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Who says us girls can’t be funny...
COMEDY night line-ups can sometimes be a bit of a joke. Often they are a predictable collection of men with a spattering of token female acts and oddballs.
It was the desire to get more variety on to the comedy stage that drove Hazel Humphreys, Jules Eastley and Jane Wilkes to set up their own nights.
The female promoters strive to create events which push comedy boundaries and cater to different tastes.
Hazel runs the comedy night, the Funny Farm, in Wivenhoe and Jules and Jane run the Three Flying Ducks night in Leigh.
“No one wants to see versions of the same middle-class white boy telling jokes about his mother,”
“Sometimes having a female act on the bill can feel a bit like tokenism in some clubs and some audience almost seem geared not to find them funny.Hazel Humphreys
“They want variety – and that’s why I set up my own comedy club.”
Hazel, 40, started the Funny Farm in 2005, as the promoter, was determined to bring different acts to the public.
She started out as a stand-up herself after a short course at Colchester Arts Centre, and she helped establish the comedy club at Essex University.
She adds: “While performing I saw there was a lack of variety on the comedy scene. I believe there is enough room for all varieties of comedy and I like to embrace them all. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’re male or female – they just need to be funny.”
Hazel’s views, however, don’t appear to reflect the comedy industry as a whole. Of the 20 highest-earning stand-up comedians in Britain at the moment, just one – Sarah Millican – is a woman.
And in the 31-year history of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, there has only been two solo female winners – Jenny Eclair and Laura Solon.
Hazel says: “Sometimes having a female act on the bill can feel a bit like tokenism in some clubs and some audience almost seem geared not to find them funny.
“However, there are a lot of brilliant female comedians emerging and it is an exciting time.
“Comics like Sarah Millican show it’s OK to be themselves and be funny. At one stage women almost butched themselves up to compete with male comedians.”
But why do women find it so hard to break through?
Hazel says: “I think it partly comes down to perception.
There is an attitude in our culture that men are the funny ones and, after the age of about 12, girls have to be a certain way and be pretty and quiet.
“I see it when I do comedy workshops and in schools and it is lovely when you see a shy girl come out of her shell when she tries standup.”
When Jules and Jane set up their night last March, they decided to market it at women over 35 – a demographic they felt was underrepresented in comedy.
With backgrounds in PR, events and marketing, both women were ideal candidates for setting up the nights.
Jules, 46, says: “Because we are both of a certain age, we wanted to appeal to older women who might not feel comfortable going to a comedy night.
“There are a lot of shows which cater for 18 to 25s, but we didn’t want to put on something that was similar.
“Sometimes stand-up nights can be a bit frenzied and brash, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.
But we wanted an environment where everyone could relax and could feel comfortable, not intimidated.”
The result of their hard work is a relaxed night of laughs in the Ship, in Leigh.
She says: “We have bunting and candles on the tables and the acts we choose are ones we think people will enjoy, with a bit of a softer edge.
“The show starts at 8.30pm, so people have a chance to get a babysitter and it doesn’t finish too late, if people need to get up for work the next day.”
Jane and Jules consider their audience when they book any of the acts.
Jane, 50, says: “We have some real stalwart regulars who come snow, rain or shine. It is important to us they enjoy the comedy and also the comic likes the venue and come back.”
Helen Arney and Fake Thackeray will be performing at Three Flying Ducks on Thursday, June 21, at the Ship, Leigh. It starts at 8pm.
Tickets cost £8 in advance from 2ducksandadrake@g mail.com