The Footlights criticised the Howler for its lack of female representation, which was deemed 'hypocritical'Dan Gayne

Cambridge comedy group, the Footlights, have come under fire for ‘hypocritically’ objecting to the all-male lineup at the next Wolfson Howler – a prominent stand-up comedy night – in a Facebook post while its committee continues to lack BME representation.

The final Wolfson Howler of Lent Term will feature six comics, none of whom are female. Meanwhile, the Footlights’ committee currently consists of twelve members, all of whom are white.

In a Facebook post which has since been deleted, the Footlights condemned the lack of female representation in the Wolfson Howler, calling it “very disappointing”, and saying “this seems like a huge step backwards and a seriously misjudged move from one of Cambridge’s most high-profile gigs.”

Commenters were quick to point out what they deemed the similarly “disappointing” BME representation in the Footlights. One student, Devarshi Lodhia (Lodhia currently holds the position of Deputy News Editor on the Varsity team. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article), who organised the Wolfson Howler line-up, apologised for its lack of female representation, but asked, in reference to the Footlights’ all-white committee: “Considering how much BME comedy talent there is in Cambridge, do you not find that disappointing?”

Another student, Hasan Al-Habib, highlighted what he deemed their ‘hypocrisy’ in having a fully-white committee and entirely white cast at their biggest show of the year, the Footlights Spring Revue. He compared his auditions for the Footlights, in which “a varying number of white people sat on the panel” to those at May Balls, where “Every single college had at least one BME judge present at the audition.”

Commenting on the Footlights’ efforts so far to increase BME representation, Al-Habib described their annual BME smoker as “the metaphorical equivalent of Footlights’ ‘black best friend!’”, and cited as evidence of them “not caring whatsoever” their failure to respond to an incident earlier this year in which a BME open mic night organised by students at Robinson and Newnham was shut down by Robinson bar staff.

Responding to Al-Habib, the Footlights said that they agreed the lack of BME representation is unacceptable, but felt the issue “should not undermine the lack of women, as the groups are not mutually exclusive”, emphasising the need to “think and act intersectionally to make comedy more accessibly for everyone, and less of a white man’s game”.

In a statement to Varsity, Footlights committee member Louisa Keight stressed the group’s ongoing efforts to fix the problem of representation, but added: “The lack of diversity in the committee is not the fault of this year’s comittee, which was chosen before efforts were made to increase diversity as part of an ongoing project that this year Footlights is committed to.


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“We also really want to make clear our concerns that whilst this conversation is incredibly important, the accusations being levelled at Footlights as not making any effort to improve diversity is maybe discouraging BME performers from auditioning.”

Referencing their BME and Lady Smokers, she said: “It was a shame to see neither of these groups fairly represented at the Wolfson [Howler], and we stand by this original point.”

In response, Lodhia told Varsity: “We’ve got one BME person at this Howler but generally it tends to be a diverse line up. Since I’ve been in charge we’ve had the likes of Fern Brady, Desiree Burch, and Paul Sinha headline, while Ahir Shah is one of our regular comperes.”

He added: “From a group that features no BME people whatsoever, I feel any criticism of our diversity is incredibly hypocritical.”

Before deleting their comment and original post, the Footlights invited Al-Habib to meet with them to discuss the issue and “figure out ways we can change this together”, to which Al-Habib responded, “absolutely”.

Speaking to Varsity, Al-Habib said: “I honestly don’t know what was more embarrassing for Footlights: the sheer hypocrisy of them attacking Wolfson on the subject of representation, or their attempt to cover it up by deleting the post as soon as I indicated I would be willing to discuss the issue with them in person.”