It's tough for all new comics (especially the girls)

Funny Women's Charlotte Browne sticks up for their ethos

Regardless of whether you're a man or a woman, starting out in stand-up is, as anyone who's experienced it or has a decent and empathetic enough imagination, a terrifying prospect.

It's a journey that many start but often don't finish. To remain impervious to the opinions and judgements of others is virtually impossible, unless you have the soul of a psychopath, although thinking about it, they may well be best equipped for surviving this often merciless industry.

Taking the first few tentative steps towards sharing your thoughts with the world, let alone hearing your voice bellow ‘Hello’ for the first time around a back room in some grubby pub, can leave you feeling about  as adroit as Bambi navigating the ice and equally as vulnerable. This is not to infantalise comics, but most performers need some toddling time to learn coping without mother, a relative you most certainly cannot call in the middle of an ailing gig, although it could score points for surreality.

Yes, there are some 'naturals' who stand up immediately but they will inevitably stumble and fall along the way at some point. All part of the maturing process and you learn more from getting it wrong than getting it right first time.

This is one profession where you are reliant on an audience to learn. There are no shortcuts. Imagine how many people would give up guitar if they had to play continually in front of an audience, rather than in the comfort of their own bedroom?

OK, you get my point. It's tough. And yes, here we go, I think there is some validity in the argument that it is 'tougher' for women starting out in this profession. A woman will be judged not just on whether or not she can make you laugh but on what is perceived from her appearance and translated into a variety of assumptions by the collective consciousness in the room. If she can't be pigeonholed almost immediately the audience and performers run into difficulties. This is not a predicament that Funny Women gigs are entirely immune from either.

However, at the heart of the Funny Women ethos has always been the desire to provide a platform for new, female acts to shine in a truly supportive atmosphere.  This is an arena for performers to develop in without the possibility of some compere announcing their entrance with genuine grimace, which does still happen. This is not an operation in patronising women or protecting them from ‘Ooh those meany men’. which Funny Women has been accused of. We couldn't protect women from it anyway, even if we wanted to. Echoing my earlier point, you learn on the circuit how to deal with any withered and tired misogyny, if and when it occurs. But new acts do appreciate us.

‘Women just aren't that funny’, ‘men just can't multi-task’, they're all boring, reductive and stifling reinforcements of the shallow way we tend to perceive each other, however flippantly jocular they may be intended. We can't help but seem to reiterate them at times, however prehistoric they are. Funny Women was never created to prove which gender is funnier (we're just not that competitive are we, eh?! Just to mine yet another stereotype) but rather as an opportunity for female talent to shine. And we need more opportunities for that.

Many of the previous winners and finalists of the competition would no doubt have proceeded to greatness regardless, but winning further confirmed that they were heading in the right direction. And god knows, we all need encouragement in what can be an unsupportive and competitive business.

  • The Funny Women semi-finals take place at Leicester Square Theatre on Monday. Visit for more details.

Published: 5 Sep 2010

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