Comedians quit Yesterday, Today & The Day Before in Palestine protest

Thursday 27th May 2021, 2:00pm by Jay Richardson

  • Sophie Duker and Kemah Bob have quit Comedy Central's Yesterday, Today & The Day Before
  • Duker says she has "chosen not to return as host" because of "things that went down during filming of the first ep"
  • The decisions stem from a row about Duker's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the opening episode
Yesterday, Today & The Day Before. Sophie Duker. Copyright: Rumpus Media

Comedy Central's irreverent news show Yesterday, Today & The Day Before has been plunged into controversy after just one episode.

Presenters Sophie Duker and Kemah Bob, plus assistant producer Saima Ferdows, have quit the programme in protest over its decision not to include material about the recent heightened conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Duker, who co-hosted the first episode of the female-led topical review last Thursday alongside Suzi Ruffell and Maisie Adam, said that she had "chosen not to return as host", adding that it was "because of things that went down during filming of the first ep".

The show's format sees a different hosting trio for each episode. Bob, who was due to present this week's edition with Ruffell and Adam but has now been replaced by Ria Lina, alleged mistreatment of Duker and said that she made the decision to leave in "solidarity with my friends/colleagues and the people of Palestine".

The row apparently stems from Duker's inaugural monologue.

The 2019 Edinburgh Comedy Award best newcomer nominee wrote on Instagram yesterday that she had "attempted to highlight oppressive governments across the globe clamping down on civilians' rights to protest, related recent events in Al-Aqsa mosque & Kenmure Street, called out well-meaning liberals and lefties who claim to be anti-racist yet share and amplify anti-Semitic [sic] material, spoke about the sinister new PCSC Bill and took some (fairly tame tbh) swipes at our textbook posh boy Prime Minister, perma-smirky Home Secretary and notorious cis woman JK Rowling. Yes it was fire!"

As broadcast, her monologue covered the PCSC Bill and right to protest, as well as the Kenmure Street protests in Glasgow, with jokes at the expense of Home Secretary Priti Patel, but the show did not mention recent escalation of violence in the Middle East or Rowling at any point.

Guessable?. Kemah Bob. Copyright: Tuesday's Child

Kemah Bob wrote on Instagram yesterday: "While I feel production has learned from the mistakes made during [the first episode] and I have been assured the team will do better in the future, it is in protest that I say they will have to do better without me.

"I stand with the Palestinian people. Who have been let down by our silence, cowardice, ignorance and confusion long enough. To require a fact based analysis and meet compliance is standard with any topic. But to omit the subject completely, as it was from the broadcast, is what I found unconscionable. It is because this issue appears to be so difficult to discuss, that we as a news show with resources such as researchers and fact checkers demystify it.

"I stand with my friends who left the show, who as women of color [sic] are uniquely positioned to understand the importance of highlighting events like this. And specifically Sophie Duker who was in my eyes mistreated while trying to do what she was hired to do - use her voice. I trust her ability to shed light on this issue while denouncing anti-Semitism [sic].

"For the sake of humanity, we've got to operate a higher level of morality. I'm not saying I know it all, but I'm doing my best to educate myself and know I would've learned something if that segment wasn't cut short."

Yesterday, Today & The Day Before. Image shows from L to R: Sophie Duker, Suzi Ruffell, Maisie Adam, Steph McGovern. Copyright: Rumpus Media

The pair's departure follows that of Ferdows. She tweeted last week that she had "made the difficult decision to quit the show on moral grounds", four hours prior to the first episode airing. She declined to give more detail but elicited a message of "solidarity" from Duker.

Duker, who balanced her early stand-up career with assistant producing and researcher roles on television shows such as Frankie Boyle's New World Order and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, added: "I know my shit from both sides of the camera, having worked substantially in production since 2013, and naturally my piece wasn't written in isolation - it had already been meticulously fact-checked, researched and edited for tone and balance days before the record.

"Despite this, several compromising positions I was put in on the record day due to the content of my monologue involved unusual and unacceptable levels of last-minute interference.

"If I am speaking as me, in my own voice, about such important topics, I must either have written what I am saying or feel comfortable that I fully believe and understand the context & message of the speech I'm given."

Comedy Central has commissioned six hour-long episodes of Yesterday, Today & The Day Before, which is made by Rumpus Media (Joe Lycett's Got Your Back, Comedians Solve World Problems).

Sharing a photo of herself, Ruffell and Adam on set, Duker also stated that "I love being stupid on sets and stages and I can't wait to do more of it, hopefully alongside many of the same people I started this particular adventure with." She also urged viewers to continue supporting "the show if you enjoyed it, there are so many excellent people behind it on and off camera".

Bob echoed the sentiment, writing: "I stand with my friends who continue to work on the show - all of whom deserve to have been platformed, seen and celebrated."

Ferdows and stand-up Ania Magliano, a writer on the show, were among those publicly expressing support for Duker's stance yesterday, as were other comics. Siblings duo Marina and Maddy Bye called her an "inspiration", while Chloe Petts praised her "great statement ... As ever, you have my full support and I applaud your principles."

Yesterday, Today & The Day Before. Sophie Duker. Copyright: Rumpus Media

Spokespeople for both Duker and Bob told British Comedy Guide that there would be no further comment.

Comedy Central told British Comedy Guide today that they "must ensure productions are compliant with broadcast rules. Due to time constraints and the non-compliant nature of the original commentary, part of Sophie's monologue was adapted to ensure broadcast compliance."

They explained: "We are proud to support a diverse range of comedians and voices throughout our series, and thank Sophie for her contribution to the launch of the Yesterday, Today & The Day Before."

Production company Rumpus Media says: "We worked closely with Sophie to try and make her experience on the show a positive one. Despite our best endeavours, due to time constraints and compliance considerations, things didn't run as smoothly as everyone would have hoped.

"There have been learnings from this experience, and we have subsequently made changes to the production process for the rest of the series to allow more time for feedback on scripts from a compliance and creative perspective. We continue to work with Sophie on other projects."

Duker also took a stand against The News Quiz last year, saying she would only return to the Radio 4 show when it employed more black people. In June she was parachuted into a recording at the last minute to discuss #BlackLivesMatter, when it became apparent that the existing all-white line-up would have been inappropriate for a week in which racial politics had dominated the news agenda.

In January, Greater Manchester Police announced that it would take no further action against her for a joke about race she made on an episode of New World Order recorded in September 2020, which attracted complaints in the right-wing press and substantial online abuse for the comic.

More than 1,300 people contacted the BBC directly in protest at Duker's comments, but the Corporation rejected their complaints.

The debut of Yesterday, Today & The Day Before, which aired on Thursday 20th May at 9pm, achieved overnight ratings of just 22,500 viewers.

Episode 2 of Yesterday, Today & The Day Before - featuring Suzi Ruffell, Maisie Adam and Ria Lina, plus guests Janet Street-Porter and Ola Labib - is on Comedy Central at 9pm tonight.

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