Is now the time for the Footlights to diversify?

Image credit: ADC Theatre

Last week’s Footlights Committee smoker saw the team make a joke of their domination by white, middle-class men by pointing out that they aren’t actually undiverse because Matilda, the only female cast member, is “actually Chinese.”  (She isn’t.) But their lack of diversity is clearly OK because they addressed the issue in front of an audience, and the committee is only largely male because men are funnier and dominate professional comedy anyway. And surely all that matters is getting the ‘best’ people for sketches, right?

It doesn’t sit comfortably, does it? In mainstream comedy, Mock The Week, SNL, the Edinburgh Fringe Fosters’ Awards, people are troubled by the lack of diversity. ‘Women in comedy’ is usually only discussed in relation to stand-up: Bridget Christie winning ‘Best Show’ may be a victory for feminism, but hardly anyone seems to notice that sketch groups – university and professional get-ups alike – are incredibly densely populated with men. Back home, the Footlights have just finished a tour that involved more women (three out of four performers) than ever before, yet the new committee is noticeably male-heavy.

Prior to this year, there had not been a tour show that featured two female performers since the reign of president Simon Bird (of Inbetweeners fame) back in 2006. But don’t be fooled by the presence of Emma Sidi and Matilda Wnek in this year’s tourshow or get hopeful for a new type of more progressive committee. In 2011, the year after the committee was headed by a female president (Abi Tedder) and a black vice-president (Keith Akushie), the tour show reverted to comprising four white men.
Indeed, this year’s Footlights tourshow’s dynamic of a female majority is still particularly original: other student sketch groups in Edinburgh this summer (including Bristol and UCL) performed as blokes with a token woman, where the height of innovation was a romantic sub-plot.

Universities, and especially such a famed propeller to the industry as Footlights should be taking a lead in finding talented comics that may not get into it through other means. Everyone tackles being part of a minority differently: some, because it feels instinctive, use it to great comic effect. Some cultures and backgrounds lend themselves particularly richly to comedy. We wouldn’t think of telling any individual, without listening to them, ‘you will not be funny because of who you are’. But I would have thought that it’s in the interest of groups like the Footlights to try and amass as many different, original, voices as possible for the sake of good comedy: comedy that enlightens us to the many aspects of the human condition.

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