ICYMI: Jen Ives on Father Ted

Comedian Jen Ives takes on comedy sacred cow Father Ted and its problematic co-creator

Article by Jen Ives | 27 Jul 2021
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It’s difficult to enjoy anything as a trans woman these days – it seems as if every other week a new national treasure is coming out publicly to denounce pernicious gender ideology. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually I won’t even be allowed to enjoy my favourite frozen pizza because Dr. Oetker has published an open letter about The Transgender Issue.*

As we continue to realise that more and more of our favourite artists are actually flipping jerks, we continue to debate whether or not an artist’s work can be separated from their cack personality. Luckily though, Graham Linehan is a comedy writer and all-round really, really great guy whose postings on trans identity got him kicked off Twitter – so up until now, it’s been pretty easy for me to ignore him.

I’ve never really been a fan of his work (and I’m 100% not just saying that out of spite). I’ve seen some of The IT Crowd and it wasn’t really for me (I’m too hot for office work and simply couldn’t relate, sorry). I’m aware that he’s contributed to, and appeared in, some of my favourite programmes over the years (Brass Eye / Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace / I’m Alan Partridge) but I managed to get around his curse by only watching those shows through a series of tilted mirrors. 

But up until now, I’ve somehow managed to avoid Father Ted. I’m aware of its legacy. People quote it, and talk about it on 'Top 100 Greatest Shows Of The 90s'. I’ve seen out of context gifs of it, and I remember that advert where the tea lady (biologically born) says “oh, go on, go on, go on…” to sell insurance or something. But the truth is, you can only hide from a cultural phenomenon for so long. People love it, and people (generally) know what they’re talking about. I’m people – I might love it too? Surely, just because I’m a trans woman that shouldn’t exclude me from enjoying a piece of classic, widely adored situational comedy? This would be the ultimate test of my maturity. A true experiment in objectivity. I booted up Channel 4’s badly coded video streaming service, and waited for Series 1, Episode 1 – Good Luck, Father Ted – to start. 

Full transparency – I fell asleep. Pretty soon into it, to be honest. Somewhere between Father Jack smashing a TV and Father Ted restraining him against his will into a wheelchair. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say it was boring or bad (because no doubt his fans will already be coming for me). It was harmless enough. I’m just really tired at the moment, because I’m not sleeping. I’m either worrying about the state of transgender protections, or I’m up most nights until about 4am arguing in the comments of my YouTube videos against people calling me a “man” or a “risk to children”. It’s a lot to take on sometimes, and I’m tired, okay? I don’t have time for old sitcoms.

The truth is, it is difficult to enjoy a light-hearted Irish comedy about a group of displaced catholic priests when you can’t help suspect that the person who wrote it hates you. You can’t help but wonder if he maybe hated you as they filmed it. Or if he’s thinking about how much he maybe hates you right now. Or if, even back then, he took breaks between typing scenes to sit back in his chair, light a cigarette and think “wow, I sure do maybe hate transgender people. Especially Jen Ives, who’s going to write a weird, off-piste article about me in 26 years time.” 

But most people don’t struggle with that inner conflict. Most people get a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside their tummy when they remember “I hear you’re a racist now, Father?” Most people enjoy the endless reruns of his work. I don’t think they associate him as directly with his output as the trans community does – but I’ve recently had both Motherland AND Paddington ruined for me by learning of his involvement (and now, hopefully, I’ve ruined them for you too).

Overall, what I managed to stay awake for while watching Father Ted was fine. It’s a daft sitcom about some daft priests written by a daft man – that a lot of people still like. Linehan has certainly done better work in the years following it, such as his seminal sitcom Mrs. Brown’s Boys, which I wish he would make more of.

* I’ve just discovered that the Dr. Oetker’s family had links with the Nazis, so that’s pizza ruined for me as well.

Jen Ives will be performing previews of her stand up comedy hour PEAK TRANS throughout the duration of the Camden Fringe in August at 2NorthDown