The Vagenda

Bryony Kimmings is a Sex Idiot and It Looks Like Channel 4 Nicked Her Idea


I’m Bryony Kimmings. I’m a performance artist. But don’t let that make you hate me. It’s not all bleeding in galleries and shouting “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit” with Dennis Pennis (only die hard Spaced fans like me will get that reference.) Imagine me somewhere between Dave Gorman, Dawn Porter and David Attenborough. I am someone who uses their own autobiography, fascination with the planet and ability to express myself honestly to create theatre and film work that is accessible, raw, funny, honest and fucking fun.

I am writing this blog post for the Vagenda birds because I like their gutsy rip-roaring attitude and although I don’t agree with everything they say I find THAT is the joy of this blog. It goes there. It evokes lovely, lively, livid debate. So I wanted to choose something that has really been grinding my gears to fire at your eye holes.

 Something. Came. Up.

In 2010 I wrote a one woman show called Sex Idiot. It was my first solo work having spent my twenties in an addled daze, making work in clubs. I was asked to write something on a commission. I was 30. I had just found out I had an STI (a very common, curable one) and I’d NEVER had a sexual health test. I was raging (mostly at my stupid self) so I proposed that as my topic to the venue wanting to commission me. The venue screwed up their nose and said “EW!” because ewwwing about a STI is, let’s face it, the bog standard reaction. Yet nearly everyone I know has had one. What the fuck did that mean?! Double standards and slut-shaming rang in my head and I knew I had to make a piece of work about it. Retracing my sexual footsteps to the source.

The show was a hit. I have done it over 100 times, in the UK, Europe, America and Australia. It’s a rampage through a woman’s sexual past. An unabashed confessional of the things most humans have experience of doing: breaking hearts, crying under windows, sleeping with strangers and forgetting to call. It involves condoms and speculums and jokes. It also infamously includes my song “The Fanny Song” and a rather daring audience even made pubic hair moustache. People like that show, it makes them happy.

But every time I do the show I am also faced with a perplexing and unchanging degree of sexism. It’s subtle. It’s that ingrained, lazy type. I am faced with the artist’s dream-joy of the press and the people in the places I visit actually enjoying the show. Tweeting, celebrating in a “thank god she finally said it” kind of way. YET the other endless aghast faces I still see in the crowd and the “Oh my god I can’t believe she did that” articles are always so disappointing.

“Yeah yeah I get it. That’s the fucking world we live in. Get over it. The show does it’s bit… Blah blah”

That, I would have accepted until a few months ago, when I heard that C4 had a cracking new idea for a TV show. An ingenious little concept about a human being who discovers they have an STD and goes on a colourful journey of 12 x 30 minutes episodes to retrace its existence. Sound familiar? Before you get too excited, it’s not my show. This one has A HUGE GLARING difference. The protagonist isn’t a mouthy, happy to talk about sex like an adult, warts and all, feminist superhero but a sad bog standard slut-shaming weasel of BLOKE. Even the title is a beard stroking, 80′s film fan wet dream-a-thon… It is … Wait for it…


Genius! You bellow.

Hilarious! You guffaw.

It’s a good title. Granted. But for one second let’s break down how this actually reads through a sociological and political lens. I am casting aside the fact that retracing your footsteps as entertainment is a well trodden path – it is (Broken Flowers, to name just one example) but my spin was (until now) unique (I bothered to check my references!) and I’m also shrugging off possible Cryptomnesia (the act of hearing an idea, forgetting and then completely believing it is your own) as the writer and I share the same agent. AND my work has featured in every paper in the land.

So from this I will directly take the following things:

1) In order for a story about sexual health to be palatable as an idea on a mainstream platform it MUST come from the white, heterosexual male view point. We just aren’t ready for Sex Idiots yet.

2) If the main character is a man we once again have the problem of women being painted as secondary citizens in sexual relationships. They are short term stories. They don’t get longevity or equal footing.

3) We are laughing at the opposite of what we laugh at in Sex Idiot. We aren’t laughing at our own awkwardness and liberation at a taboo being rugby tackled into submission and all the wonderful things this unearths but rather a reinforcement of the natural order. Blokes are in charge.

4) The Television (British not American – thank the lord for Girls and Orange is the New Black here) is NOT a feminist. In fact it is inherently super-charged towards  perpetuating gender inequality. Because THAT, ladies and gentlemen, sells advertising space. Insecurity and anxiety are the means by which beauty products are sold to us lasses. Keep us down. Keep us buying.

 5) Channel 4 has gone to the dogs (yeah like 10 years ago).

I know I’m generalising, mud-slinging, even… I know I sound angry. I am. Less about my ideas being nicked… I’m over it. I am a fucking fountain of ideas each more resplendent than the next. But more about the fact that we live in a world where the story of a girl getting fucking chlamydia is still shocking. Still a taboo.

SO. I am doing Sex Idiot at the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love this week as a loud protest against the likes of Scrotal Recall. I wasn’t planning on doing it in the UK ever again… but I realise that while we still have to dig around for ages to get these these sexual viewpoints exposed it is still a necessary thing to do and an important story to tell.

Hopefully I will see some of you lot there. 

- Bryony Kimmings

9 thoughts on “Bryony Kimmings is a Sex Idiot and It Looks Like Channel 4 Nicked Her Idea

  1. Fuck British TV. I’ve just booked my tickets for tomorrow. Saw your Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model with a male comedian friend and we loved it – we both laughed and cried (mostly laughed). Can’t wait to take my partner tomorrow night. Thanks for your credible and personable approach to these real conversations and for using theatre in such a relevant and easygoing way (without being all legs akimbo!!) Better than a night in front of the TV any day x

  2. Scrotal Recall did make me chuckle inwardly a little from the title, but that to me suggests a hetero female or gay protagonist, because a straight, promiscuous man only has his own scrotum to recall.

    Also I think I remember your show from the Fringe a couple years ago, pubic moustache and all!

  3. You’re forgetting that proper ladies don’t have a sexual history, and they certainly don’t get STIs. They keep themselves pure and virginal for their men, while somehow being totally au fait with all sexual acts despite never actually having partaken.

    It’s only sluts and whores who sleep around, and who cares about them? They’re to be discarded by the chaps once they’ve been used. Or rather we as I’m pretty sure I would be in this category rather than the proper lady one.

  4. Your show sounds great, but is the criticism of the Channel 4 thing before it’s aired justified? I know that on the basis of past form it does not augur well for anything but the usual male exhibitionist take, but give it a chance. And you seem to be accusing them of plagiarism. Is there any evidence for this, because as an idea for a comedy scenario it’s not unfeasible that someone could have come up with it independently?

  5. Thought I posted before, but it didn’t appear…

    Bryony’s show sounds great, but is she being a bit premature in dismissing the Channel 4 one without actually seeing it? Based on the record and the approach they might be expected to take, I am not hopeful, but give them a chance…. And is the accusation one of plagiarism? Perhaps Bryony has evidence of that, but seems to me that it is not an unfeasible idea to come up independently with if you are looking for some sort of right-on idea for a comedy…

    • I don’t think plagiarism is the focus of this article – more that it’s convenient (and disheartening) for a show like this to focus on a man. I mean, I know nothing about it, but I’m getting a picture already – white, mid-to-late-20s everyday man, probably with a scruffy beard, trawling through relationships with poorly developed female characters sharing a blend of stereotypical traits (one is a sex addict! One wants to get married! And so on) – it’s frustrating when part of Bryony’s intent with her show was to redefine traditional ideas about women and sex that still linger today, but she feels it’s undermined by Channel 4 who are using the concept in the same bland, misogynistic context. It’s probably coincidental but I can sense the frustration, definitely.

      I mean, I’m generalising horribly – the TV show might be wonderfully subversive and feminist. But it does have the risk of becoming just another show that makes sex all about the menz with women as interchangeable participants. But you’re right – let’s wait until we watch it before jumping to any conclusions (I can’t wait to be proved wrong).

  6. I saw this on Friday evening after seeing this post, and it was fantastic (the man fainting in the audience notwithstanding). It was both outrageous and nuanced, hilarious but also strangely touching. It’s been a while since I’ve seen anything that’s managed to evoke all of these feelings on British TV (though I must say I don’t watch all that much…) so even if C4 have chiefed it from Kimmings, I shouldn’t imagine they’ll be able to take the most significant bits.

    Crucially, I agree that if this is done from a man’s perspective, it just wouldn’t be that interesting any more. My friend and I had a good long discussion after the show, and we arrived at the opinion that the main contribution of the show (apart from to illustrate inventive uses of pubic hair) is to challenge a kind of backwards chauvinism towards women. This is a kind of chauvinism expressed by educated professionals and/or those who care about gender issues and thus, dare I say it, (some elements of) feminism itself. That when men combine promiscuity with a wanton lack of consideration for others’ feelings, it is because they are terrible, but when women do it, it is at best because they are empowered, and at worst something we can condescendingly joke along with (“awww little women fucking whomever they want to. How sweet that they’re so equal to men!”). What I think Kimmings does so effectively is to demonstrate how short-sighted both of these perspectives are. If it’s shitty to hurt others through your own selfishness, it’s shitty regardless of whether a man or a woman does it. (And, of course, if it’s stupid to do so, because STI risk, then it’s stupid for both sexes).

    I think this is important, because it challenges some of the more impulsive reactions to “slut-shaming”. It’s a catchall term, of course, that hides as much as it elucidates. Boys in a school shouting ‘slut!’ at someone who dared to do what they wanted her to do is very different from Jenny Murray expressing distaste at how gleefully some authors recount their sex/masturbation/affairs etc. If we concentrate on the so-called slut-shaming that isn’t misogynistic, but rather reflects a genuine consideration of the morality of ANYONE engaging in promiscuous or risky sex, then I think Kimmings offers an interesting question: do we want to defend some things/people/arguments etc. because we think they are genuinely defensible, or just because they are women?

    Anyway, if a Channel 4 show managed to provoke even half as insightful a question as this, it would be a pretty big achievement. I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.

  7. I work in the TV industry and I’ve one of these scripts for SCROTAL RECALL.
    See what you think when it airs – I think you might be pleasantly surprised. It’s actually really a sort of ‘coming of age’ story about three friends, one of whom is a talented, intelligent and very cool young woman – played by Antonia Thomas (she of Misfits).

    I love your work Bryony – I’ve seen you live several times and think you are truly awesome… I can’t help but agree that it’s difficult to have a strong opinion about something, without actually having seen it. The proof is in the pudding. Let’s hope it’s not a dodgy pudding….!

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