Ladies' Night

Review: Babycham Funny Women final

A generation after 'alternative' comedy exploded onto the scene, with its crusading agenda of banishing sexism from comedy, female stand-ups remain hugely outnumbered by the men.

Dozens of reasons - or excuses - have been offered, from sexist promoters, audience reluctance to accept women on stage or that the testosterone-drenched atmosphere of the comedy circuit is simply no place for a lady.

The Babycham Funny Women competition is one initiative set up to address the imbalance - and flog more fizzy, sugary booze, of course - and scoured the country for the best up-and-coming female acts.

Claims of positive discrimination naturally follow, and it can easily be argued that any competition which excludes the lion's share of new comics automatically lowers the standards, giving those who are eligible to take part a much easier run.

But any such cynicism was dispelled at the London Comedy Store final last night, where the audience - possibly the most good-natured, generous and up-for-it crowd you could ever hope to attract - were treated to an impressive comedy line-up.

All of the ten finalists had their flaws - most commonly a propensity to head for the easy laughs below the navel - yet, almost to a woman, they had considerable strengths, too.

First up was Brummie Karen Bayley, who immediately demonstrated an easy command of the stage and brilliant comic timing. The well-delivered material tended towards the formulaic - especially out-of-date gags about vibrators and former Big Brother contestant Jade - but sometimes demonstrated flashes of originality, too.

Ria Lina, right, the half-German, half-Philippine English ukulele player with an American accent was on next. Technically very accomplished, she has a couple of memorable musical numbers to her name, although the banter between the songs is less impressive - weakish material further hindered by an icy, characterless delivery that sacrifices any audience empathy for slickness. Nonetheless, her professionalism and obvious abilities secured her the £500 third place.

Anna Kierle was at the other extreme - a comedy natural, but also very obviously a raw, unpolished talent. Only after the results were announced did the audience and judges alike learn quite how raw - this was only her third ever gig. Even so, she has already established a winning persona, a great rhythm to her delivery and a wonderful way of covering up her need to refer to the prompt notes written on her hand. Call it funny bones if you like, but whatever she has, it was certainly enough to secure her second place, and another £500 cheque.

Scotswoman JoJo Sutherland based much of her act around giving birth, clearly delighting in appalling her audience with gruesome details of the ikkiness of it all. However the subject - and treating it in such a graphic way - does alienate many, and even those who do stick with her train of thought can easily tire of the one-dimensional approach. That said, she has plenty of attitude plus a good ear for a punchline, and could do well with a different approach to the material.

Folk Singer Jade, pictured, was similarly let down by a tendency to go gynaecological - most notably in her closing song that found easy laughs by looking up muff-diving in the thesaurus of rude words and making them rhyme. Such an unsophisticated trick was especially disappointing, as the execution of the character itself was little short of brilliant - packed full of well-observed nuances that raised it way above the stereotype.

The back story of her turning reluctantly to lesbianism after her boyfriend ran off with her mother is equally inspired - providing enough passion and drama for an opera, yet so lightly employed to provide texture, punch and pathos to every line. Her creator, Sarah Davies, was a worthy winner, but the decision might have been easier without that final song...

After the interval, American Brandi Borr was the perfect choice the get the ball rolling, effortlessly putting everyone in a good mood with her amiable banter. The material wasn't particularly memorable - plays on the word 'shag' having different meanings on each side of the Atlantic, for instance - but her jolly manner went a long way. But there was also a hint of something a lot more interesting when she mentioned she was a cancer survivor (this was a benefit for breast cancer) - and pulled out a brilliant gag on the sometimes taboo topic - suggesting there may be more to Borr than a chirpy personality. Let's hope so.

Debs Gatenby was one of the night's rare weak acts. Her meandering anecdotes were head-scratchingly baffling, quickly losing the audience, and offering no easy way back. Ideas like the agoraphobic ramblers are weak one-liners at best, but she unnecessarily extended them to three minutes. There's possibly a quirky, minutiae-obsessed Victoria Wood-style act trying to get out - but if there is, it's trapped under layers of impenetrable piffle.

Kerry Godliman was much easier to enjoy - this cocky Londoner knows how to hold an audience's attention, and rewards them for doing so. She clearly enjoys the English language, and much of her material is about its use and abuse - from an inventive routine about 'gravity-defying cream' to more pedestrian material about fun-sized chocolate bars. Mostly, though, it's strong stuff, which earned her a 'special mention' (but, sadly, no hard cash) from the judges.

Katy Wix had a very nice delivery style, too - it's just a shame it was wasted on horse-wanking jokes. She's highly effective at creating her own world and dragging audiences into it, and when she moves away from her mastabatory obsession - even into cruel, but funny tales of 'Phil The Mong' - it proves very fruitful.

Finally, Helen Kane came on stage as Marilyn Monroe. She admitted she had no jokes, demonstrated she had no audience banter and ran twice as long as she should have done. Otherwise, the 'high spots' were pulling an audience member's trousers down and getting another to dress as Elton John. A cheap, tawdry cabaret act with little to recommend it.

This, though, was a blip in what was otherwise an impressive showcase of up-and-coming female talent. If the women-only competition has given a leg-up to those who might otherwise have struggled to get recognition - and most those who took part ought to be encouraged by their success - then it will have proved its word. Now, who's for a Babycham?

Published: 8 Jul 2003

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