Funny Women Final 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Like almost all new act finals, Funny Women has previously thrown up some very mixed line-ups – but the class of 2007 is probably the best yet uncovered.

Most noticeably, the finalists were, to a woman, unflappably professional and relaxed, no one displaying the slightest trace of nerves standing before a packed Comedy Store, surely the biggest and most daunting gig any of them would have ever played.

Is this the sign of an increasingly slick, businesslike approach to an ever-more competitive comedy circuit, or just the product of the stand-up courses springing up everywhere?

Many of the contestants were actresses, and the first, Katy Schutte, even teaches improvised comedy, a quick Google reveals. She takes to the stage with a ukulele, fast becoming the prop du jour for any comic wanting a visual shorthand to show their quirkiness. And, as expected, she strums a whimsical love song – but it’s nothing special.

Schutte’s smart, nerdy and knowing, but her part-ironic, part-intellectually snobby tone of voice is too familiar, shared by an ever-growing number of geeky-but-superior comics. Yet when your best-received gag is how a Mensa alternative for thick people should be called Densa, the quality of the writing isn’t matching up to the image.

Chortle has only recently reviewed Joanne Lau, as she’s starting to make an impact on the open-mic circuit through a combination of sharp writing and an enjoyably heartless attitude.

It’s still hard to feel entirely comfortable with her ploy of playing up the stilted Chinese accent, which goes beyond the point of exposing Westerners’ stupid stereotypes, and starts to become complicit in encouraging them.

Still, she went down very well – and earned a runners-up prize of £500 – thanks to some very good jokes behind that comedy voice.

Talking of comedy voices, Nat Luurtsema, by far the least experienced performer on the bill, had a very distinctive one. She has a strange detachment from her material, which is an endearing combination of overly detailed observations and inventive, slightly surreal ideas.

Such aloof delivery allows her to offer a self-referential, self-deprecating commentary on her act and its limitations. Starting an strikingly original impression of her first meal after a colonic irrigation, she happily admits to having no acting talent the match the job.

What she does have, however, is a talent for dry, off-the-wall wit. Her set’s not there yet, she needs a lot more gig hours under her belt for that, but she certainly has huge potential.

Isma Almas knows how to make an entrance, coming on stage in full burkha. From behind the veil, she cracks some spot-on gags about the ridiculousness of this oppressive outfit – as if the fact needed highlighting. Jokes about this dress have been done before, of course, but Almas for the most part dodges anything too hack, even if she does milk the subject a bit too much.

There is, though, more than one string to her bow, and she’s just as good out of the garment. Then, she reveals not only her ever-smiling face but a deliciously cruel approach to her day job in mental health. Not necessarily in the best taste, but impressively done.

Irishwoman Sharon Mannion seems to have stolen Tommy Tiernan’s soul. This impressive comic has the very same accent, rhythms, tone and powerful hectoring style as her illustrious compatriot. And if you’re going to emulate someone’s delivery, you might as well go right for the very best.

The material’s mostly on the familiar subjects of drunkenness and the stupid things you do under the influence – or, rather, the chilling morning-after reminders that let you piece together the full embarrassing story of the night before. Yet she tells it remarkably well, with a faultless performance rich in indignity and passion demolishing all before it. Another £500 runners-up prize was hers, and rightly so.

After the break, Missman, aka Lisa Alabaksh, was something of disappointment; though most of the fired-up audience seemed to think otherwise, whooping and hollering throughout her set.

Her act revolves entirely around the impersonation of streetwise kids and their false West Indian accents, d’yknow what I is saying blood, who gave her grief and cheek in her old job as a teacher. The mimicry is expert, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s almost no material behind it, just a faithful recreation of the sort of patois and attitude you can hear on the top deck of any London bus.

But she’s a crowd pleaser, storming the room to the extent that she only has to jump into a Brummie accent to set the audience off. An astonishingly good reaction to the performance alone.

In complete contrast, Emily Haworth-Booth has a very low-key delivery, teasingly slow and deliberately stilted as she describes in painstaking detail how sexy she is and how her clothes were carefully chosen to show off her curves.

Such boasting is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it doesn’t quite come off because, well, because she is quite attractive. She’s certainly got an agreeable turn of phrase, and the approach is distinctive – it just feels as if she’s writing for someone else.

Haworth-Booth also employs that tried-and-tested technique of reciting rap lyrics in a posh, plummy voice ill-suited to cool. It’s a trick guaranteed to work, but is becoming a tired one.

Katie Mulgrew was another triumph of technique over rather ordinary material. Her North-West bluntness is appealing and she has a seemingly limitless confidence as she effortlessly chivvies along the audience.

But her material – of repressed childhood, Disney princesses and tales from the classroom where she worked – did nothing to stand out. She topped off her set with some dreadful one-liners worthy of any Christmas cracker, using her charm to try to celebrate their naffness. But there’s no disguising they truly were awful.

Andi Osho from Stratford – and not the one that’s upon Avon – brought up the subject of chavs again, but managed to find original material in it. But her acutely observed set is based mainly on her Nigerian background, which does exploit a few stereotypes – of the preponderance of traffic wardens from that nation, for instance – but mainly finds categorising Nigerian women as ‘Bush women’ or ‘princesses’ to be very fertile ground.

The performance is a perfect balance between restraint and confidence, as you might expect from an actress of her experience, and she’s another expert at working the room. There’s more than a touch of Gina Yashere – another comic of Nigerian descent – to her delivery, though the material is more subtle. The cheer that went up when she was announced winner was deafening, she’d clearly charmed her way into the audience’s affections.

Gently weird Whitley Bay girl Victoria Cook couldn’t follow that, certainly not with an unexceptional set that used music as a prop for weak comedy. The titles of her songs, such Loving’s Not Easy… When You’re In Love With A Twat, promise a lot, but deliver little. And a number about lepers recycles every lame joke on the subject from every amateurish student rag mag ever published. A weak end to a good night.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
July 3, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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