Fleabag, Chewing Gum, Witless… why this is a glass-ceiling moment for women in comedy

Kerry Howard and Zoë Boyle reveal why we could be at a turning point for funny women

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Any idiot still bleating that “women aren’t funny” needs to be sat down in front of the TV and forced to watch Witless, Fleabag, Chewing Gum, Catastrophe and Jane the Virgin. And then they need to be given a stern talking to, because a new generation of female writers and actors are taking over – and they’re damn hilarious.

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Zoë Boyle and Kerry Howard are two of those women. They play the leads in BBC3’s odd couple action comedy/sitcom Witless, in which unlikely flatmates (Rhona and Leanne) have to go into witness protection.

“Do you know what, it’s such a strong year that I feel really proud to be in the industry at the moment,” Kerry, who plays Leanne, tells RadioTimes.com. 

“We’re not a one-off gem. There’s Camping, Catastrophe, Fleabag – it goes on. Chewing Gum. We are producing really funny, female comedy right now, and it’s brilliant. I think there’s a real change and a real appetite for female-led comedy.”

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag 

Even the bleating idiots are noticing.

“I get a lot of guys who come up to me like, ‘Yo Leanne you’re so funny!’” Kerry reveals. “And it’s great when men approach me and tell me I’m funny, because it’s usually: ‘Women aren’t funny’. 

“It just feels like there’s a real glass-breaking moment happening.”

But it’s not just about men finally ‘getting’ the joke and admitting women to the club of People Who Are Allowed To Be Funny.

More importantly, it’s about women finally getting their rightful place on screen and in the writing room.

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Leanne and Rhona are returning for a second series of Witless

“I wonder if it’s just a natural evolution of things,” Zoë muses. “I think it is a generational thing, and our generation is really open minded.

“Hopefully sexism is on the out, we still have a long way to go and we still have a glass ceiling that’s very much present, but I look around my generation and see: we’re really getting there. We’re really getting somewhere, and I think that’s starting to get represented on our screens as well.”

Why are broadcasters finally taking notice?

“Fifty per cent of the audience is female, and so I think it is the audience [changing things]. They have a demand for it, and they want to be realised on telly,” Kerry suggests.

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Channel 4’s Chewing Gum, written by and starring Michaela Cole 

“I think people have just cottoned on and thought, ‘Oh actually the ratings do really well if you put funny women on telly. Let’s do that.’ I think that’s because there’s a demand there for it, and commissioners are finally delivering to that demand.”

The two are big fans of Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge for her filthy, funny and sad exploration of what it means to be a woman right now, as well as Catastrophe for its no-holds-barred comic look at becoming a mother in the modern age. 

But it’s not just a case of delivering “female” comedy to female audiences. 

“Witless doesn’t feel like a female genre at all, it feels like we could be played by two guys. So I loved that, but it isn’t so female oriented, it’s just a funny show,” Kerry says. It is also pretty unusual to see women in an action comedy as leads – and not just as supporting characters. 

“It’s really refreshing to see new takes on comedy. It feels like comedy is moving in a fresher direction,” Zoë adds. “People are throwing the rule book out.”

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Witless series 2 launches on BBC3 on Wednesday 25th January