Working in comedy for over 15 years I have learned that nothing should surprise you and that the mood and fashion for humour can change overnight. Women are making their mark in comedy and long may this continue.
Funny Women has played its part in this and the talent and creativity of the women we have already seen travelling up and down the UK for this year’s Funny Women Awards heats is overwhelming. The numbers too. We’ve broken all records with over 500 women registered and the majority of them choosing to perform on stage in a live heat.
We’re at the halfway point. We’ve held heats in London, Exeter, Dublin, Manchester and Perth during October and Wolverhampton this week. This month we are set to see over 300 women in a series of London heats, starting tomorrow, and one in Brighton!
We’ve been able to run this year’s Awards with the help of some great comedy friends and allies. Let me pay credit to Simon O’Keeffe of Chaplin’s Bar in Dublin, Hazel O’Keefe, founder of Laughing Cows and the Women in Comedy Festival Manchester, we’re also grateful to the Spirit of 2012 WOW Southbank team who have hosted heats for us in Exeter and Perth. We will all be working together again in the New Year to put together the Regional Finals and some other showcases so watch this space for updates.
There have been some other bonuses of being on the road too. In Manchester, I caught up with the meteoric rise of Katherine Ryan, who won the Funny Women Awards in 2008, at her new show Glitter Room at the Lowry. Katherine’s live performance validates why she is now a ‘go to’ act for panel shows, hosting and starring in her own television projects. Consummately professional and wickedly kind to her audiences, Katherine is easily filling the comedy void left by the late great Joan Rivers.
Additional glitter was provided on this occasion by her brilliant support act, Lauren Pattison who also fared well in our Awards, coming second in 2014. Future dates of Glitter Room promise more talented support acts including Katherine’s fellow Canadian Allyson June Smith who hosted one of our Awards heats at Tribeca during the Women in Comedy Festival.
When I got to Perth in Scotland I decided to eschew a night in my hotel room catching up on telly for some more live comedy from Luisa Omielan. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional jolt I received from seeing her incredible new ‘work in progress’ written in response to her mother’s recent death from cancer. It is raw, visceral and funny in equal measure and packs a very powerful message about how quickly and easily things can go wrong when it comes to health matters.
When you get hit in the gut with something hilarious or you are moved to tears, it really brings home to me what the purpose of comedy should be. Shakespeare and Chaucer both knew that you can’t have comedy without tragedy and that the ‘downs’ serve to make the ‘ups’ feel even greater.
I left feeling emotionally drained but strangely empowered by Luisa’s brave and anger-fueled performance. There were as many tears as there were laughs in the audience that night.
Seeing so much new comedy live and being away from home always comes with its fair share of highs and lows, as many performers know. Train cancellations, cold wet weather and administrating a business remotely inevitably take their toll. I am grateful to my colleagues Kate Stone and Karen Rosie who have joined me on various legs of this journey to see some of the best new female comedy across the UK.
I have always believed in the power of humour to change the world, and some of us, from producers to performers are proud to make this connection. Funny Women gives women a real voice and a platform to talk about the awful prejudices and treatment meted out to us even in today’s enlightened society. There is no excuse for comedy promoters not to be booking women for their shows and it’s the success of women like Katherine Ryan that lead the way.
We are now looking forward to even more new female comedy this month in London and Brighton. It has been a real treat to put on our Awards heats as part of the Women in Comedy Festival and WOW Southbank’s Exeter and Perth events. My personal tour of the UK finished this week in Wolverhampton with a heat in an art gallery as part of the new Funny Things comedy festival hosted by the irrepressible Barbara Nice.
We have enjoyed the support shown by comedians and audiences across the UK. Do come along to any of the remaining heats to see some wonderful live comedy. Even if you’ve already performed come and watch everybody else too! We ask our audiences to complete a judging form and your feedback is helping us to shape the future of female comedy.
I will leave the last word to Barbara Nice, alter ego of the very talented Janice Connolly who was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to women in theatre earlier this year: “isn’t it piggin’ brilliant when a plan comes together” yes Barbara, it is!