Funny Women Final 2006

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

The winning routine of this year’s Funny Women award covered chlamydia, gynaecological swabs, Femfresh products, love eggs, vaginal cones, Brazilian waxings and panty liners. Whatever the aims of the contest, it certainly isn’t going to challenge any negative stereotypes of what female comedians talk about.

Of course, no topic should be out of bounds, but Suzy Bennett’s relentless catalogue of below-the-belt topics seems to exist for outrage value alone. The only time her one-track mind went off the subject was to talk about You Are What You Eat’s Gillian McKeith and her scatological obsessions, hardly a major diversion.

Despite its severe limitations, the material went down superbly well with a supportive, female-led audience easily won over by Bennett’s undeniable confidence and verve. Her status as crowd favourite was underlined by the whoops and hollers that rang around the Comedy Store as her victory was announced – with some even giving her a standing ovation.

But men, rightly or wrongly, might be less enamoured of her choice of topics – raising questions about whether the ever-expanding Funny Women initiative, with its awards, tours and Edinburgh shows aimed at giving female comics a leg up into the wider circuit, is actually in danger of creating a separate, more protective, league just for the girls.

That said, the award did unearth some fine talent for this showcase final, including Bolton-born Diane Morgan, who took second place.

Initially, her choice of material doesn’t appear that inspired, either. She, too, spoke about Gillian McKeith, as well as such other well-worn topics as automated phone systems and Tube announcements – yet she managed to bring a bright spark of wit to the material, thanks to sharp writing and an endearing delivery.

Third-placed Christina Martin has unashamedly borrowed Stewart Lee’s entire persona, from the long, deliberate pauses mid-sentence to the delicately judged sarcasm and obsession with the idiotic doctrines of organised religion.

So heavy is the debt of inspiration, that you can almost hear her best Pope-deriding material coming from the sneery mouth of Lee himself. And I mean that a compliment - there are a lot worse people to try to emulate, and she does so with conviction and intelligence.

Wee Glaswegian comic Susan Calman suffered from opening the show, but put in a solid performance. She started from the familiar stereotypes – that all Scottish people are ‘drunken, scrounging bastards’ and that her home town is rife with random violence – but made a decent fist of it. She was better yet with more oblique material, such as what she gets up to in the privacy of her own bathroom, suggesting there’s definitely potential here.

Sloaney Holly Walsh paints herself as an oddball one-liner merchant, much in the line of Milton Jones, and even wears a whacky scarf to underline the iamge. She’s got some good gags, too: puns that are in turns clever and silly, sometimes both at once, and a routine about her manic depressive mum that’s very good indeed. She doesn’t yet have enough consistency, and lost her way a couple of times when some notably weaker material that fell flat, but she’s certainly more than capable of writing a decent gag.

East Londoner Martine Pepper offered some rather bland commentary on how all modern art is rubbish, and McDonald’s food isn’t up too much, with weak punchlines to match. It’s a shame, because she’s got a nice stage presence and an aura of authenticity, but isn’t yet punching home the gags.

Liz Carr is a stand-up who can barely stand up, so from her motorised wheelchair delivers a set revolving around her disability and reactions to it – an entirely understandable obsession. She’s got bags of attitude – provocatively referring to herself as a ‘crip’, for instance – and a confidence in her delivery, even if the quality of the material is variable. But, to put it bluntly, she’s got one hell of an angle, and the right approach to talking about it. Compared to that, polishing the gags should only be a matter of time.

Maggie Gordon-Walker might need more help, with a character act that didn’t raise much of a titter from even this forgiving audience. She wouldn’t last 30 seconds at a Gong Show. She comes on as a dipsomaniac Edinburgh Fringe reviewer of a certain age, bottle of red wine slung around her neck and a roving eye for fresh young ‘talent’. The set is full of in-jokes meaningless beyond the Fringe, and lame ones at that – the Traverse becomes the Travesty, for instance. Drunks have been a comedy staple from WC Fields to Johnny Vegas, but luvvie actors parodying luvvie critics is dull and self-satisfied.

Sonya Kelly, who bears an unfortunate resemble to Ed Byrne, also performed in character, and also had trouble connecting with the audience. With pinned-back hair and anorak, she plays a dreary council officer imagining glamour in her job and romance with a man ‘in sewage’ who shares her building. It’s a grotesque, but an almost believable one, and nicely performed – but aside from some appealing bits of comedy gurning, a bit too light on the jokes.

Finally, Rosie Wilby, who has a nice line in whimsy and an appealingly descriptive turn of phrase. She was, perhaps, a bit too low-energy for the end of a long night, and lacked the bam-bam-bam of punchlines as she talked mainly about the trial and tribulations of dating. But she’s an evocative writer with an appealing, if slightly theatrical, stage manner; perhaps more of a charming monologist than the high-performance stand-up you’d need the close the show.

So despite serious misgivings about the winner, the Funny Women final, skilfully hosted by the bubbly but bright Shappi Khorsandi, did produce a better-than-usual batch of finalists this year. Maybe the circuit will become just a little less male-dominated as a result…

Steve Bennett July 4, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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