When the inaugural UK Women in Comedy festival kicked off in Manchester last week, I had expected Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves to be pumped over the loudspeakers of the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club, and maybe piped throughout Manchester. I imagined flocks of doves rising all at once from fields and, via a butterfly effect that may or may not have included actual butterflies, a message that would have rippled 'round the world saying - Female comedians aren't waiting for anyone's permission or approval. They're going to take control. And you're going to like it.
I haven't heard my Lennox/Franklin anthem yet, but this is still a big deal for UK Comedy, which was described in eloquent terms by one expat Canadian comedian when she dubbed it a "sausage fest". Considering the fact that a majority of the British population has a negative opinion of funny women (i.e. that they don't exist), the festival's momentum and the strides taken by these supposedly non-existent females are impressive.
In the first week of the (nearly) 28-day cycle of comedy, which organisers only began planning in May, over 550 people have caught festival gigs, with more than 300 tickets already sold for gigs in the coming weeks. With a growing buzz, the atmosphere, they say, is "electric".
There have been stumbles. A Saturday afternoon gig I attended had a miniscule turnout. However, this wouldn't dampen the mood of organisers, who undoubtedly would call it part of the ethos here. This festival, they would say, is as much about giving up-and-comers a chance to take part and build their skills, as it is about drawing in big crowds. Women *eyes roll* how typical, how touchy-feely of them.
A male promoter I recently spoke with told me that it was a compliment that women weren't considered funny - that we were either too modest or too smart to put ourselves up on stage saying, 'Look at me! Look at me! I'm funny. Look at me!' And he emailed me the next day with an article in which a prominent male comedian said the same thing - apparently there's a handbook on backhanded compliments floating around somewhere with a page ripped out.
He's right, these women are modest. In so much that they're not stripping off their tops to their diamante-encrusted brassieres in order to keep people's attention. There are no catwalks, angel wings, leatherette knickers, stilettos, or any of the other accoutrements that defy modern notions of modesty. But as I sat at the launch watching Annette Fagon reenact post-orgasmic body convulsions and heard the laughs all around me, I noticed the sweaty hair sticking to her forehead and thought back to all this women's modesty malarkey. The ideal of daintiness is welcome to die a speedy death in the name of comedy, if it gives us more laughs, punchier writing, steeper competition and better performances. There were tenor and bass laughs, too, from the men in the audience, distinctly not faking it at Annette's faking it. I feel sorry for the sad sack who would sit in that audience and not laugh just because the comic happens to have breasts. Even sadder are the naysayers who would walk right on by the club, shrug and remind themselves that everyone says women aren't funny.
Meanwhile, I'll be at the festival, laughing my tits off.