Last week I was at a gig where it felt quite feasible that the metaphor “raise the roof” may actually become a reality. The energy in the room was so frenetic and the noise so raucous, it felt feasible that the roof of the humble Bristol venue would end up looking as raggedy as the O2 post Storm Eunice.

I was on last, after five exceptional acts who worked the audience into such a fizz of laughter and ebullience, that frankly, I could’ve walked on and just recited the alphabet, and the crowd still would’ve been on board.

The line up on the night was by far the most diverse of any bill I’ve been on during my embryonic comedy journey. Is it a coincidence, therefore, that the quality of the performances were so good? I don’t think so.

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For so long we’ve been wired to believe that what straight white men create is the norm, and the rest of us are expected to fight it out when we’re thrown a crumb of an opportunity to create something alternative. But time and time again it has been proven that when focus is given to the quality of the diversity of the creators, the quality of the finished product goes through the roof (I promise I will let go of the roof metaphors now).

That is why I now refuse to feel grateful for diversity. Yes, I of course want to see better representation on screen for the sake of people much like myself who rarely got to see themselves reflected in the media. But I refuse to feel grateful. We bring excellence to the table, then we’re expected to say ‘thank you’? Please!

The announcement that Ncuti Gatwa will play the next Doctor Who has triggered the inevitable discussions surrounding his ethnicity, and the fact that he will be the first Black actor to assume the role. I’ve been asked over and over whether I am pleased to see the iconic role being given to someone Black. Rarely have I been asked if I actually watch the show – apparently Black representation should just be something I am grateful for, regardless.

Am I pleased to see a Black person in a leading role? Always. But I refuse to feel grateful for Gatwa being appointed, when he has proven himself to be such a spellbinding actor that really audiences, execs and the like should be thanking him for gracing the role with his talents. 

Diversity should absolutely be celebrated…by all people. Not just those of us who finally get a scrap of representation. I refuse to be asked how happy I am to see a Black actor on screen, when nobody will ask the white person next to me how happy they are to so see such a talented actor be cast.

I do not underestimate how much diversity on our screens has improved, particularly in the last five years. But the job is by no means done. Intersectionality needs to be given greater focus, instead of clumping together everybody who isn’t a straight white man into some monolithic group.

The National Wales: Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag, a programme which wasn't exactly a bastion of diversity. Photo: PAPhoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag, a programme which wasn't exactly a bastion of diversity. Photo: PA

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is heralded as the flagship production for non-male oriented comedy. Its name is weaponised in many a discussion about women on screen – “you’ve got two series of Fleabag, what more do you want?” being the general gist of the argument. Sure, Fleabag is brilliant. But to what degree does it represent non-white women? To what degree does it represent disabled people? And I don’t think there’s a single working-class accent to be heard in a single episode. So whilst Fleabag is a start, it is by no means a fountain of diversity that will be in any way relatable to the majority of viewers.

Diversity isn’t a scary word, and yet it is treated as such. It shouldn’t be seen as the removal of straight white men from the table – they should absolutely be there. But the rest of us should be there too, not bunched together in some side room wrestling it out to see who will take the token diversity seat.

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