Belfast Telegraph

Jane Graham: Who’s laughing now at Miranda Hart?

By Jane Graham

There must be many of us who were happy to hear 2010 described a number of times during the British Comedy Awards this week as ‘the year of Miranda’.

What could be more delightful, more warm-spirited and fun than living in the year of Miranda Hart?

Even more to the point, the overwhelming success of Ms Hart’s charismatic sitcom, not just with critics and peers but with the public (Hart scooped the coveted People’s Choice Award, outdoing perennial household names like Harry Hill and Ant’n’Dec) could prove a turning point in the history of women and comedy.

With a few exceptions, UK comedy has long been a male preserve, not just populated mostly by men, but, to be brutally honest, delivered better by them too. This isn’t so much the case with actors. There have always been outstanding female comic actors, from Prunella Scales and Julie Walters to today’s Rebecca Front and Pauline McLynn. But they have usually been reading words written by a man.

Similarly, when it comes to stand-up or performing on panel or chat shows — the most fruitful routes to mainstream success — very few women (make that none) have shone like Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Russell Brand or Stewart Lee.

There are many possible reasons for this. Many male comedians hone their trade travelling the country doing stand-up shows in scary pubs and clubs.

This is a life which requires you to have a) no children, b) skin thicker than Jordan, and sometimes c) advanced weaponry skills.

Rather like that of an MP or a football linesman, it is an extremely difficult life for a young woman trying to find her voice.

But it could also be said that both stand-up and improvised wisecracking of the kind required for a panel show like Mock the Week or Would I Lie to You call for skills which clever women, to be frank, don’t seem to possess as readily as clever men.

Men have louder voices, they’re more aggressive, more comfortable with confrontation. By the time they hit 16, they’re used to the verbal dexterities of quick-fire knockabout in which the name of the game is to undermine and outdo your opponent — it’s how they’ve been communicating with their friends since they were five.

Women on the other hand tend to bond through sympathising with each other and finding emotional connections. Great for deep, meaningful friendships, not so helpful when it comes to dark sarcasm and funny fighting talk.

The surprise success — and general outpouring of love for — Miranda Hart could be a landmark moment though. For one thing, Miranda isn’t just a funny actress, she’s a respected and now seriously high-profile comedy writer.

Of course she’s not the first, but she may yet be the most significant. Connie Booth co-wrote Fawlty Towers, but no-one remembers that. Sharon Horgan and Julia Davis conjure up magnificent material, but they’re not famous (yet, one hopes).

Even big hitters Victoria Wood, French and Saunders and Jo Brand are often waved aside by men as “women’s comedians”, due to the feminine tone or subject matter of their work.

Miranda, however, without a trace of the bitterness and misanthropy which characterises much male comedy, or the man-baiting, shoe-worshipping clichés which usually litter female material, is genuinely loved by men and women alike.

She’s immensely likeable, totally without vanity, intelligent and big-hearted — and she has funny bones. I knew she was out there somewhere, thank goodness we’ve all finally found her.

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