Let’s bust some myths about ‘female stand-ups’

Oh Guardian readers. Most of you are my kindred spirits. Some of you, however, are people who just want to write ungrounded, shortsighted comments that barely resemble a proper opinion, let alone a constructive one.

Predictably, Mark Logan’s favourable review of Bridget Christie’s highly anticipated return to The Stand, where she performed her Fosters Comedy Award-winning show A Bic for Her last year, has roused the ‘women aren’t funny’ brigade yet again – with the majority of these bemoaning the idea that feminism can be funny.

What these quick-to-judge figures don’t seem to understand, is that a huge part of the current feminism movement (or fourth wave, if you like), has spread on social media like wildfire for three particular reasons; feminism in this day and age is common, sexualised culture in the West and awareness of practices such as FGM outside of our more local bubble, and finally, humour – yes, feminists have found their voices, and we’ve been making each other laugh on the subject ever since.

(It’s tempting to say ‘women’s voices’ – and of course, that’s a large part of it – but actually there are some brilliant men who openly call themselves feminists, brilliant stand-ups among them including my boyfriend, musical double act Jonny & the Baptists and activist Chris Coltrane).

So let’s bust some of those FQAs (Frequently Quoted Assumptions) right now, shall we?

“Female comics’ topics are limited to hating men, periods and under-representation in comedy”

This year, if you make the wise decision to see the wickedly awesome, super duper, charismatic Lou Sanders in Lou Sanders in Another Great Show Again, you’ll be treated to the sight of Sanders tap dancing with a vagina on a stick. The vagina is not having a period. Or at least, it wasn’t during the preview I saw anyway. In fact, guys, I’m going to come out and say it now. Why aren’t women talking about periods onstage? I’ve seen a couple of semen jokes onstage – why not a bit of menstrual blood eh? WAIT, COME BACK, I’LL GET TO THE BLOODY POINT (geddit).

I’ve seen a lot of female stand ups in my time, but I’ve never seen a women target all men, joke about their ‘monthly visit’ in excruciating detail or say their aren’t enough women on the circuit as a joke. I’ve definitely had conversations with people about women stand-ups (I’m kind of having a one-sided type right now) and line-ups, but one of the biggest is still panel shows – where many fill their ‘woman quota’ with a female non-comic – Rachel Riley, I’m definitely talking about you (sorry) – and don’t feature female regulars or hosts (there’s Celebrity Juice and Viral Tap, both ITV2 – and very niche!).

The Guardian (yes, them again) wrote an article about the presence of more female comedy performers than ever before at this year’s Fringe. Although it didn’t explore this, I believe that the reason more women are going is because of stand-ups like Christie, whose success means that the stigma around ‘women not being funny’ is thankfully fading – in other words, it’s more economically viable to be a women performing at the Fringe, because people are less likely to be put off by seeing a female face on the poster.

“All the women comedians I’ve seen have been rubbish. Isn’t that Jo Brand awful?”

Firstly, I feel sorry for this hypothetical commenter. Comedy is subjective, so if you don’t find Jo Brand funny, that’s fine – just look elsewhere. Brand’s subject matter can veer to the domestic side, but that’s not a bad thing – and it often sharply dissects those expectations of perfection in relationships. And if you’re going to call Sarah Millican talentless, rather than accepting her stand-up isn’t for you, then there’s probably no hope for you.

“The women they’ve featured on Mock the Week have been rubbish”

Have you seen Mock the Week recently? It’s not just the women!

“Haven’t seen any Bridget Christie she might be great she might be terrible but she can’t be worse than her husband”

Ok – I’ve probably made some grammatical errors myself, but as I copied this comment verbatim from everyone’s favourite left leaning digital news website (ok, just mine), I’m resisting adding commas to the above quote. (NOTE TO SELF: STOP PROCRASTINATING!)

This wasn’t the worst comment on Brian Logan’s article, but it encapsulates the issue Christie must face in nearly every review, interview or article that features her as its subject; her husband. Onstage Christie does not refer to her actual comedian husband, but an invented ‘stage’ one. I don’t know a huge deal about Christie’s personal relationships, but what I do know is this – she’s hugely talented, she writes her own material, her material is distinct from his and her career is of her own making. End of. She may have featured on a show with him, but she’s also at the top of her game – if he wasn’t part of the show, she would still be involved. She’s not married to Harry Hill, Kevin Eldon or Kerry Godliman, but she featured on their respective sitcoms (Harry Hill’s Little Internet Show, It’s Kevin and Kerry’s List). And Fred MacAulay featured on her award-winning Radio 4 series Bridget Christie Minds the Gap – but they don’t have a romantic relationship either.

The thing about comedy – and it’s something I love – is that it’s a community. An industry with a performing circuit at its core, many performers know each other, share the same bill, organise gigs with each other and perform in the many new act competitions held each year. Essentially they help each other out – and they watch and enjoy each others’ sets. It’s supportive and refreshing. So therefore the idea of a leading alternative comic who won the most iconic prize in stand-up comedy last year appearing on a show about alternative comedy? Not that surprising is it?

“Women can’t do proper jokes”

Challenge your perceptions at the Fringe this year; if you think women can’t do one-liners or puns,check out Bec Hill, who started the hugely popular Pun Run night in London. If you think they can’t do near-the-knuckle rudeness, book a ticket to Katherine Ryan. It’s ingenious, borderline bonkers ideas you want? Lou Sanders is your woman. Friendly, funny and joyous? Go see Hatty Ashdown (and look out for Aisling Bea back in London). Political comedy with heart? Josie Long. Characters and/or improv? Cariad Lloyd and Pippa Evans are both doing laugh a minute shows this year. In the mood to see a panel show? Look out for Grainne Maguire’s What Has the News Ever Done for Me? (Check out Danielle Ward hosting her podcast panel show alongside team captain Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Do the Right Thing if you’d like to cheer up your commute.) Sketch comedy? Lazy Susan, of course! Sharp, hilarious and personal stand-up? Sarah Campbell.

“Feminism isn’t funny”

Sites like The Vagenda and writers such as Caitlin Moran aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they inject irresistible humour into the subject. And the art of good comedy is to always ‘punch up’ – unless you’re playing a character, such as Rachel Parris’s nightmare diva singer Felice in her show, Rachel Parris: Live in Las Vegas. Therefore, feminism is ripe for comedy – just as left wing, alternative comedy thrived in the eighties, feminism is fighting a absurd battle that needs to be had – and that means there’s humour to be mined.

Even if Bridget Christie’s comedy isn’t to your taste, if you were to analyse it, you’d surely have to appreciate the structure, the purpose and the commitment to the performance. She sends-ups perceptions of feminists, brings the ridiculous double standards of sexism to the fore, critiques her own bubbling anger and she also opens up a debate that will last with the audience once they leave the venue – last year it was through playing an inspiring recording of Malala Yousafzai talking about surviving the attempt on the life by the Taliban and the aftermath, and this year she’s making her intention to make a stand against FGM known.

“I don’t like ‘female comedy’. It’s my least favourite genre”

Well, luckily for you, it doesn’t exist!

In conclusion…

If you think women aren’t funny, you’re simply not looking hard enough. We don’t see enough of a variety of female acts on the TV for everyone to see someone to their taste, but the spectrum of acts around is so broad yet they don’t all get showcased on TV. Go out into clubs, go to the Fringe, make some effort – go on YouTube, or Chortle, or follow-up on tips from – yes, you guessed it – the flipping’ Guardian.

But whatever you do, don’t believe what you read in the comments, ok?

 

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Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Stuart Laws and John-Luke Roberts

Now previews are done and the Edinburgh Fringe has kicked off, it’s time for me to present the last two episodes of my interactive video series, Frankie’s Fringe Focus

First up, it’s Stuart Laws

Stuart is a kinder eggs obsessive stand-up, whose show this year, ‘When’s This Gonna Stop?‘ will reveal his penchant for German Christmas cookies and a hatred for spiders

He runs his own production company, Turtle Canyon Comedy, and has recently been making short comedy films (so I don’t know what he made of my makeshift iPad filming setup!) He’ll also be doing a Comedy Roast with fellow Fringe Focus guest Matt Winning – find out more on his website.

Watch the Fringe Focus with Stuart Laws on Touchcast

John-Luke Roberts

I’m definitely trying too hard to be a ‘too-cool-for-school’ T4-style host in my interview with Luke – but it’s quite surreal interviewing someone you know so well.

I’ve not actually seen Stand-Up’, Luke’s show this year, but I’m planning to see it in Edinburgh – I’ve seen various bits of pieces at new material nights and even donated self-raising flour to his cause. But, if anything to go by last year’s show, it’s going to be awesome (and I’ll be very proud). It will also feature a talking dinosaur…

Luke also co-hosts the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society with Thom Tuck and will be presenting different acts four nights a week during the Fringe. Being the Fringe, it’s only allowed to be two hours long – I’ve never been to such a short ACMS, so I’m quite intrigued by the prospect!

Watch the Fringe Focus with John-Luke Roberts

So that’s it for my first interactive series! You can find a full list of featured acts here and do Tweet me your Fringe tips @getfrank. It’s been a while since I’ve properly gone out and interviewed people outside of work (and kept my voice/face in the mix) and I’ve enjoyed it so much – and that down to the lovely comics, the nice folks at Touchcast who have repeatedly given me more space on their server and everyone who has watched, tweeted or let me know they’ve been watching. You’re the best.

Hopefully I’ll get to host some new stuff in future, and I’m keen to work with others, so do get in touch with ideas!

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Jay Foreman and Nish Kumar

To celebrate the start of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’ll be publishing a new episode of Fringe Focus every day!

The series will finally conclude on Saturday – and on Sunday, I shall rest. And probably bake a three tier cake for the office, but that’s a different kind of effort, right?

So I’m not bombarding your inbox, I’ll keep the Fringe Focus posts to every other day – hence featuring two comics at a time. And here they are…

Jay Foreman

Jay Foreman is most likely the successor to Mitch Benn‘s topical musical comedy crown. He can often be seen collaborating with fellow Fringe Focus guest Bec Hill on YouTube, with Bec’s paper puppetry perfectly complimenting Jay’s witty tunes.

This year Jay’s doing a kids’ show at the Pleasance, Disgusting Songs for Revolting Children (and Other Funny Stories) and I was lucky enough to be treated to a one-on-one performance of one of his quirky acoustic numbers from the show – watch my slightly awkward bobbing to the music (and much, much more) over on Touchcast now.

Nish Kumar

Make no mistake – Nish Kumar is a lovely, lovely man, and a genuinely brilliant stand-up. He’ll be returning to the Fringe with his third full length effort, Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity.

I’ve seen a preview and it’s a great show – with some lovely callbacks and a hilarious story about Nish’s trip to the Isle of Wight with fellow comic Romesh Ranganathan. But obviously, don’t just take my word for it – go see it! And before you do, make sure you watch the Touchcast (even if just to see Nish get very excited about making interactive things appear onscreen)!

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Jake Lambert

This week, I’m catching up with one-liner comic, poet and storyteller Jake Lambert.

I met Jake through the BBC New Comedy Award and he impressed me with his natural onstage personality and his sharp, witty one-liners. He’s got a great, broad appeal (and he’s thoroughly lovely too).

While we were filming my Dad decided to interrupt us by calling me to enquire about a certain iconic sketch group… You can see what happened below in this exclusive ‘uncut’ clip.

You can catch Jake performing his free show (shared with Dom Lister) at Dropkick Murphys at the Fringe this August. Click here for more details. He’ll also be performing at Comedy Cow: Prime Cut at the start of the festival too.

Click here to watch Jake guesting on Frankie’s Fringe Focus on Touchcast now! 

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Lazy Susan

Ladies and gents, this week I’m thrilled to bring you one of the acts who’ll surely be taking the Edinburgh Fringe by storm this summer.

If there’s any justice, the sketch show that will be on everyone’s must-see list this August will be Extreme Humans by Lazy Susan. I’ve seen a preview, and even in its earlier stages, it was breathlessly funny.

In our Fringe Focus episode, the duo dress me up in a variety of their props and telling me about the characters they belong to, effectively turning me into a ‘human buckaroo’ in the process. But did I buck? Well you’ll just have to watch to find out!

Catch Freya and Celeste (aka Lazy Susan) performing Extreme Humans at the Pleasance Courtyard at 7pm from July 30th – August 25th (excluding August 12th, when most of the performers have a well-earned rest!)

Watch Frankie’s Fringe Focus with Lazy Susan on Touchcast!

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Bec Hill & Darren Walsh

Howdy Fringe-goers! I’ve got two Fringe Focuses for the price of one today (basically because I was rubbish and didn’t post this last week)

First up is the extraordinarily creative Bec Hill, whose signature performance style is ‘paper puppetry’. If you want to know what that means, watch the video with future Fringe Focus guest, the musical comic Jay Foreman, below…

She’s a busy woman indeed – aside from her paper puppetry creations on YouTube, taking control of Londoners’ social media profiles (to hilarious effect) on London Live’s CTRL Freaks and running the hugely popular Pun Run, Bec is responsible for a whopping three shows in Edinburgh this August. Catch a special charity edition of Pun Run, her kids’ show with Tom Goodliffe, Bec and Tom’s Awesome Laundry, and her own solo effort, Bec Hill in… Ellipsis, at the Guilded Balloon.

Watch Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Bec Hill on Touchcast

Next, it’s puntastic stand-up Darren Walsh, who first wowed me with his extra creative one-liners and sound-effects back at the BBC Radio New Comedy Award in 2012.

Darren’s definitely in the running for ‘best Fringe show title’ in 2014, with the imaginatively titled ‘Chicken Meow’ (watch the touchcast to find out why) which you can catch daily at the Heroes @ The Hive for whatever you’re prepared to pay at the end.

And do make sure you check out this amazing video of Darren at the O’Henry Pun-Off World Championships in Texas from earlier this year – what a hit rate!

Watch Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Darren Walsh

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Lou Sanders

The ninth (yes, ninth – catch up here) episode of my foray into comedy interviews, Frankie’s Fringe Focus, is with the wickedly funny Lou Sanders.

Lou is one of those stand-ups who are hard to compare with anyone else. She’s got a unique, almost anarchic, energy about her – you trust her onstage, even though you can’t predict what she’s going to do next.

We shot this in the ladies’ loo in the Camden Head (the Camden one, not Angel), with Lou’s friend holding my iPad. After this (and my video with Lead Pencil) I realised that the main (front) camera on my iPad simply doesn’t focus properly, so from now on, even if someone else is filming, I’m going to have to film using the front camera.

Luckily Lou looks nice in this video (while I look like I’m partly made of the sun… and not in a good way) and we chat about her amazing character The Money Lady, calculate the number of jokes on offer in this year’s show, Lou Sanders in Another Great Show Again, and cover tap dancing vaginas… just because.

Click here to watch the video now. It’s interactive so you can touch it if you’ve got that kind of screen – or click with your mouse if you haven’t!

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Joz Norris

I’m going for my first ever weekend mini-break tomorrow, so I’ve released this week’s episode of Frankie’s Fringe Focus early – and it’s a proper treat, thanks to the lovely Joz Norris.

I’ve already seen a preview of Joz’s show, Awkward Prophet, so I was particularly keen to chat about it with him. As I’ve seen Joz in many guises over the past couple of years (including throwing Ben Target around a stage whilst encased in a ebony morph suit), I asked him if he could bring a couple of costumes with him, and he didn’t disappoint!

You can watch me chatting to Joz about dodgy trousers, Bowie wigs and girls (ooh errr!) over on my touchcast channel now.

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Chris Coltrane

My latest Fringe Focus is with political activist and stand-up Chris Coltrane.

We met up to chat about his 2014 Fringe show ‘There’s No Heroes Left Except All of Us‘, but found that the space we planned to film otherwise occupied. Improvising in the baking hot sun, the ever-resourceful Chris ferried a wooden bench across the road from the pub, to a spot on the kerb.

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(Photo courtesy of @Chris_Coltrane)

We started recording, but my iPad had other ideas…

Luckily though, we soon got back on track, and so you can find out about why Chris got into performing comedy about activism, his favourite fellow political comics and how you can listen to his 2012 and 2013 shows for free – what a bargain!

Watch the interactive Frankie’s Fringe Focus with Chirs Coltrane here.

Frankie’s Fringe Focus: Lead Pencil

Just over a week ago, I squeezed my way through the central London crowds to reach the Leicester Square Theatre. My mission? To meet the really very lovely Maddie, Louise and Dave of colourful, energetic sketch group, Lead Pencil for my latest Fringe Focus interview.

We had a chat about their 2012 show, their sketch comedy peers, preparing props for this year’s show and Manchester United fans. They’ve got great energy and are one of those acts that seem to enjoy being onstage and their audience – I’ve mostly seen groups who have ‘awkward’ onstage personas recently (not that I don’t enjoy them, or that they aren’t brilliant) – but Lead Pencil seem to be open to being themselves and that can be quite refreshing.

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Watch my interview with Lead Pencil here.

Lead Pencil will be performing on the Belly Laugh stage at the Underbelly during the Edinburgh Fringe at 6:20pm nightly. You can see them at the Brighton Fringe on May 17 and 18 (details in the poster above).