28th September heralded the 2016 Funny Women Awards, in London’s glitzy KOKO nightclub. Founded by Lynne Parker as a response to a promoter claiming that “women aren’t funny”, Funny Women has been a fantastically supportive organisation for women working across the comedy field, running events, courses and also hosting their annual awards of which this is the 14th year. Previous contestants include Sarah Millican, Katherine Ryan and Bridget Christie and many more names who are part of what has been described as a “golden age for women in comedy”, finally being included on TV game shows and the like. As Tiffany Stevenson commented on the night, women have been held back in comedy for so long that we’ve had time to get f*cking amazing, and the Awards was an opportunity to celebrate this..
Hosted by veteran comedian (and previous finalist) Kerry Godliman, the evening showcased the 6 stand up finalists, the 4 comedy shorts finalists and also included the presentations for the best comedy script and show of the year. The 6 finalists for the stage awards had each been mentored by a professional comedian, most of whom were present to introduce their protegee. The prizes for all of the winners included further industry mentoring, showcasing of work and a financial award to help them move forward. This added level of support is typical of the Funny Women approach, and will definitely ensure a foot in the door at the next level for each of those participants. Sponsored by Benefit UK, the event also also supported the work of Refuge with all profits and other donations going to the charity.
Impressively, each of the comedy acts had a very distinct voice and individual style which made them a formidable group. Rivka Uttley (mentor - Zoe Lyons) opened with observational material about single life and family advice/interference. It’s never easy to be the first on stage, especially in a packed venue, and Rivka seemed a little stiff at first but as she warmed up she delivered a charming set. She was followed by newcomer Rosie Jones (mentor - Sara Pascoe), a veritable powerhouse with fantastically acerbic material about life with a disability. All killer punchlines and carefully honed language, Rosie was exciting to watch because of the quality of her work.
Next up was Harriet Braine (mentor - Ellie Taylor), previous winner of Best Newcomer at the Musical Comedy Awards and specialist in Art History. She had chosen songs about Pablo Picasso and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, an unusual choice for most comedy gigs… however Harriet held the audience in the palm of her hand with her warm alto voice, flawless accent changes and clever spin on the lyrics of well known melodies. Following a short interval, Catherine Bohart (mentor - Shazia Mirza) took to the stage with tales of being the unconventional daughter of a deacon. Catherine has only been performing for 18 months but came over as a seasoned professional, relaxed and in control.
The penultimate act was Rose Robinson (mentor - Jan Ravens), a character performer who was in a sketch comedy group until she began working on solo material earlier this year. Performing as a character who could be described as Joyce Grenfell meets Morwenna Banks with a touch of Julie Walters, Rose completely inhabited her creation. This was more of a story-telling piece rather than stand up comedy and it did set itself apart somewhat - perhaps a separate category would work well next year? The final act was dutch comedian Micky Overman (mentor - Tiff Stevenson) who gave a deliciously dark turn encompassing break ups and vampire dating apps. Micky stood out as a performer who took real risks with her material, feeling the audience responding was an exciting and dramatic experience.
The Comedy Shorts were shown next, a selection of 4 very different films. Ambition by Carolyn Goodyear sees the main character desperate to win employee of the year over his harsh, braying colleagues. Manhunt by Christine Entwhistle is a surreal window into the life of a woman possessed by the head of a Cindy doll attached to her finger, who is looking for new love after the unfortunate demise of her boyfriend Paul. Mary Berry’s Little Lamb by Kirsty Mann delivers an entertaining impersonation of the Bake Off’s treasure, showing us how to create a decidedly non-vegetarian-friendly recipe out of her own pet. Tinder Finger by Lolly Jones is a spoof pop video about the highs and lows of the online dating app and features some excellent dance breaks.
The comedy writing finalists’ scripts were not shared with the audience. They were Bunker by Lucy Dwyer, Savages by Carol Walsh, The Motherhood by Abby Woolf and Full House by Emily Jane Clark. It would have been interesting to see a performance of an extract from each, this would also have given opportunities for more practitioners and performers to get involved, perhaps showcasing female directors, lighting and set designers too.
The well-deserving winners were as follows:
Stage Award - Harriet Braine
Comedy Shorts - Ambition by Carolyn Goodyear
Comedy Writing - Savages by Carol Walsh
The winner of the Best Show had already been announced, Anna Morris for her sold out Edinburgh production “It’s Got To Be Perfect”. FemaleArts review of Anna’s show can be read here: http://www.femalearts.com/node/2591