Women in the majority on QI

Jennifer has talked about QI before. Personally I sampled a lot of British comedy panel quizzes; of the top of my head I count six that I have watched at least a dozen episodes of. I started watching them about ten years ago, we lived on a hill and could get the BBC at my house. What better way to learn English than to listen to a bunch of jokesters being rude to each other?

So here’s the shocker: Until I watched the second episode of the J series of QI, I had never seen the men outnumbered by the women. Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were joined by Jo Brand, Liza Tarbuck and Sue Perkins.

I had noticed a trend regarding women on the comedy quizzes: It was getting increasingly rare that the panel was all-male. Generally there was a single woman, sometimes even two; the occurrence of two women about equal to the occurrence of no women.

But three?

I am trying to put into words how shocked I really was. At the same time I felt awful about being shocked at all: it should be normal, shouldn’t it? I should not even have to blink when women outnumber the men 3:2 on a smart quiz like QI, it happened in the reverse enough- only you know, with the odds skewed even further. But I felt tense! Like there should’ve been some sort of occasion, like they should explain in advance that this was some great big social experiment and please fill in the questionnaires on the enjoyment of this show after seeing it.

About half-way through Stephen Fry made a comment about how he’d thought that having the women on would’ve made for a cleaner show and I felt relieved. Finally it had been said: there were more women and this was not usual.

So was this particular episode of QI different from any other? Well, less penis-jokes and more breast-jokes, that was the only difference really.

Still, it chagrins me that Alan Davies won. Even though I have literally never given a toss about the points on QI and no one seems to know how to scoring actually works, I wanted one of the women to win. On the other hand, saying as little as possible is usually the best way to win QI, and Alan Davies was the quietest one that evening, so it all makes sense.

One a side note: after this episode I was so impressed with Sue Perkins that I went to look up some other quizzes she’d done. Turns out she was a team captain on the 2008 quiz ‘What the Dickens?’ which was presented by Sandi Toksvig. Because I love both those comediennes I found some episodes and lo and behold, several episodes featured more women than men. Also, it’s really funny.


  1. says

    Debi Linton,

    No worries, thanks for clarifying! :)

    Maartje, this article is really interesting to me because I can only see a few seasons of QI that are available on Region 2 DVDs – they aren’t distributing anymore so far. On the seasons I have, there are rarely two women on the panel, and Alan always loses (I think maybe once he comes in third).

    I like how you talk about feeling bad that you felt shocked. It highlights how inescapable the sexism is, because the 3:2 ratio as you pointed out should happen frequently – about as often as it happens with men to women. And instead when we see things like this, we feel like we’re witnessing an experiment rather than seeing life like it would happen if producers weren’t constantly rigging the game to make it look like men are about 4/5 of the population.

  2. GirlBob says

    I haven’t seen that particular episode myself, but it pleases me to know that the women did a lot of the talking — I’ve noticed that on quiz shows, even ones with comedians, women do tend to wind up being quieter. So if that’s why Alan Davies won, there are worse reasons I suppose!

    Also to back up Jennifer’s comment above, Alan has a tendency to lose, like, pretty much all the time always. So there’s that.

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