Dara O’Briain: Bias objections are about news, not comedy

Mock The Week host Dara O’Briain has dismissed the “frankly, mind-numbing” debate about whether the BBC show is too left-wing.

The BBC’s new director general Tim Davie has said he wants to nurture “brilliant writers from all kinds of perspectives” in comedy.

Presenter and comic O’Briain, 48, said viewers had objections about news, not comedy.

He said he hoped to quiz the BBC chief, who was reported to be planning to tackle “perceived left-wing bias” in the corporation’s comedy shows, about the issue when he bumped into him recently, but Davie got in a lift.

“Tim Davie and I met in a corridor, about a week ago,” O’Briain, who has penned a new children’s book about space, told the PA news agency.

Dara O'Briain's new book
Dara O'Briain's new book

“I turned around in a corner… I’d been to the BBC once in the last year… The guy I was with said, ‘Oh look, there’s Tim Davey…’

“Tim looked at me. Who can tell what the reaction was because he was wearing a mask. But I was about to go, ‘So let’s have a chat over this left-wing, right-wing thing.

“There was a ‘ding’ noise because his lift arrived. He said, ‘Oh, only one person at a time unfortunately.’

“He got into the lift and then the doors closed, and so I have no idea if Tim regards this as a lucky escape.”

O’Briain said comedians were busy “fighting” for laughs on the show.

Tim Davie, new director general of the BBC
Tim Davie, new director general of the BBC

“When a story pops up on Mock The Week, no-one is going, ‘How can I bend this to an agenda?’

“You’re going, ‘What’s the gag? What is the joke here? Where can I find the joke?'”

And he added: “There is no meeting … The idea that they sit me down with Huw Edwards and Gary Lineker and (children’s presenter) Mr Maker, and we have a meeting…”

The Irish star said comedians are in the arts “and people in the arts tend to be more left-wing than right-wing, except,” he added, “comedians are all tiny, self-employed, savage business people who run a business in an incredibly competitive (environment)…. We’re all fighting over the gigs.”

He added: “The producers will put the news in front of you and none of us are going, ‘Well, how can I educate the public on this?’ It’s ‘What’s the funny thing about this? What’s my angle on this?'”

Yep, we’ll show you how to find a planet, talk to aliens right herevon earth, and even draw an alien, among other things! https://t.co/5tNMfPuzLb

— Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain) September 30, 2020

He said: “The Government does stuff and so people talk about what the Government has done. (Sir Keir) Starmer and (predecessor Jeremy) Corbyn before him are kind of in a reactive role as well…

“It’s always going to be that.. and, honestly, to be plunged into the middle of a debate which is about the polarisation of certain elements…. when we do 11 half hours a year, as if this is somehow central to the whole thing. People’s objections are to the news.”

He said the argument that there had been “very few people on Mock The Week arguing for Brexit” was “probably pretty fair”.

“The way it worked out, they found the Brexit thing easier to mock than sport,” he told PA.

“However, Brexit passed. If the show had that much influence, there is a perfect test case for you, because people aren’t taking their political stance from Mock The Week.”

The BBC previously announced that panel shows will no longer have all-male lineups.

“If I disappear off the screen, it won’t be because of a diversity quota. It’s because I’m 48 and at some point you’re all going to get wise to my tricks and that’s just showbiz,” the Stargazing Live presenter said.

“At some point, it’s somebody else’s turn. I’m still in the game and I’m still bobbing and weaving… If I was in a band, I would have finished my retro tour at this stage … I’d be in Butlin’s now.”

And the presenter, who is also hosting an online “space camp” for families, added that if anyone ever hears him saying “I haven’t been on QI for a while because I’m a white male… shoot me in the head OK.”

He said of penning his new book Is There Anybody Out There? about space and aliens: “It’s fun.. It’s just pure enthusiasm. My actual day job (stand-up) has evaporated because of Covid.

“My second job is mired in an imaginary debate about who’s left wing and who’s right wing….

“It’s just nice to have a thing, where you can just be enthusiastic.”

In an internal broadcast, Davie dismissed reports he plans to overhaul BBC comedy, saying “comedy has always been poking at authority”.

But he said “we need to nurture brilliant writers from all kind of perspectives” and there must be “no assumed point of view”.

Is There Anybody Out There? by Dara O’Briain is out now