Review: 2017 Funny Women Awards Heat @ Exeter Phoenix

This year marks the 15th year of the Funny Women Awards, an event launched in 2003 to provide a platform for female comedians looking to further their career in this field. Those who have taken part in the past include Katherine Ryan and Sarah Millican, both of whom have gone on to become incredibly successful on British television and as stand up acts. Lynne Parker, the founder of this organisation, describes her inspiration behind the scheme as being a reaction to a comedy producer expressing that “women aren’t funny”.

The Funny Women Awards received a record number of applicants this year. The search for a winner began in London, visiting Exeter, Dublin, Manchester, Perth and Wolverhampton, with the last heat taking place in Brighton. The charity final will then be held in March 2018 at the prestigious Lyric Theatre London. This year, Funny Women are supporting the UN Women National Committee UK. Inspired by their HeForShe solidarity movement promoting gender equality, the six Stage Award finalists will be mentored by both well known male and female comedians. Laura Haynes, Chair for UN Women National Committee UK, expressed her delight at the awards supporting UN Women, stating “we know that the only way to achieve real change is to influence culture. The arts guide and reflect culture by helping people to re-think established norms and explore challenging topics in a thoughtful way. And laughter, when shared, can help to unite people. As well as making us laugh, the Funny Women Awards will be helping to open minds and encourage action.”

Saturday 14th October saw the Exeter heats of the competition, held at the Exeter Phoenix. Hosted by local comedian, broadcaster, author and maverick priest Maggy Whitehouse, the night saw fourteen acts perform five to ten minute sets each in order to win the title of funniest woman in Exeter, moving on to the next round in the competition. In fact, the South West had the most entries to compete compared to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Whitehouse began the evening with an important reminder that the world of comedy is one of misogyny. She recalled a joke made by a well-known male comic (that she chose not to name), which had him recount reasons why he was afraid to have children; he was worried that they might come out of the womb hideously deformed with various birth defects or monstrous qualities, or, he said, “be a girl”. This immediately resonated with how male orientated the comedy circuit is, something that most are blind to. These awards are wholly needed in promoting female representation in comedy and the arts.

The women of Exeter proved themselves to indeed be funny women. Each comedian had an original set that was personable and unique to their own life experiences. It was refreshing to see women on stage, talking about women, to an audience made up mostly of women. They drew on periods, pregnancy, motherhood, mental health, body image, sex and relationships, topics that women relate to and qualities within ourselves that we can very easily laugh at for possessing. One act, Jessie Nixon, even made light of smashing the patriarchy, something not often heard on the comedy circuit but welcomed nonetheless with raucous laughter. Melanie Drew relayed a shockingly awful yet hysterical account of a friend’s not-so-sexy run in with a nipple tassel that left many audience members in tears.

Each comedian had impeccable stage presence, retaining the audience’s interest throughout their set, none of them faltering once in their confidence. Some of the women had never performed in public before, whereas others had been on the stand up circuit for a prolonged period of time. Having said this, it was impossible to decipher which of the women were more experienced; they all seemed entirely comfortable under the bright lights.

It was interesting to hear anecdotes from women who came from all walks of life and various different life experiences. Sal Drummond spoke about her relationship and pregnancy in relation to her being autistic, which allowed for hilarity at hearing that her friend had asked how she and her autistic partner had sex and actually created a baby. Roseanne Gale spoke briefly about her stroppy teenage daughter, something that every woman could relate to, whether they were a mother themselves or had been a teenage girl full of angst in the past.

The talent in the Exeter Phoenix Auditorium that night made it clear as to why this organisation is so important, not only in the world of comedy, but for women everywhere in the creative industry. Women have such a strong and vital voice, and the Funny Women Awards make it so clear how necessary it is to provide a platform for them to be heard.


– Claudia Lace



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