Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up To Infertility | TV review by Steve Bennett © BBC
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Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up To Infertility

TV review by Steve Bennett

This might be the first BBC medical documentary to contain the phrase: ‘There’s some contentious shit right there.’ 

And it’s certainly the first to be about a man describing his battle with a condition he calls ‘shit-jizz’ - or male infertility.

Comedy has long been used to address uncomfortable personal truths, and this is Rhod Gilbert’s primary weapon as he speaks about the troubles he and his wife, the comedy writer Sian Harries, have had trying to conceive.

This topic is, for want of a better turn of phrase, fertile ground for cheekily rude turns of phrase. The comedian calls himself ‘Inspector Bonk Juice’ as he investigates why his ‘satchel syrup isn’t what it used to be’. Every schoolboy euphemism he deploys underlines the message that this is not a topic men are comfortable addressing, and requires humour as a crutch.

Getting men to talk about their feelings has been a focus of many a mental health campaign recently, and this programme hopes to start a similar conversation when it comes to fertility. Certainly it’s an issue that must affect more men than you would expect from its media representation, especially as scientists have found that sperm counts across the Western world have gone down 60 per cent in 40 years.

Where, for instance, is there talk of the male body clock? The perceived image is that men can be fathers at any age - just look at Mick Jagger! Meanwhile a lot of gender stereotypes are packed into the fact that most infertility talks is aimed at women. They, after all, are the ones who traditionally raise and nurture children, while men are strong and virile, anything less is an embarrassment. So social conditioning says, any way.

During Stand Up To Infertility, Gilbert covers a lot of ground that you would expect such documentary to cover as the jokes subside into the serious. He meets performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah who has suffered similar issues, visits a fertility convention, gathers a group of men to try to discuss the topic in a pub and, of course, takes us through at least some of his own experiences investigating why he is finding it so hard to become a father.

But the crux of the programme comes when it’s suggested he become a poster-boy for male infertility – a job he’s very reluctant to do. His embarrassment about being publicly linked to the issue is every man’s discomfort around the issue, writ large (and on an eye-catching vivid yellow background). How can he reduce the stigma if he’s under its pervasive influence 

That humour is the only way men feel even vaguely able to talk about topics such as this proves his way through the dilemma. Addressing his misplaced shame and anxiety through comedy – very successfully, as anyone who has seen Book Of John tour will know – is a way of not only owning the conversation, but also showing a path other men might also take. Sometimes frivolity is the best way to convey gravity. 

• Stand Up To Infertility is on BBC One Wales at 9pm, then iPlayer, and then across the UK on BBC Two at 9.45pm on Sunday.

Review date: 25 Jan 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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