Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Hysterical Woman | Review by Steve Bennett
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Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Hysterical Woman

Review by Steve Bennett

Today’s new word – at least to me – is schema. It means a mental shorthand, one small step short of stereotyping, by which we make broad, instant, assumptions about someone based on their looks and demeanour.

For Kiri Pritchard-McLean, the schema that has dogged her life since embarking on her stand-up career, is the assumption that ‘women aren’t funny’. If you thought that easily disproved prejudice had died out, you haven’t been to the gigs she’s been at, dealt with the heckles she’s had or smiled awkwardly through the supposedly supportive after-show comments she’s endured.

It’s the difference between seeing her as a feminist comedienne who slags off men then bangs on about her vagina and her period – or a political comic calling out iniquity, backed with some cracking, relatable jokes about her life.

Pritchard-McLean is well aware that complaining about misjudged audience preconceptions in her relatively privileged job might score low on the all the gender inequalities in the world, and fears she may be considered whiney and paranoid. But not only is it her experience, she makes a convincing case that it also speaks to bigger problems, it’s just the manifestation with which she’s most familiar.

Doing a comedy show about comedy also runs the risk of being a solipsistic parade of in-jokes. And, indeed, the situations Pritchard-McLean describes will be depressingly familiar to anyone in the business, such as not putting two women on the same bill, and scheduling the one you might have into the softer middle spot, when audiences are considered most receptive. But what she’s very good is giving them wider relevance and backing up with research – ensuring the hour is never less than fascinating – as well as using the incidents to spin off into standalone routines.

For example, Christopher Hitchens’ notorious Vanity Fair article in which he argued that women had no genetic imperative to be funny, since they could get laid without the need to laugh a man into bed leads into a brisk routine about all the embarrassing lengths she’s gone to try to snare a bloke. There’s also an entertaining backstory about her dad’s dinosaur views.

It’s a long road to overturning prejudices, but Pritchard-McLean – like so many other comics – is doing it the best, if not the easiest, way, by striving to excel at her job. She’s keen to play working men’s clubs and not just friendly Fringey audiences or patronising all-women line-ups, correct in the assumptions that great comics should be able to play any room.

Before she gets into her comic thesis she gives us a glimpse of the material she uses on the road – maybe best described as ‘darkness wrapped in glitter’ as she delivers some brutal jokes with a disarming smile. A couple of times she half-pulls-back from a rude joke, thinking it's not the sort of thing she should be doing at an arts festival, but we can join the dots to see what sort of punchline she is capable of.

Pritchard-McLean would rather just be doing these jokes than having to deal with everyday sexism, obviously, but feels a responsibility and compulsion to use the platform of her Edinburgh debut to address it. That she can do so with such easy, upbeat wit, making points with gags not preachiness ensures an hour that’s as funny as it is purposeful.

Review date: 23 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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