Funny Women Final 2004

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

When it comes to a comedy gig showcasing the diverse range of female comedy talent, and demonstrating how women push the boundaries of their art, it’s probably best not to start with a fat lass talking about PMS and smear tests.

The disappointment was almost audible as Sarah Ledger opened the Funny Women with those most clichéd of subjects. Although nothing is ever a no-go area in comedy, you need something new to say if you’re going to cover such well-trodden ground.

Sadly, she didn’t. The gynaecological detail was simply meant to get laughs of shock. Which might have worked had there been anything shocking in hearing the same weak observations for the hundredth time.

It’s a shame, because Ledger has a lot to offer. She’s spontaneous and a complete natural on stage; just no material to back it up.

Thankfully, her act is stereotypical, not typical. And that was the last the Comedy Store audience were taken below the belt. Well, almost.

Roisin Conaty had a broader base of observations, and much the better for it. Police recruitment adverts have been covered before, and better, but other material was more distinctive and quirky.

But her chances were hampered by a gabbled delivery, with too much flab around the meaty punchlines and a Tourette’s-like compulsion to insert "….you know" at the end of every sentence.

She tries hard to be liked - even though she has enough natural charm not to have to try - but it’s not necessarily the best policy. Her best work comes when she exhibits a surprising cynical streak which doesn’t benefit from being wrapped in cotton wool.

Susan Hanks didn’t even have that to offer, instead delivering a weak nostalgia-based set. It works for Peter Kay, I suppose, but the sort of ‘don’t mums sing slowly?’ and ‘anyone remember the Tricolor textbook?’ reminiscences are unlikely to set the comedy world alight.

Her on-stage confidence also seemed too forced and unnatural, as if guided by the hand of a drama teacher rather than her own convictions.

Quirky double act Cicely Giddings and Abigail Burdess, who go by the name of Live! At The Mausoleum, provided a break in the stand-up – and indeed a break from the norm.

Clanging together saucepan lids with an imposing, unsmiling seriousness, they promised in manta-like chants, possibly influenced by Simon Munnery, that they were going to ‘mess with our minds’ before taunting the audience with simple pub brainteasers.

Despite the deadpan (or should that be saucepan?) delivery, it was all very silly - perhaps too silly for some. But they showed an inventive, original spirit and the talent to perform it well, which must auger well.

Zoe Lyons, too, has an assured future, which can’t have been hindered by winning tonight’s event.

Bold, brash and in command of the imposing Comedy Store room from the second she took to the stage, she was the contender who most screamed ‘comedian’ simply from her very presence.

Material-wise, she hardly pushes the boat out, and there were at least a couple of very old jokes here. But the seven-minute routine was a fireproof parade of quickfire observational gags delivered with utter conviction and unfailing professionalism. The audience didn’t really have a chance. Nor did many of her rivals for the Funny Women title.

Janice Phayre did, though. And like Lyons, this former actress dominated the room through sheer force of personality, bursting onto the stage with an explosion of nervous energy.

Speaking a mile-to-the-minute, she breathlessly rattled through the usual icebreakers about the state of her hair and her Irish background before moving to the more personal: confessing that she has never had an orgasm with a man.

With energised, impish charm, she passionately describes, and mimes the reactions that news receives shrieking, like her compatriot Graham Norton, with mock-outrage at her own boldness.

Dissected, there isn’t perhaps all that much to her material, but like Lyons she’s simply a force to be reckoned with.

After hurricane Janice came the calm of Bridget Christie, starting her observational set slowly and quietly with a nice, if to-be-expected, take on her inbred Gloucester roots.

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, she becomes increasingly malicious, demonstrating a delicious cruel streak that belies her wide-eyed, butter-wouldn’t-melt appearance.

It’s a winning comedy stance, and Christie has the jokes to match. There’s a missing ingredient somewhere, probably nothing more than experience, that means the set doesn’t quite soar to the heights it should, but there’s a lot of promise here.

Next up was the big, brash Liverpudlian Lindzi Germain in what was still one of her first stand-up performances. Hugely raucous, and with a genuinely larger-than-life persona, she cut a memorable figure on stage.

One problem, though: absolutely no material. Instead, just a succession of pub gags including at least one so old you can literally buy the T-shirt.

Recycling old gags is, of course, a mistake many newbies make, but it’s hard to see how that should be rewarded with a place in the final in any competition, no matter how impressive the comic reeling them off.

Talking of impressive, Anna Crilly (right) opened with the single best line of the night before drawing the audience into her delightfully bizarre world with some unexpected, crafty backchat.

The bulk of her set revolves around a surreal rural world in which you’re never far from a potato-based joke. With such perfectly crafted and calmly delivered offbeat material, she’s like a younger, female Boothby Graffoe, which can be no bad thing.

She tends to be a perpetual bridesmaid in competitions such as these – coming third again tonight – a sign that her obtuse style is perhaps not for everyone. But it can’t be too long until new act contests are a distant memory for this fast-rising star.

Final double act Milly and Tilly ended the show as we started, a disappointing comedy stereotype. Their dull and tired stage-school posturing desperately propped up with a Prince soundtrack just failed to inspire on any level, and mocking makeover shows is hardly going to win prizes for freshness and originality.

But that was the exception, not the rule, on this enjoyable night; a final in which more than half the acts proved themselves not only contenders for the Funny Women title, but contenders for a distinguished career in comedy as well.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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