Series 19 of Mock the Week has returned to our screens, but this year brings many adaptations to it following our changing environment. The show has had to take on the social distancing measures implemented by the government to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus.
The most noticeable is that the audience is barely full. Sporadic groups of four are dotted around the seats, all distanced from each other – the rest of the audience are watching on a zoom call. The result is a lacklustre and underwhelming support for the comedians. This isn’t because of a lack of enthusiasm from the spectators – it is merely the fact that there aren’t enough people to make a convincing round of applause. Consequently, every joke seems to not have hit a mark, in spite of the quality content provided by the panellists. You can see it on the comedians’ reactions: it’s disheartening to not get a positive response from your audience. Instead, I feel they in turn look to each other for confidence.
When everyone stands up for ‘Scenes We’d Like To See’, everyone has to wait and walk up to the stage separately. It feels a bit like they are doing a fire drill
The comedians are still seated on the same benches, but are separated by a perspex wall. When the camera faces towards them the separation isn’t obvious, but it becomes an eyesore when anything is panned. I felt that the comedians struggled with these degrees of separation, especially in the first few episodes. It seemed to be on the back of their mind with every rebuttal, especially when interacting with people on their own bench. They seem to pause as they are reminded they can’t quite have contact. There are other small details too: the comedians who do the stand up round have to have their own microphone, and when everyone stands up for ‘Scenes We’d Like To See’, everyone has to wait and walk up to the stage separately. It feels a bit like they are doing a fire drill.
However, the last three weeks have been refreshingly diverse – not only in regards to representation but also with the exposure of smaller and less known comics. This comes after Katherine Ryan commented in her podcast on why she no longer participates on Mock the Week, as she felt she was taking the spot of a less famous comedian. “I was never taking James Acaster’s spot, I was never taking Ed Gamble’s spot on that show, I was always 100% of the time taking a job away from one of my female peers.” Mock the Week would have an issue with having a too female-heavy show, and Ryan felt that there was only one spot reserved for a woman or a minority. If she got it, someone else wouldn’t. By the end, she only thought it was fair to stop working on the show after feeling that she’s found the most success she could out of it. To continue would be selfish. She also believed she was the basic feminist booked on as the tokenism role. If she was on that week, it looked like the show was making an effort with diversity. She sarcastically said: “No, Mock the Week doesn’t have a problem with women, look, Katherine Ryan’s on the show.” Ryan speaks true – it wasn’t until 2017 that the six-person panel featured two women at the same time.
Although this break from the traditional panel is overdue (such a popular show should have made more of an effort a long time ago), it is refreshing
It seems the BBC have heard and taken on the show’s criticisms that have been building over the years and are making a very clear, active, and conscious effort to not have a panel composed of white men. Ed Gamble commented on this change too: “They really get out there and they watch stand-up and they pick new people to get on the show. And it’s changed the rhythm of the show recently… It used to be a bit like a machine gun of topical jokes, which is great and I love watching them back. But now there’s a looser, funner element to it.” Although this break from the traditional panel is overdue (such a popular show should have made more of an effort a long time ago), it is refreshing. The result is that this is one of their funnier seasons, in spite of all the Covid hindrances present.
You can watch Mock the Week every week on Thursday on the BBC.