When I produced my first ever Funny Women all-female comedy event in 2002 I was aware that I was following in the footsteps of comedy greats like Sandi Toksvig, Josie Lawrence, French & Saunders and more who had performed and organised similar events at the world famous London Comedy Store and beyond. Since then we have all played our part in liberating some kind of hungry feminist comedy beast fed and baited by the media.
Female comedy and all woman line-ups are still a 'big deal' and attract attention. Even in the next few days there are two events featuring great female comedy - the first this Sunday celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Women of the Year, the president of which is Sandi Toksvig, and on Monday 11th May the new online magazine Standard Issue has joined forces with Comic Relief to put on an all women show headlined by Sarah Millican and featuring a number of Funny Women alumni including Katherine Ryan and Susan Calman.
Charity and comedy have become romantically linked and perpetuating the uniqueness of 'women only' is clearly a clever marketing ploy. And why not? As in politics and the boardroom, we still need all female line-ups to redress the balance and show the world that there is no difference in power or funny between the sexes. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party has more than proven this in the last few days.
To put this into context from a personal perspective, over 13 Funny Women years I have been intent on fulfilling my vision of providing a safe, nurturing environment in which women can develop their comic voice and get seen by the industry for the smart, talented and creative people they are, regardless of their gender. Whilst I am glad and grateful to have had the support and services of high profile performers like Jo Brand, Sandi Toksvig, Shazia Mirza and Jan Ravens, the 'stars' for me are also the new acts who come through the Funny Women Awards or just pop up on our radar at gigs and events around the country while they work hard to establish their comedy careers.
I am not well known like some of the brilliant performers who have graced our stage and my role comes with a great deal of financial risk. The very nature of comedy is that it seeks attention so it is right and proper that the public do not know about me but that they do know about Funny Women and our alumni.
I get my reward in seeing how many of the women who took their first tentative comedy steps with Funny Women in our Awards or at one of our gigs, are now leading the way into a brave new and potentially gender equal world where even the BBC now has to ensure equal numbers of women and men on panel shows.
We have just opened registration for this year's Funny Women Awards and oh how it has changed since the first competition in 2003 when we begged, borrowed and blagged about 70 entrants from a circuit that bears little resemblance to the 2015 version. If you think it is sexist now, in 2003 hardly any women were being booked and my attempts to gather them from the circuit to compete for a female only prize were met with derision and even disinterest.
Now the Funny Women Awards attract over 350 entries across three categories: Live Performance, Comedy Writing and Comedy Shorts. The introduction of a short form film prize in last year's competition reflects the need for women to take the next step into being the mistresses of their own content. Women are as good at developing, creating and producing comedy as they are performing it, so committing ideas to video and film with great sound and music crosses another frontier.
There is an unforgiveable amount of inappropriate who-ha about 'women in comedy' and like a certain sportswear brand says just let us get on and 'do it'. Support us too at all levels, from grass roots to stadium tours. You never know when you are seeing the comedy stars of tomorrow and that's the really, really exciting part.
It all started with a glib remark by a male comedy promoter 15 years ago who replied to my question about why he never booked any women by stating that 'women aren't funny' and furthermore that 'there aren't any funny women on the circuit'. Just in case there was ever any doubt on both of these points I am content that, along with several generations of incisive, organised and talented women, I have played my part in proving him well and truly wrong.
For more information about the 2015 Funny Women Awards visit www.funnywomen.com.
Not sure if you want to compete yet? Interested in having a chat about getting into comedy? Join us at Time of the Month, our monthly networking and scratch night in London.