Witless, the latest show to land on BBC3’s new online platform, follows two hapless housemates who see a shooting and find themselves thrown into witness protection. It’s “a comedy drama sitcom action thriller. Almost. It’s not your usual sitcom,” explains star Kerry Howard.
The script was written for Howard, after her Feed My Funny short Kerry inspired the BBC. “You don’t often get that,” she tells us. “Usually it’s, ‘This is the role,’ you have to audition and work very hard to get that role. I was in a very unique position where they created a part for me. Which is, like, amazing.”
She plays Leanne, a charming, crazy BTEC qualified actress, who is far removed from Him & Her’s Laura, the monster sister Howard is best known for. Playing Leanne is “like playing a puppy. A stupid idiotic puppy,” says Howard.
The result is a fresh, funny and thoroughly female centric-sitcom, which is “joyful… but one of those rare things,” says Howard, who stars opposite Downton Abbey’s Zoe Boyle, as Leanne’s uptight housemate Rhona.
The sitcom has found itself with lead actresses because of the unique way it was commissioned, thinks Howard. “If I hadn’t been there at the seed of it I don’t think the writers would have gone, ‘Oh let’s have an action comedy with two female leads’. I think the two leads would have been boys. But it opened a broader spectrum, which is really great.”
The conversation about whether women are as funny as men is “outdated,” says Howard. “I find it confusing. When weren’t women funny? There hasn’t been a single moment.”
And feminism? “It’s pretty basic,” she says. “If you’re not a feminist, you’re a bit of a dick. If you think that women are a lesser species then you’re a twat. And that’s it really.”
But, that said, there is still a lack of female dominant comedy on TV. “Female characters tend to be the straight one, the one setting up the gags. That’s pretty dull. But hopefully that’s changing,” she says.
Witless’ writers Joe Tucker and Lloyd Woolf have been “brilliant,” says Howard. “It definitely feels like these women are authentic voices, real characters.” But ultimately, we need more women writing for women, she says.
“It’s that old phrase, ‘You write what you know.’ How can we expect men to write brilliant female parts? Our experiences are different, we view things completely differently. People treat me differently and that informs how I react to the world.”
She’s currently practising what she’s preaching, working on a sitcom with her Him & Her co-star Sarah Solemani. “We’ve written two versions of it and now we’ve scrapped it and we’re going in a new direction. It might not be this year, it might be in 10 years time that I get a commission for a script I’ve written myself. But I have absolute confidence in myself. It’s exciting.”
Witless starts on Friday at 6pm on BBC3 and BBC iPlayer. Episode one will also air on Friday 29th April at 11.25pm on BBC One.