Building on the success of Laughing Cows Comedy Night, the Festival launched in 2013 as a volunteer-led festival presenting both established and up and coming talent across the spectrum of stand up comedy, comedy theatre, improv, performing arts, film, spoken word, comedy writing and visual arts.
‘Set up as a reaction to the sidelining of women comics by club owners back in the day, Manchester’s homegrown Women In Comedy Festival (set up by Hazel O’Keefe) has found its feet in a very short space of time – attracting the likes of actress Maxine Peake as a patron, joining Jo Enright and Isy Suttie.’ M.E.N
Described as a ‘brilliant, brilliant festival’, by City Life, ‘full to the brim with female comedic talent.’ The festival was founded by Dulcet Sounds director Hazel O’Keefe with the support of the crew, our patrons, our supporters Laughology, Laughing Cows Comedy and our, media partners and advertisers.
The festival was set up by Dulcet Sounds’ founder, Hazel O’Keefe as the natural progression to her successful female comedy clubs Laughing Cows Comedy. “My passion for this project arose from the need to show the vast number of women involved in the comedy scene and to encourage promoters and agents to attend the festival and scout for talent. It’s been something I have wanted to do for several years, so it was a matter of timing. Over the past couple of years I feel that the comedy scene has changed for the better, I used to be able to confidently name most of the female acts in the UK. That’s not the case now. A festival in the UK to showcase and celebrate in this way was inevitable.”
The imbalances within the uk comedy scene are clear to see: in 2015, the world’s 10 highest paid comedians were all male. Sarah Millican, Britain’s highest earning female stand-up earned £2 million in 2013. Her highest-earning male colleague, Peter Kay earned a cool £32.8 million in the same year.
“There is a great need for women in comedy and as we all know on the mainstream circuit and television women are so under represented and so I went to really support the event because I think its really important, and support the acts and so I can come home and say ‘look I’ve seen this person you should go and see them as well’ (Audience Survey 2014 participant 71 )
The festival also incorporates comedy film, poetry & spoken word, comic theatre, photographic and art exhibitions, and children’s shows.
The Women In Comedy Festival started in 2013 with over 100 events programmed into 19 venues over 30 days throughout Greater Manchester attracting audiences of around 5,000.
The festival has grown steadily over the years since the first event in 2013 and includes solo shows, open mic events, a comedy writing competition showcases, galas, a comedy symposium, networking events, training, Q&A’s, debates and workshops. The Women In Comedy Festival also offers training and mentorship opportunities with industry professionals and other leading creative organisations.
The fourth Women in Comedy Festival, the only Festival of its kind in Europe took place in Manchester Thursday 20 October 2016 to Sunday 30 October 2016. This years Festival gaining international attention with acts traveling in from as far afield as America and Sweden.
The acts and shows includes many award winning comedians, sketch comedy, political theatre and even a comedic murder mystery show. There are workshops and shows for children and for anyone looking to promote themselves in the best light, there’s the opportunity to have a professional photoshoot. And that’s not all. The Club Feminista – Official Afterparty show is offering an all female line up of DJs and open mic opportunities for all art forms including comedy, music and in support of female sound engineers in the industry, DJing.
Within the festival there will be open mic nights providing the opportunity for burgeoning talent to develop and for the punters to say, in years to come, that they were there at the beginning when a new telly star or award winning comic was performing their first gig. There will be compilation shows, solo shows, previews, exhibitions, live podcasts, workshops, panel shows, training, Q&A’s, comedic plays, improv and sketch comedy.
2016 perfomers included Amy Howerska, Angela Barnes (Mock the Week, Russell Howard’s Good News) Allyson June Smith (Comedy Now), Arielle Souma, Adele Cliff, Amy Vreeke, Amy Gledhill, Annabel Pribelszki, Bethany Black (Cucumber and Banana), Barbara Nice, Cally Beaton and Catherine Bohart, Claire Stopford, Claire Trivino, Charlene Murray, Cherry Bomb, Carla Pol, Chelsea Thompson, Charmian Hughes, Cheekykita, Dawn Rigby, Daphna Baram, Denee Cassidy, Dannie Grufferty, Davina Bentley, Deb Gatesby, Dotty Winters, Eleanor Conway, Elaine Malcolmson, Eleanor Tiernan (Comedy Central’s Alternative Comedy Experience), Fatiha El-Ghorri, Georgie Morrell, Geri Bury, Ginny Evans, Hayley Ellis (XFM’s breakfast show), Harriet Dyer (Big Brothers Little brother), Hannah Platt, Hannah Silvester, Jo Coffey, Jackie Hagan, Jade Fearnley, Jane Postlethwaite, Janice Connolly aka Barbara Nice (Phoenix Nights) and Joanne Neary (Ideal | Miranda), Julia Watson, Jeanette Bird Bradley, Jessica Murphy Garrett, Jean Kelley, Jo Fletcher-Cross, Josefin Johansson, Jen Brister, (BBC 6 Music), Kasey Wilson, Karen Hobbs, Kate McCabe, Kerry Leigh, Kate Fox, Katie Mulgrew, Katie Pritchard, Kiri Pritchard Mclean (Stand Up Central All Killa no Filla), Kerry Leigh (She’s In London), Lauren Pattison, Louise Woodcock, Laurie Whitley, Lucy Garcia, Lara A King (L Fest), Lauren Pattison, Lou Lou Lamour, Lubna Ker, Lydia Bernsmeier-Rullow, Marina O’Shea, Maisie Martini, Mandy Tootill, Meredith Tittle, Maddie Campion, Maggy Whitehouse, Martha McBrier, Mel Medford, Marie Goulbourne, Michele Durante, Notflix, Nina Gilligan, O&O Comedy Duo, Pat Robinson, Penelope Solomon, Pernilla Hammargren, Rachel Sambrooks, Rosie Mitchell, Rachel Fairburn (All Killa no Filla) Revan & Fennell, Rosie Francis, Sandra Hale, Sam Potter, Suzy Bennett, Sajeela Kershi, Stephanie Laing, Suzy Wilde, Sally Firth, Suzi Ruffell, Sophie Willan, Sonia Aste, Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes, Starla Bright, Toots & Leigh, Tanyalee Davis, Tara Donelon, Therese Sandin, Tess O’ Gaukroger, Trish Dee, Valerie Savage, Victoria Cook, (CBBC) Vicky Lee, Zara Jones
2015 was Women in Comedy Festival’s third year and it’s bigger and better than ever. Running in Greater Manchester, the sold out festival launch night took place Thursday 15th October at the award winning Frog and Bucket Comedy Club headlined by star of ‘The Job Lot’ Jo Enright (Idea / Lab Rats) and hosted by Susan Calman (8 Out of 10 Cats / Fresh Meat / Dead Boss). The 2015 years festival showcased over 150 comedians running until Sunday 25th October
Extracts from: Women in Comedy Festival returns to Manchester
John Stansfield | 09 Oct 2015
Entering its third year with a bigger lineup than ever, Manchester’s Women in Comedy Festival is now a firm fixture on the national comedy map. A host of great acts performing among the October programme tell us about the difference it’s making
In 2008 when Barack Obama was announced as President of the United States of America there was a quick assumption made that this would put an end to racism. A black president would automatically halt the mouthbreathers of the country from hating anyone based solely on the colour of their skin.
In 2013 a similar sea change was felt in the world of comedy when Bridget Christie’s feminist treatise on the engendering of the inanimate, A Bic For Her, was announced as the winner of the coveted Foster’s Comedy Award. All of a sudden everyone in comedy stopped perceiving jokes coming from the mouth of a lady as lesser than those spewed from the mouth of a man. Roy Chubby Brown and Jim Davidson immediately exploded, unable to cope with a comedic landscape equal in its gender topography.
Of course, none of this is true. Racism is still rife in America and the rest of the world, and Messrs Brown and Davidson are still peddling their backward acidic stylings with impunity. Women are still marginalised in the arts, especially in comedy where the old adage of ‘women can’t be funny’ is trotted out all too often by those hoping to add another pane to the glass ceiling. The focus is more on the content of their wardrobe than that of their mind; they are judged on the weight of their bodies rather than their words.
Working to offset the balance of male to female comedians, the Women in Comedy Festival now enters its third year of promoting female talent in the Northwest and beyond. This year the festival boasts turns from Mae Martin, Birthday Girls, this month’s Spotlighter Sophie Willan, and many more.
Instead of giving yet another white man’s opinion on the plight of the female of the species, we thought we’d ask some of the people involved in the festival both past and present – comedians Hayley Ellis, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Jana Kennedy, Harriet Dyer, Rachel Fairburn and Evelyn Mok, and comedy producer Alex Hall – to have their say on women in comedy.
The Skinny: Why do you feel the Women in Comedy Festival is important?
Hayley Ellis: When it’s still commonplace in an office to hear people use the phrase “I don’t like female comedians” I think it’s important that we show that female comedy isn’t a genre. The festival has a wide range of amazing comics who are incredibly funny and also happen to have a vagina. Plus I need to stop temping in offices with idiots who say such things.
Kiri Pritchard-McLean: It’s great to have a whole festival devoted to women performing in comedy because next time someone writes an awful piece called ‘Where are all the women in comedy?’ we can throw this brochure in their face.
Also, from a purely business point of view there is a market and an audience for this festival. Plenty of people are tired of going to comedy clubs and watching four white men in their forties. I think audiences are after a more reflective experience.
Jana Kennedy: I think it is a brilliant platform for women to present their work. The audiences tend to be quite mixed so there is clearly demand and interest in female comedians. It allows people to see lots of different work, made by women, hosted by a brilliant grassroots festival, in Manchester, a city where shit gets done!
Harriet Dyer: It showcases a wonderful amount of talented women in comedy and it’d be great if the dunderheads that still believe that women are not funny would have a gander to see how ludicrous that is. But I suspect they’ll be too busy being idiotic.
Can you give an example of the sexism you’ve faced in comedy?
Rachel Fairburn: I’ve had the old “Can’t have two women on the bill” comment from a couple of promoters. Which is odd, because a lot of lineups tend to be all male, so there’s no worry about having more than two men on. Some promoters seem to be under the illusion that women only talk about the same things, which is bizarre. Either that or they are scared we may synchronise and attract bears and sharks, thus putting the punters in peril.
Evelyn Mok: Mostly it’s well-meaning audience members who tell you about their preconceived ideas about women not being funny but that you are an exception to that rule. Classic complisault.
HD: This’ll sound odd but I actually forget I’m a woman until shizz like this happens – when there’s a large audience and the moment the compere announces my name (which is clearly female) you hear a chorused groan. My favourite was when I was following another female comic and heard from an audience member, “Aw no not another fucking woman!”
Everyone’s got their own taste in what comedy they like but I think with male comics sometimes people tend to go, “Ah his stuff’s not for me,” whereas with female comics after they’ve heard material that hasn’t been up their street they’ll be a bit more like, “Eurgh this is why I don’t like female comedians blah blah blah blah.”
Do you believe that things are getting better for women in comedy?
HD: I think there’ll always be idiots, so the wonderful comics (that happen to be female) just need to keep representing as they are and anyone that doesn’t like that can go suck a bag of dicks.
K P-M: Yes and no. I think audiences are more progressive than the industry in many ways. I think there is a genuine appetite on the circuit for more diversity from the voices we hear on stage. However, I think TV needs to catch up with radio where there’s no need for explicit quotas and there’s loads of women on comedy shows being brilliant and no one seems to be nervous about it.
Alex Hall: Yes, but there’s still a long way to go. I’ve heard of shocking examples of sexism both from audiences and (sadly) within the industry, but in recent years the tide does seem to be turning, so to speak.
RF: Definitely. I think attitudes are changing, I think it’s about time really. When you consider that in America some of the top comics are female like Amy Schumer and Tina Fey, it’s time we caught up.
HE: With people like Hazel O’Keefe (Women in Comedy Festival director) around, comedy is all good. Although if she stops booking me she is defo a sexist.
EM: Yes. Sexism is an -ism that is being actively dealt with in our society and it is reflected in the comedy industry. And one day, hopefully soon, we ladies in comedy won’t need to answer questions about it anymore.
“Affirming the rise and rise of feminist humour” (The Guardian), the second festival took place from Sat 11th October until Sunday 26th October 2014 again in the festivals hometown, Manchester where ticket sales tripled.
Extracts from Women take centre stage in Manchester comedy festival M.E.N article by Sarah Walter
Year two of the Women In Comedy Festival and already its schedule includes more than 125 acts playing 80 shows in 16 venues (totalling a staggering 6,413 tickets).
The 2014 launch night on October 26, included live appearances and show debuts from Zoe Lyons, Jo Caulfield, Kate Smurthwaite, Tanyalee Davis, Jo Enright, Lou Conran, Miranda Kane and Harriet Dyer, as well as a huge launch party hosted by Janey Godley on Saturday.
It is, admits festival creator Hazel O’Keefe (boss of the Laughing Cows comedy clubs), a reflection of a determined personality that never allows her to do anything by halves. But it also paints a true picture of the current comedy circuit.
“I ran Laughing Cows for so long,” says Hazel, “and took it from being a women-only space in a lesbian bar to really pushing it into the mainstream where we’re now 50/50 male and female, 60/40 gay and straight.
Among the must-sees for Hazel are Birthday Girls, presenter-turned-comedian Jenny Ross, musical duo Caz n Britney, Scummy Mummies (Hazel: “The show I feel the most amount of buzz about”) and an adult-only turn from Mrs Barbara Nice.
“Comedy is quite often the bottom of the ladder for arts, and for me comedy is, can be and should be considered an art form,” says Hazel.
“When I’m pushing it forward in all the nights I do, it’s about what arts can do and also the political statements it’s making around challenging sexism and making it accessible to all.”
Among the most accessible this year are The Short and Girlie Show and Lara A King (both King’s Arms, October 18), for which the performers have hired a sign language interpreter. “That’s very difficult to do in comedy, and do really well,” Hazel praises.
The first ever UK Women in Comedy Festival took place across Greater Manchester from Tuesday October 1st until Sunday 27th 2013 with “a terrific roster of stand up” (The Independent) producing a staggering 180 shows in its inaugural year.
The 2013 festival was centered in Greater Manchester and had over 100 scheduled events from the 1st – 27th October. ‘Originally we were planning a week of events but the demand even this early had led us to expand the festival across the whole month’. says Hazel O’Keefe, the festival catalyst. ‘My passion for this project arose from the need to evidence the vast number of female involved in the comedy scene and to encourage promotors and agents to attend the festival and scout for talent.’
Hundreds of people took part in this exciting programme of workshops and events. Venues who pledged there support included: The Ape and Apple, The Black Lion, The Comedy Store, The Contact Theatre, The Carlton Club in Whalley Range, The Dancehouse Theatre, The Old Monekey The Frog and Bucket, The Globe Inn, Glossop, The Kings Arms, Klondyke Club in Levenshulme, The Lowry, The Lesbian and Gay Foundation, The Lass O’Gowrie, Jabez Clegg, Chapters in Stockport and Taurus Bar on Canal Street…
Acts already who have been involved in this project include:
Ava Vidal, Angie McEvoy, Andrea Whitaker, Alice Frick, Annabel O’Connell, Ashleigh Davison, Anthea Kugblenu, Arna Spek, Allyson Smith, Barbara Nice, (Janice Connolly), Babs Haver, Bethany Black, Bethan Roberts, Chella Quint, Cheekykita, Cecilia Delatori, Dana Alexander, Dotty Winters, Daphna Baram, Debra Fayter, Elf Lyons, Ellen Tomlinson, Ellie Taylor, Emma Gilligan, Flip and Maggie, Fern Brady, Gina Yashere, Gaye Jones, Harriet Dyer, Hawkeye and Windy, Harriet Kemsley, Hayley Ellis, Heena Colada, India Macleod, Isma Almas, Ishi Khan-Jackson, Janey Godley, Jayde Adams, Jojo Sutherland, Jojo Smith, Jill Bell, Jo Enright, Jo Neary, Jen Brister, Janet Taylor, Jo D’arcy, Jo Neary, Julie Jepson, Jennifer Banks, Julie Oliver, Johanna Wroe, Jenn Farrell, Joy France, Kathleen Manchester, Kate Smurthwaite, Kate McCabe, Katie Mulgrew, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Kate Fox, Katy Truelove, Kate Tracey, Kerry Leigh, Lucy Porter, Liz Carr, Lisa Connor, Lindsey Davies, Luisa Omeilan, Lou Conran, Laura Machin, Letty Flynn, Liz Garnett, Lesley Kershaw, Maureen Younger, Mandy Knight, Mel Medford, Marian Pashley (tbc) Madge Hooks, Penella Mellor, Ruth E Cockburn, Rachel Gleaves, Rachel Fairburn, Ruth Arrowsmith, Sarah Evans, Sara Louise Campbell, Rachel Lancaster, Rosie Wilby, Sonia Aste and Nathalie Kerrio, Sameena Zehra, Sarah Sheldon, Sarah Benetto, Sajeela Kershi, Sameena Zehra, Suzy Bennett, Susan Calman, Steph Pilla, Susan Calman, Susan Hanks, Steph Pike, Shazia Mirza, Sophie Hall, Sonja Quita Doubleday, Suzi Ruffell, Sarah Profit, Saints of Humour, Susan Murray, Sally Jones, Susan Harrison, Tiffany Stevenson, Twayna Mayne, Theresa Farlow, Tanya Lee Davies, Victoria Cook, Viv Groskop, Zoe Lyons.
Laughing Cows Comedy
The festivals roots emerged from Laughing Cows Comedy Night, a comedy club which began life in London in 1998 when founder Hazel O’Keefe took up the gauntlet thrown down by a well-established club promoter when he confessed that the reason he wouldn’t book two female acts to play the same bill was that, ‘I wouldn’t take that risk’.
Hazel set out to prove that female comedians aren’t some kind of bizarre specialist act or, the other common misconception, that all perform the same kind of material but in actual fact are as varied and as myriad performers as any comedian – regardless of gender. In addition, Laughing Cows set out to confound not just those mistaken promoters but some audience members who seem to think that they don’t find women funny. This work was recognised by Manchester City Council when Hazel was received the International Women in Arts and Culture.
Peep Show and Shameless star Isy Suttie is a patron of this year’s festival. “It surprises me how many audiences haven’t seen girls do comedy before, and some promoters are still very bad at booking women for their gigs,” she says. “Anything that works to get rid of that being an issue by putting on funny women is fantastic and the festival is a brilliant thing.” For press enquires please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with the team by emailing email@example.com
Janey Godley ‘I am utterly excited to be a part of the women in comedy festival. A chance to showcase the finest comedy talent here in Manchester’
‘Women in Comedy Festival uk launch evening, best launch I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a few). ‘ Braínne Smite Edge
‘Cracking night at The Frog and Bucket for Womenin Comedyfestivaluk definitely worth a gander and not too expensive, thanks.’ Liz Thompson
‘Fab night at Womenin Comedy Festival UK feel like i’m making some lovely new friends too.’ Babs Clegg-Haver
‘Excellent launch night last night and a very informative q & a at the Women in Comedy Festival.’ Clare Culshaw Hardman
‘What a BRILLIANT start to the festival. Last night’s Opening really set the tone. I love the way that women in comedy use their own personal (almost always painful) stories as material. They each bared their souls in ways that mades us cheer their resilience and want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Feeling the love man. x’ Rachel Morris (cosmopolitan Magazine Sex Therapist and Big Brother Psychotherapist)
Jen Brister “Great to be a part of a festival that celebrates women in comedy. Maybe we can finally stop having the debate about ‘are women funny? Its BORING”
Kerry Leigh resident MC of Laughing Cows: I’m really looking forward to taking part in a festival that celebrates and showcases women in comedy both as a performer and an audience member. There is so much talent around. October is going to be a very busy, funny time!’
Funny Women founder Lynne Parker says: “Having visited the American Women in Comedy Festival in Boston earlier this year, I am delighted that we are going to have a festival on British soil! The opportunity to present female comedy across the broadest possible platform has always been one of our goals here at Funny Women so we’re 100% supportive. “There have always been brilliantly funny women on the stage, in film and on television and it’s a strange that this is not represented on the live comedy circuit which continues to be a bit of a boys’ locker room! ‘
“Funny Women is delighted to be supporting the inaugural Women in Comedy Festival UK, and celebrating the amazing variety of female talent out there on the comedy scene!”
Susan Murray told Giggle Beats: “I’m so incredibly bored of the ‘are women funny?’ question, if it even really exists. I think it only exists in the minds of moronic men who hang out with moronic women who aren’t funny, and that, quite frankly, is their tough sh*t. All my female friends are funny, otherwise I wouldn’t be friends with them. What would be the point? Top marks to Hazel [O’Keefe] for organising this…”