Jessica Knappett: People don’t expect female-centric comedy to be any good

The writer and star of E4's Drifters talks "inherently sexist" panel shows, token women and overcoming expectations

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Jessica Knappett may be about to launch the second series of her very own sitcom – charting the disastrous lives and loves of three twenty-something women – but she knows she is “one of the lucky ones.” Especially as a woman in an industry that is male-dominated. 

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We grabbed a few minutes with the star before Drifters returns to E4 and conversation quickly turned to testosterone-heavy panel shows and the lack of female-centric comedy on TV.

“It worked out well for me. I did get a sitcom. My personal experience isn’t that it was difficult because I got a commission quite easily,” she told RadioTimes.com. “The positive spin is that commissioners and broadcasters seem to be really looking out for women, in that they’ve got their eyes really wide open for female performers and writers which is great.”

But, she adds: “It feels like there’s a lot of positive discrimination around employing women in television, which doesn’t feel good as a woman being employed in television because you feel like you’ve won a competition.”

And issues don’t just arise in terms of getting a commission in the first place, but from what people’s preconceptions are when a comedy comes to fruition… 

“I’m really grateful for having been given this opportunity. But I think there’s an expectation maybe that, because there isn’t a lot of comedy written by women around, most of it isn’t going to be of a very high quality. There’s an expectation there that I feel I have to overcome,” she says. 

Those expectations can certainly be applied to panel shows, which were put under the spotlight earlier this year when BBC’s Director of Television Danny Cohen said: “We’re not going to have any more panel shows with no women on them.”

But, according to Knappett, introducing female quotas isn’t going to solve the problem…

“I appreciate the place it’s coming from but for me all it does is acknowledge that these shows are inherently sexist. If you have to bring on a quota system then you’re in trouble, aren’t you? You’re doing something wrong, guys!”

“What I think people have to realise is that women don’t want to go on those sorts of shows because they are unbearable to be on… It’s embarrassing for women to be the one female that has to appear on a panel show. I’d like to see a panel show where the men were in the minority,” she says.

“I’ve been saying this about Drifters: ‘Yes, we try to hire at least one man for each episode. There’s at least one man.’ And that is actually true…”

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Drifters series two starts tonight at 9:00pm on E4