Funny Women 2010 final

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Sunday was the final of the male-dominated FHM Stand-Up Hero competition; and on Monday, for contrast, Funny Women.

And, as if to underline the point, it’s backed by Object, a campaign group that lobbies against lads’ mags, pornography, lap-dancing clubs and prostitution – as a spokeswoman explained in a deadly-serious opening statement, delivering an uncomfortably censorious message ahead of a night of laughs.

Still, the atmosphere was skilfully negotiated back to the comedy by compere Andi Osho, so allowing opening act Julia Clark to do her gag about a lads’ weekend in Amsterdam, without drawing a collective tut.

Actually she’s much better that that rather obvious line of thought might suggest; a savvy stand-up who has the sort of knowing, ironic stance of The Inbetweeners, even if such smart-assery has a similar impact on her social life as it does for any of the E4 characters. Her smart set mainly revolves about her trying to see the upside of being single, listing some false positives that she desperately wants to believe make her relationship status alluring. Sharply written with a strong, clear personality, this routine was certainly deserving of second place tonight.

Second up was Clare Lomas, competent enough but adding little to the genre of musical comedy, changing the words to Estelle’s American Boy so it was about a Londoner Boy – a oafish lager-swigging hoodie, of course – then using the tune of Avenue Q’s Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist to sing about going out with the ultimate bad boy… a terrorist. All rather by-the-numbers stuff, even if the clichés were all skilfully performed.

After stand-up and music, character, with Alison Thea-Skot as singing coach Tiff Mason, an arty middle-class vision in chiffon headband and flowing scarf. Her exquisite arrogance in her vocal talents, plus the unflinchingly harsh tone she takes with her charges, makes her a compelling comic monster. And, avoiding the obvious joke, she can actually sing, demonstrating an enviable vocal dexterity. Instead the comedy comes from treating silly proceedings with po-faced seriousness. It might not sustain much longer than the brief set here, but for a few minutes, it certainly hit the right note.

Sarah Hendrickx suffered more, coming across as a rather ramshackle act, despite some flourishes of good writing. She makes much of being an older comic – though at 42 she’s not exactly scrapheap-ready – flirting like a cougar at the youngster in the front row, bemoaning her smelly teenage son and doing the best to embarrass her twentysomething daughter. There’s something of the batty aunt talking inappropriately about sex about her; but it doesn’t quite come off. But it could gel with practice.

Quirky and sweet, Helen Arney beguiled with her delightful ukulele-accompanied songs. The opening number, about going on a date and immediately planning a future with the uninterested boy, was a little too straightforward in its inspiration, but the second is a real winner. Introduced as one for all the fans of biological science, Let’s Make Love Like Animals takes its title literally, and celebrates the weirdness of nature, while simultaneously providing lots of distinctive laughs. Classy stuff, that could have been worthy of a place – but it was not to be,

Another treat came from Gemma Whelan, who appeared in character as Chastity Butterworth, a prim, buttoned-down, well-spoken, schoolma’amish spinster from another era. Think Julie Andrews performing comedy, and you’re on the right lines. With cut-glass accent she took us through jokes – a series of painful puns made silly by her oh-so proper delivery – a rather scatological section that belied her mannered exterior – and even some poems. She’s combines the daft puns of a female Tim Vine with the persona of an emotionally frigid posh-boy comic like Will Smith, and the effect is most impressive.

American Abigoliah Schamaun has the no-nonsense delivery often expected of comics on her home circuit, bold, brash and fast-talking. But while the jokes are robustly built, little personality or substance seeps through. She a yoga instructor who’s overweight, that’s one angle, another is pouring scorn on her sister for converting to Judaism by claiming that living in New York immediately trumps anything she could do. Otherwise, there’s a bit of dirty talk, and the observation that German isn’t the most romantic of languages. There’s no faulting her chutzpah, but only her confidence stands out.

Another character act next, Iona Dudley-Ward as confidence coach Lynne who, surprise, surprise, has absolutely no confidence at all. Sustaining this tiresome, obvious joke after a long awkward silence and stuck with the deliberately hesitant, awkward delivery the persona required was always going to be a fool’s errand, and Dudley-Ward came a predictable cropper. A vote of no confidence for this ill-conceived creation.

Full of bulletproof bravado, Jess Fostekew looks as if she could hold her own in the most ribald of clubs with an engaging, but brusquely no-nonsense style. Confidence alone is not enough, however, and she started slowly here, dragging scant material out too thinly. It was something of a misstep as she clearly does have some more substantial routines and she eventually hit her stride with gags about her empathetic mother and some witty oxymorons. Ultimately, though, she seemed more solid than spectacular on this evidence.

Sketch duo Thankless Child – aka Liz Black and Freya Slipper – had huge support in the room before they’d even started, with a deafening cheer meeting mere mention of their name. On the basis of their opening skit, you’d wonder what the fuss was all about: a simple ‘pull back to reveal’ gag and characterisation as broad as a youngster talking the usual Jafaken patois.

As themselves, there is much more to like, even if the performance is a little too rehearsed. Playfully bantering about their competitive streak and their love of being judged in competitions like this proved a richer, more original seam. They finished as a couple of folkies singing a twisted sea shanty that again showed a healthy spark of originality. Though enjoyable, they didn’t stand out for me… so it came as a surprise when they were crowned winners at the end of the night. That’s subjectivity for you.

A disruption next, as a troublesome punter was ejected, following too many drunken contributions and some altercation with the audience immediately surrounding him. He didn’t leave quietly – apparently he protested against those throwing him out that he was ‘enjoying the film’ – and lashed out at them.

After the police escorted him off the premises, normality was eventually restored ready for Lindsay Sharman, who delivered a burst of nervous energy, spiritedly babbling about her posh background of girls’ schools and Brownies with a slightly bonkers streak. It’s a compelling style, and when she gets more substance to back it up, it could be a great act. As it is, the content felt rather predictable… but that’s easier to work on than personality, which she has in spades.

Finally another musical act, with Rachel Parris bringing her mature songwriting skills to bear on ballads about a drunken first date, and a relationship that lacks passion. She’s an elegant performer with rich, witty numbers – though there’s a certain distance to the delivery that means she’s probably more likely to elicit a content smile than a hearty guffaw. Yet she’s clearly in command of her style, and the third placing seemed reasonable reward.

Finally, the announcement of the winners. And even though the accolade went to variety act Thankless Child, there was also a separate variety award, which went to the (admittedly character-based) stand-up Gemma Whelan. Ah, the vagaries of trying to categorise comedy…

Review date: 21 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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