Rhod Gilbert stands up to infertility

Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility

(BBC2, 10pm)

In 2019, comedian Rhod Gilbert hit the road with a stand-up show where he talked about his infertility.

He’s not alone in experiencing difficulties conceiving a child – around 50% of all infertility issues are male and research has revealed shocking evidence that sperm counts across the entire Western world have dropped by 60 per cent in the last 40 years. What does makes him slightly unusual though is that he was prepared to speak out it.

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As he discovers in his documentary Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility, which is showing on BBC2 after previously being broadcast on BBC1 in his native Wales, it’s a subject that many men feel uncomfortable discussing with their friends and family, let alone joking about in front of a crowd.

So now, the comedian is sharing the emotional turmoil, theories and misconceptions about infertility and meeting others who have found themselves in a similar position. He also learns more about why some people believe that 21st-century living could be behind the fall in sperm counts.

Rhod discovered his own fertility issues when he and his wife Siân had difficulties while trying for a baby. Siân is dealing with the complications of endometriosis, but Rhod was unpleasantly surprised when tests revealed there were also issues with his sperm. As he puts it, they were lazy and languid, “like their owner”.

He’s very candid about this often-taboo subject, saying: “I’m older than Sydney Opera House… Once, my sperm may have been rocket-fuelled baby bombs. But these days I’m told they’re as old and wrinkly as the bag I keep them in. Senile swimmers in need of zimmers.”

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Not everyone shares his frankness though. During the course of the documentary, Rhod learns that the £400 million-a-year UK fertility industry is mainly aimed at women, and at a convention with over 100 exhibitors, only one stall is aimed at men.

He also meets a man whose wife had eight years of treatment before they discovered that he was the one with the fertility issues, and speaks to writer and performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who describes his own agonies when he discovered he couldn’t have children.

To get more men talking, Rhod starts a self-help group, but when the turnout for the first meeting is a little underwhelming, it seems more drastic action is called for. So, the comedian tries to launch a Movember-style movement, and in the process makes himself the face of male infertility.

He admits, it’s not quite what he had in mind when he became a comedian, but he is hopeful that his stand-up background could be an advantage. As he says: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my infertility journey it’s that humour is the battering ram that can break the defensive wall that men put up around this most serious of subjects.”

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