I have been battling with the misconception that women aren’t funny for over 13 years. Sometimes it seems longer, because it is still harder for female comics to breakthrough than it is for the battalions of check-shirted, skinnyjeaned, young men who populate the stages of comedy clubs.
As I prepare to move my business HQ from West London to Kent where I now live, I reflect on how things have changed for women in comedy and business over the last decade and what I have learned along the way.
I came up with the idea of Funny Women while working as a publicist for a misogynistic comedy promoter who told me that women aren’t funny and that there weren’t any ‘funny women’. Revenge is sweet! How wrong could one man be? Since I set up Funny Women in 2002 I have seen thousands of women perform live comedy. Although we’ve made inroads to more balanced bills on the comedy circuit, it is still relatively rare to see more than one woman perform alongside a whole line-up of men.
Despite perceptions, women in comedy are really successful. In the UK we have a rich heritage of funny women, from Gracie Fields and Joyce Grenfell in the 1930s, 40s and 50s to Victoria Wood and French & Saunders in the 1970s and 80s, through to today’s sassy crop of stand-up performers like Katherine Ryan, Sara Pascoe, Susan Calman, Kerry Godliman and Bridget Christie, all of whom I am proud to say came through the Funny Women Awards.
Women who first came into view on television with the advent of the British alternative comedy scene in the late 1980s and 90s include Jo Brand, Jenny Éclair, Sandi Toksvig and Josie Lawrence – all of whom are still regularly performing in between publishing the odd novel, appearing on stage or producing and writing sit coms. Then there are today’s television breakthrough queens, like Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican.
I am also a great fan of brilliant American performers and writers like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer who carry on the writer/ producer/performer tradition established so brilliantly in the 1960s and 70s by Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore. The world of female comedy is amazingly diverse and anybody who says that ‘women aren’t funny’ is not looking or listening.
What is so interesting about all these women is that they have created their own personal brand. In comedy we call it your ‘persona’, and this is developed as a way of presenting yourself to the world. Some performers prefer to hide behind a character or create a heightened version of themselves with props, clothes and imaginative material. In the business world you can create the same kind of presence by applying some of the principles of stage performance. For example, develop a professional persona to give yourself an edge when it comes to presenting in meetings and at conferences, and use humour to communicate your messages.
I never really set out to turn Funny Women into a business. I am a serial ‘adventurer’ when it comes to startups, including a lingerie boutique and a marketing and public relations consultancy. I always wanted to be a journalist and my performance ambitions were modest and amateur in status – a highlight was helping to write, and appearing in, the community pantomimes produced as fundraisers for the schools my two children attended.
I fared rather better as a writer, and in my twenties worked for two major magazine groups, NatMags and IPC, and edited a fashion trade journal. In truth, none of my ventures into business fulfilled my passion and interest as much as Funny Women has done. I love the creativity and topicality of producing comedy, running our annual Awards and encouraging women to stand up for themselves with humour. This all ticks a very big ‘satisfaction’ box.
The power of networking
I have always networked. As a young rookie journalist I worshipped at the feet of some amazing writers and editors. I observed amazing ‘performances’ from women in business who managed to combine a cool professional image and focus while maintaining successful personal lives.
I was determined to learn from them and networking has always been the lifeblood of my business life – I always have an idea of who to connect with given the six degrees of separation rule. It works, promise. Somewhere within your network of friends, family and colleagues you are connected to is the person or information you need.
This often means talking to people in person. You learn far more from being in the physical presence of other people and it is important to amplify relationships that are initiated online.
Ageing is amazing
Using the principles and skills learned from the world of comedy, I help women to feel less invisible as they mature.
Men are imbued with qualities such as gravitas, wisdom and wit as they get older. Women are often portrayed as foolish, forgetful and, at worst, airbrushed out of business and public life. This is slowly changing and the world is beginning to recognise that women become more powerful and wise with age and our innate ability to use humour helps.
I founded Funny Women in my mid 40s and as I enter my 60th year I feel less inhibited and more able to challenge any system that puts women in second place. Grow old disgracefully, I say! It’s much more fun and people will have to listen.
Men and women are different
Those male and female symbols are accurate in that women take a circuitous and less defined pathway to problem solving, whereas men are targeted and goal-focused with less time for discussion and consultation. Mix them up and you get the perfect balance. Although Funny Women produces all-female shows in the comedy world, we are increasingly working with enlightened men who want to make the most of our feminine skills and talent for humour in the workplace. Women have organisational and communication abilities that ensure the job gets done and morale is maintained. We also draw on the strength and directness of male decision-making and focused effort. Humour provides the common ground and both genders are rewarded.
by Lynne Parker