In a moment of madness (and there are many in my line of work) I decided to take on the challenge thrown down to us after last year's Funny Women Challenge to celebrate our 10th Anniversary, where my company trained up 10 business women to perform stand up, and take on the men! Sounds relatively simple, doesn't it? We'd done it several times before, albeit not on such a large scale, and the men seemed 'well up for it'.
That was well over a year ago and Funny Women Challenge the Men has been painful in its gestation. After the initial bravado one of our most high profile volunteers pulled out due to a personal project, so we took on a few extra male Challengers - to mitigate further drop outs - and we did but this time due to work pressure. So, at time of writing we now have 12 men polishing up their act to perform next week at the historic Barber-Surgeon's Hall in the City of London in aid of some incredible charities.
From running all-male 'Stand Up to Stand Out' workshops before I have found that men tend to come on strong and are less keen on the finish. This is just how I find it, which may not be a reflection of other people's experiences in a similar situation. The majority of the men I have trained have been confident about performing and, of course, 'telling jokes'. They are quick to recycle other people's jokes and retell them as their own and enjoy the art of 'banter,' which lies at the heart of male bonding.
What is really interesting and a big part of our Challenge has been getting the men to talk authentically about themselves. Not in a 'my wife doesn't understand me' kind of way but in a more of a 'what did I do wrong' way. Most of them arrived with a minimum of 20 minutes of proposed material and were shocked when we told them they each have only five minutes to perform! Last year our women Challengers were worried about how they were going to fill five minutes!
One of our Challengers told me yesterday when I checked up on his training that it would all be OK because he had 'a few jokes'. These are not his own jokes either, so I've metaphorically rapped his knuckles and sent him back to the drawing board.
I am of course not undertaking this feat alone. I have had help from some very wonderful funny women who have generously donated their time to help me mentor the men. They have been showing them how we construct our comedy and, more importantly, what women find funny. The men are genuinely surprised at what we edit.
My belief is that culturally we absorb stuff that just becomes a natural way to react. One of our men included a lewd reference to his extra 'member' at the start of his set, only to 'get it out' again half way through. It was my 20-year-old intern who told him to firmly put it away! He then proceeded to tell us that this bit of material had been concocted with a bunch of male friends in a Jacuzzi a few nights before, who found it hilarious! No doubt helped along by the beer, blokey camaraderie and nudity that accompanied that particular scenario... Say no more.
So why are men the fairer sex? Actually they are extremely fair, in the sense that they have totally bought in to and got on board with this project in terms of their performances. They have listened to us and (I think) enjoyed working with our female mentors. It gives them a different perspective on humour and how women communicate.
Out have gone any sexist references (as far as I can tell at this stage) and extraneous body parts and in with the self-deprecation and boyish charm that charismatic business men and male comics have in common. We're channelling Richard Branson meets Michael McIntyre here!
The mentors are all strong independent women who perform stand up, act, teach or work as extras and voice-over artists. They all earn a living out of comedy in some way and have a great deal of wisdom to impart. They are the real heroines of this piece.
Meanwhile, I and my office colleagues have worked hard to engage the charities, sell tickets and organise training sessions for the men around work and family commitments. It's gone right to the wire but I remain optimistic of a full house next Thursday 13 June and the reward will be in the amount of money we jointly raise for the very worthy causes our male Challengers have chosen to support.
Ultimately this Challenge has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes and just how important it is to work together to understand each other, particularly in business.
To read about the men and the charities they are raising money for click HERE.
To read about the Funny Women mentors click HERE.