by Michael Peters

You wait 19 years for a replacement to the much loved Black comedy series The Real McCoy (last broadcast in 1996) then, a bit like waiting for a bus, they all come along at once! 

That was the situation TV viewers had at the beginning of November as ITV2 broadcast not one but four brand new pilot shows featuring sketches, pranks and stand-up comedy. All aired in a little over 24 hours over two evenings. 

Whilst it is delightful to see ITV2 embracing diversity with a raft of new Black comedy shows, why has this happened now – and does this mean that Britain may finally be close to getting a top quality series of Black comedy shows? 

The programmes were all specifically commissioned as part of the build up to the MOBOs broadcast on 4th November 2015. During the 19 years that the MOBOs have been running (ironically, the first ceremony was in 1996, the very same year that The Real McCoy was last televised) there has never been a series regularly featuring Black stand-up comedians.

None of the shows mentioned above were linked to the MOBOs in any way. So it’s hard to deduce why they were released to coincide with the award show, other than the very obvious fact that the MOBOs are about music of Black origin and these shows feature Black stand-up comedy.

The Real McCoy legacy

The Real McCoy created a generation of comedic talent including Curtis Walkers, Eddie Nestor, the late Felix Dexter, Judith Jacob, Leo Muhammad, Llewella Gideon, Meera Syal, Robbie Gee, Rudi Lickwood and Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Since The Real McCoy ended there has been a clamour for it to be re-broadcast, or released on video or DVD. Various theories exist as to why this has not happened to date. In the intervening years there have been just a small number of Black stand up shows or comedy series (about 11) including The Crouches, The Stephen K Amos Show and All about the McKenzies. Aside from 3 Non-Blondes, what they all have in common is that not one of them has been re-commissioned for a second series.

None of the British-based African-Caribbean channels (ABN, Africa Channel, BEN TV, OHTV or Vox Africa) are producing new and exciting comedy-focused programmes.

Fast forward to November 2015 and we have the four new shows referred to earlier, All About the Bants, Pranksterz, The Comedy Basement and The Ty & Ky Show. All except the last one were very funny shows with lots of potential. ITV have gone the extra mile to provide some of the diversity the Black British viewing public would like to see.  Is this a mirage or is ITV showing a real commitment to Black comedy talent?

Going forward what is the solution? Lenny Henry hit the nail on the head with his Henry Report (2014) recommending the BBC ring fence money for Black productions much as they do for regional productions, children’s TV and news. This should extend to other broadcasters too.

Whilst some may feel the lack of programming is aligned to racial issues and a sense that they won’t generate sufficient ratings, it could be argued that the answer lies with the viewers, the comedians and producers of these shows.

There are 3 million African-Caribbeans living in Britain. Surely that’s enough to generate sufficiently strong ratings? Viewers wanting more racially diverse output must watch such programmes when they are broadcast, spread the word about them and write in to the relevant channel to provide them with constructive feedback, and most importantly state that they would like to see further series. These very simple, yet vital and practical steps are missing from the process.

The potential seen in the shows that have been broadcast in the last 19 years, allied to the rise of the Black web series (there are plenty of good quality shows going straight to YouTube due to lack of TV interest) and awareness of the huge well of comedic talent out there is proof that Black comedy deserves its time in the TV spotlight.

There is every chance that the combined force of these ITV pilot shows could provide the shock waves to break down the dam. With 2016 marking the 20th anniversary since the final broadcast of The Real McCoy that would be a fitting tribute indeed.

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Michael Peters is a Freelance Writer and Founder of Tiemo Talk of the Town and Tiemo Entertainments. Tiemo Talk of the Town is a sharply observed blog sharing views on topical news, culture and politics. His writing has been published in InsideMan, New Nation and The Voice. He has appeared on OHTV and BEN TV. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio London, Colourful Radio and Voice of Africa Radio. Find him on Twitter @Tiemotalk

This feature was commissioned and edited by MD’s Editor-at-large Lola Okolosie. To pitch an article, review or feature please contact her at lola@mediadiversified.org

 

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5 thoughts on “No Laughing Matter: Black Stand Up Comedy

  1. Well, well well. Less than two weeks after this article is published the 3 Non-Blondes take a step back in history and the theory that no black comedy shows are getting re-commissioned has gone straight out of the window.

    I don’t usually like to be proved wrong, but on this occasion I’m absolutely thrilled for the multi-talented Michaela Cole. For she, the writer, director and actor of E4’s ‘Chewing Gum’ comedy series has just had her show recommissioned for a second series.

    Series 1 comprising 6 episodes was broadcast in November 2015 and is available to watch on catch up until 10th November 2015.

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/chewing-gum

    Her profile will go through the roof because of this and even moreso, following her appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show, Saturday 5th December 2015. That’s an amazing accolade for the 24 year old.

    Like

  2. Like all areas of life black people still trying to break thought and be exempted as part of the establishment in Britain today and the areas of comedy is no different. In the areas of Politics, Business and commerce, and Sports we have so seriously ask the question what does the white establishment fear from black making fun of our selves. I feel that popularity help to breed power which is why they want a firmer grip of control. This country has wealth of talent from black artist that is so under valued because they are never seen on television so what really is the answer to this question ? . The BBC is a public corporation so should they introduces a system of affirmative action or quotes in broadcasting to areas with a large ethnic mixed, In reality I feel that the powers that be will always want to keep the status quo unless their power is broken up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Llloyd. You make some interesting political observations. After 19 years without a regular black comedy series, despite the wealth of talent out there selling out big theatres in London and beyond, you have to question why TV has for so long ignored this talent.

      Affirmative action and quotas might be in order, along with Ainsely Harriot, sorry Sir Lenny Henry ;-), recommendation in his ‘Henry report’ i.e. for ring-fenced money for black productions. In addition the main terrestrial TV channels need to ensure space in their scheduling for original Black programmes.

      I’m not sure re quotas but affirmative action could work – if you mean at senior programming and Board level, in much the same way the Government set out to increase the number of women in senior level positions e.g. in FTSE 100 companies etc…

      Like

  3. @Salsa Kizomba/Diva Thank you. Interesting observation regarding diversity within diversity. Whilst probably correct the issue relates to those enjoying the shows not yaking the recommended actions which will give these shows a better chance of being recommisssioned.

    Secondly, there’s no great reason such shows can’t appeal to a mainstream audience. Funny is funny after all. It is this audience that meant The Fosters, Love thy Neighbour, The Real McCoy, The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air hit shows with mass cross over appeal.

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  4. Once again Tiemo has it spot on. However there is diversity within diversity and therefore my observation of the black community, of which I am apart, means we are not a homogeneous community and therefore subscribe to a wide variety of programmes, arts and culture. Therefore it does not surprise me that there is not a great following or response to such programmes being aired. We are also a tiny minority compared to others across the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

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