That’s quite enough silly walks from BBC comedy. New voices please | Rebecca Nicholson

The head of the corporation’s comedy department has promised us greater diversity. About time too

Comedy controller Shane Allen caused traditionalist nostrils to quiver with mild outrage last week when he announced the BBC’s new slate of sitcoms and sketch shows, some of which have been written by men, some by women and some by people who are not white. “We get excited by the stories that haven’t been told and the voices we haven’t yet heard, which is why you’ll see more and more diversity of all kinds of output over the next few years as we break new ground,” he said.

It seems impossible to have a conversation about the future of comedy without bringing up 50-year-old sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, so someone did and Allen replied, continuing his emphasis on insisting that new voices be heard. “If you’re going to assemble a team now, it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes. It’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world.” Naturally, this kicking, or nudging, of the sacred cow (parrot?) became the focus of all subsequent discussion. John Cleese took umbrage, saying Python were “diverse for their time” and calling Allen “head of social engineering”. Don’t mention the comedy war.

Perhaps I read a different account of Allen’s announcement and that he actually revealed that not only had he commissioned a comedy drama about a nine-year-old girl with learning disabilities, but he would also therefore as a direct result be scrubbing all mention of Monty Python from BBC history and ban it from ever being discussed again. Monty Python exists. It’s already there. The diversity police aren’t coming to take it away. They didn’t even take overtly racist 1970s sitcoms such as Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour, which you can still buy on DVD, so I think Hell’s Grannies and silly walks are safe for now.

As Allen said, it’s about finding stories that haven’t been told before and I find it odd that people find that threatening rather than exciting. Some of the standup sets that have been truly incendiary over the last few years – Tig Notaro discussing her breast cancer, Hannibal Buress reminding the world that Bill Cosby was a rapist, and more recently, Cameron Esposito’s excellent Rape Jokes, which has been called “the first great standup set of the #MeToo era” – would not have existed 50 years ago. That’s a thrilling advertisement for change. Because qualities such as vitality and originality not only drive comedy forward, but are responsible for groundbreaking performers coming to the fore. Like, say, the cast of Monty Python.

Why on earth should Catherine Zeta-Jones eat humble pie?

Modest? Moi? Catherine Zeta-Jones .
Modest? Moi? Catherine Zeta-Jones. Photograph: Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images

Catherine Zeta-Jones has had enough of pussyfooting around the important stuff. “One thing I’m not is humble any more,” the Welsh actor, Hollywood superstar and humility opponent told the Mirror. “I’m sick of being humble. I really am. ‘So sorry I’m rich, so sorry I’m married to a movie star, so sorry I’m not so bad looking.’ ”

It’s an unusually forthright sentiment for a woman, when they are usually supposed to pretend that they haven’t noticed how successful they are, as if it happened by accident.

It’s also off-brand for an actor, because very famous ones are often a heady brew of rampant ego and more rampant insecurity, who tend to wrap this emotional confusion in a bow of practised humility. Award ceremony speeches are long testaments of gratitude, to those who made it possible, to luck, to opportunity, to anything but tenacity and graft. While many trade on likability and relatability, Zeta-Jones is being boldly, shamelessly unrelatable to almost every other person on the planet, most of whom are not rich, married to a movie star or as drop-dead gorgeous.

“I come from a working-class family in Wales and I worked to get to where I am,” she said, justifying the fact that she’s pretty pleased with where she’s ended up and doesn’t feel bad about saying so. This is the same reason I have a soft spot for the current era of Madonna, not her strongest musically, but the most unabashedly fun (and for her determination to reclaim the b-word). For further listening, see Unapologetic Bitch and Bitch I’m Madonna.

Oh don’t snigger at non-Tory boy Alfie Deyes

Alfie Deyes: no laughing matter.
Alfie Deyes: no laughing matter. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Those looking for a new comedy experience would do well to check in on YouTuber Alfie Deyes, whose week has been most amusing, although perhaps not for him.

After uploading a 36-minute video, in which he challenged himself to live on £1 for 24 hours, for the #content, Deyes faced a backlash from some fans who found the sentiment of “living on £1 for the day” to be a little insensitive to the many people who have to do that for the #everydaylife. Eventually, he deleted the video, posting an apology in which he seemed upset by some of the more pointed criticism he had received.

“The amount of tweets yesterday calling me a Tory… I feel like I just have to say in this video right now, that is for sure not the case,” he declared. Denying that one is a Tory then became a meme of its own, although it’s given me the unusual experience of feeling sorry for a vlogger who is surely entitled to say he’s not a Tory if he wants to. Perhaps he might want to read the sole book on the shelf in the background of that clip, Brutal Simplicity of Thought (I’m saying nothing), by Maurice Saatchi, former chairman of the Conservative party.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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