahead of Fin taking the show to Soho Theatre next week, the comic took the time to write on the subject of diversity in the media.
Earlier this month, The Daily Mail reported that Jon Holmes had been ‘sacked’ from the Now Show because he was ‘a white man’. He has since come out and said that those were not his words although this tweet definitely was his:
‘Sad to announce I’ve been axed from @BBCNowShow as ‘we want to recast with more women and diversity” Tsk. And I didn’t even punch a producer.’
Now I must put a disclaimer before the rest of the article: this has nothing to do with the Now Show. I don’t listen to and it never have, because I’ve always thought it’s probably a bit shit. I’m not a ‘boor’ – I read the New Statesman – I just find radio satire quite twee and a bit lame. My taste/ subjective/blah blah. Anyway, that’s not what this is about. What the BBC actually said to him is unclear, but in their statement about the decision they do not mention diversity. But I can totally believe that that is what a producer told Jon Holmes privately, because TV producers have told me that at least five times. I got told it in a phonecall last week.
So, like drunk daddy Trump who thinks it’s his business to sit the groom down and talk about what he would do to Ivanka on her wedding night if this punk hadn’t gotten in the way and ruined Donald’s dream family wedding, I, a white man, am going to wade into this cesspit uninvited.
Firstly though, I’m going to call out producers to stop saying this, because most of the time, I think it’s bullshit. I don’t think that anyone is getting TV work because they are not brilliant but they happen to be not white or a woman. There are white guys who I started with who are brilliant and are starting to get breaks on the box. There are still nowhere near enough women on comedy panel shows. I know there are less women who do comedy but there’s a fuck of a lot good enough for there to be an equal gender split on panel and stand-up shows. Okay, sure you’d have some repeat bookings, until more funny women had done their time on the circuit and were ready. But like I said- no one gets there because they’re not brilliant.
But TV and radio producers have got very comfortable saying this to white male comedians. They say it because it makes their job easier. They have to put up with comedians who, off the back of a good Edinburgh (guilty), feel entitled (as per) to step up a level in terms of profile and their pushy agents are fighting tooth and nail to help that. And it is the perfect reason to accompany a rejection of broadcast work because the comedian and their agent cannot negotiate or push back or complain. Because as social liberals we all believe in diversity. But like anything, it’s just a belief. Something you say, you put on social media. It’s a belief that you never have to enact. Until you start to feel like you are a victim of it. Because when you think about it for a second, producers saying ‘In the name of diversity we cannot give you work’ is just a middle-class liberal way of saying ‘immigrants are stealing your jobs’.
So producers, please actually take a second and articulate why you don’t think a white male comedian is right for a show rather than just using the easy way out.
But let’s say it was true. Let’s say that diversity was the reason I didn’t get on such and such. Let’s say that white male comedians are being denied profile-boosting work, not on merit but because of their race and gender. I should say here I am also a limp-dick liberal/ Petulant Remoaner and so are you who’s reading this probably. But in order to try and speak beyond the echo chamber i’m going to speak as if diversity was the most mad, confusing conspiracy that papers such as the Mail like to imply it is.
Society needs to include everyone to work. If you take away the lack of humanity, and outright wrongness of enforced racial segregation, on a purely economic level, society does not function as well when segregated. The schools on both side of the racial divide will not be as good as they could be, which means kids won’t be as clever, which means poor job opportunities, people earn less, so society has a low tax base which means less stuff works.
Psychologically, exclusion and neglect breeds isolation and disillusionment and no sense of belonging. People will not have a stake in society’s success. Coupled with poverty, this will inevitably lead to violence, which costs the society money to deal with. (You can read more about this here)
Now culture is a massive part of that. Take for example you are a black woman born in Britain. Your TV is yours. You will pay a license fee so you can own it. That is your TV, your culture. If you see no one on it that is the same race or sex as you, you might feel like your experience is not the same as the country you live in. It will feel less like your TV. It might feel less like your country. TV and the media has been dominated by men, especially white men since it’s inception. So in order to avoid the problems outlined above, diversity is necessary.
Now what that means is that a ‘transfer of power’ for want of a better phrase, has to happen from white people to non-white people, and men to women. Now there is a fascinating sociological debate to be had about the effect of a previously ‘powerful’ group losing its unfair advantage and how that impacts on members of that group who live through that change. But to be honest, in this time of internet hypersensitivity on left and right, I do not feel like I have the skills to set off this debate. Also the thing I’m writing this to plug is next week.
As someone who has been told they have been denied TV opportunities because of the need for diversity, and if I was not strong enough in my conviction that the diversity excuse is a card lazy producers play to avoid the ickiness of rejecting people, I would say this.
Accepting that I will lose work because of diversity is putting my belief that such a policy is necessary into practice. My acceptance is my activism. My ‘okay no worries’ answer to that phonecall is me with a placard on a march. Except that I do not have to take to the streets and demand change because the generation before mine did that. What my generation have to do is accept that change and let society recalibrate itself. We have to deal with the shifts in power that will happen. And it might make us feel weird and wronged and victimised.
I saw a line somewhere on the internet, I don’t know where it came from but I think it had something to do with Sofie Hagen. “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” There’s undoubtedly something in that. But if we rationalise those hurt feelings then the generation after ours won’t have to deal with any of this. Through our passive activism, representation in the media will be a non-issue.
This ended up being more sincere than is ideal to sell a stand-up show. Anyway, I’m on 9-12th November at the Soho Theatre.
Categories: Comedy blog