The Funny Women Awards has weathered a lot in its eight years and remains the only contest of its kind for new, up-and-coming female stand ups.
Organisers are expecting around ten female comics from the Merseyside region to take to the stage for the heat this Thursday night (May 13), hosted by Scottish stand up (and Twitter legend) Janey Godley. They’re keen not to turn away any woman interested in having a go, so keep the billing open until the last showcase, and have changed the timing of the contest so the heats are clustered around the UK comedy festival season for optimum exposure.
A lot of hard work and determination has seen Funny Women survive major setbacks, such as losing its major sponsor (most recently Nivea) and becoming a completely independent event.
But for founder Lynne Parker, there was never any question of admitting defeat.
“I keep going with Funny Women because we need it,” she says immediately. “We’re still looking at a television landscape that prioritises men. The stand up circuit is still dominated by men. And we have seen nearly 1,000 women try out this competition, but just look at any comedy listings – they’re mainly male.
“I personally have a huge investment in Funny Women, it’s my head on the block. Now it doesn’t have a sponsor, it’s almost been like starting again in many ways. I’ve put all my efforts into getting bums on seats and have done quite a lot of coaching and workshops all over the country.
“We’ve quite a big community and I’m proud of all the girls who’ve gone on to do really well. But even they still don’t get air time like male comics do, it’s still a bloke’s game.”
The competition counts Sarah Millican, Zoe Lyons and Rosie Wilby among its success stories. In this neck of the woods, Liverpool Royal Court actress Lindzi Germain made the final in 2004.
Funny Women has had professionals including BBC producers on its judging panel, and Lynne says that has made a difference to the amount of women being booked for panel shows, a medium that has come under fire from female comics and commentators in recent years for its unworkable macho atmosphere.
She says: “I want to throw down the gauntlet to female comics and say ‘what’s stopping you’? Panel shows have quite an aggressive environment generally, and it can be quite difficult for women to do. But why not book some ballsy female comedians? They will take risks on new male comedians, but not female ones. I find it very frustrating.
“I’m not a comedian myself, so I’ve no axe to grind here. My job is to make other people look good. My whole reason for being is to make the girls who get into the final look fantastic.”
This year, Funny Women will work to help develop the profile of all of their finalists, not just the winner (who gets a holiday and other goodies). The dedication and passion put into the event is obvious.
Funny Women is open any new acts who have been performing for up to five years. This gives time for those who may have taken time out from the circuit for any reason, and that includes motherhood.
“It’s a different ball game,” Lynne says. “Even women will say to me that women should be judged on a level playing field to men, but how do you get to that point? It’s the same with getting women into the Houses of Parliament, and having all-women shortlists.
“It’s what Funny Women is all about – if we don’t need it anymore, why are more and more women entering every year?”
After the showcases, up to 24 acts will be selected from across the UK to take part in the semi finals on September 6, with 12 acts going on to perform at the charity final on September 20, both at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.
Liverpool’s showcase takes place on Thursday at the Unity Theatre. Here’s last year’s winner London Hughes, who performs under the stage name Miss London: