F-Word comedy section: official opening!
Hello! Welcome (properly) to The F Word comedy section. We now have a Twitter account: @fwordcomedy and are building up a pool of reviewers. If you'd like to be a reviewer, get in touch! Details are at the bottom of this post
This is the official opening, minus the ribbon cutting. If you would like to do your own ribbon cutting ceremony, and you have ribbon and a pair of scissors, please join in at home.
I’m really excited that The F Word decided to have a comedy section! I’m pretty excited most of the time, actually. I’m quite enthusiastic about stuff. I’m a big fan of intersectional feminism. I like performing comedy and spoken word so I can use humour and parody to call out privilege, bias and discrimination. I also enjoy watching comedians who use their comedy as a tool for challenging societal norms, rather than the ones who stand on stage being a tool.
The tone you’ll find in reviews for this section will be generally upbeat and positive and may include constructive criticism. This is not a restaurant review section and there will be no witheringly nasty remarks; these reviews will tell you what made the reviewer laugh and why other F Word readers might like to check the comedian out. Oh yeah – the reviews and features will cover a broad interpretation of comedy since there’s so much crossover between genres. Expect future reviews to include sketch comedy, impro and panel shows as well as stand up, radio comedy, comedy writing, spoken word, and cabaret, where appropriate.
In comedy current events, we’re into the last week of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year has been dubbed The Feminist Fringe by several news sources, although last year’s programme was just as feminist in content and representation (and also included Josie Long, who’s taking a rare summer off, but who was amazing in 2012 with one of the best shows I’ve ever seen). This year, it seems a lot of shows are about feminism, which is what the news has chosen to focus on (and it’s worth saying that the Fringe is disproportionally white and male compared to the general population) but there are loads of intersectionally feminist shows up there this year and there’s still time to see a whole bunch of them. I hope the Fringe will be even more feminist next year and that the media doesn’t treat this like some sort of weird feminist flavour of the month.
The set itself has loads and loads of content that would rile the politically conservative
Full disclosure: I was up at the Fringe performing short sets in other people’s shows for a few days to give it a go myself. This means I’ve met a couple of these comics because I’ve appeared on a bill with them or we have a friend in common. While I’m clearly totally biased toward awesome feminist comedy, these are the shows I chose to spend my time seeing at the Fringe. I endorse them wholeheartedly and want to share them all with you, roughly in the order I saw them.
This show got a great review from The F Word in previews and is even sharper at the Fringe. At this show, I have the slightly surreal pleasure of sitting behind what appear to be genuine Tory Youth, who are trying to attempt what I believe in the UK is referred to as ‘barracking’. Kate Smurthwaite’s presence at the very front of this long, slim venue is so strong, clever and commanding that these boys never quite dare to take their noise above a mutter and they don’t actually manage to disrupt the show at any point. The set itself has loads and loads of content that would rile the politically conservative, which is hilarious and necessary, and Kate is really on form with some business involving props and slapstick as well! Come for the comedy activism, stay for the bit with the wig. Also, Kate Smurthwaite organises the comedy section of the PBH Free Fringe and that whole strand has got a great line up.
Seeing Mae’s show is like having a heart-to-heart with your best friend from school who happens to be extremely funny. Full room, but the atmosphere in the space she’s performing in at the Underbelly venue this year is still intimate enough to feel like you can nod along, like it’s a conversation about every awkward teenage shared experience ever and you don’t have to be Canadian or queer to get it. Her comedy is so good I braved a knee injury just to stay and watch her show last year after decking it on some stairs. Worth the scar.
I’ve seen Chris Coltrane three times – once in London at his excellent Lolitics night (which I will tell you about in a future post) and twice at the fringe and it’s always an extremely satisfying antidote to whatever outrageous Tory policy is in the news that week. His show is like a comedy activism primer and he even hands out mini-zines at the end with tips, contacts and details about campaigns like UK Uncut. Colluding with him from our seats both quells and feeds our discontent and his stories may spur others on to try some activism themselves.
Catherine Semark is smart and funny. She makes those surreal connections in her comedy that make you realise finally that other people have those odd thoughts too. It is both reassuring and hilarious; even though I don’t go everywhere she takes us (mouldy things at the back of the fridge don’t make it into meals at my house – I’m not that daring), it’s enlightening and entertaining. The audience is treated to a flipbook of visual aids and the title is explained as we exit. I first saw Catherine’s show two years ago, and that was fantastic as well. Her material is some of the most original I’ve seen on the Fringe and I hope she comes back every year.
A famous, mainstream comedian doing material I can relate to leaves me with the rare warm glow of finding myself truly included
Helen Arney does two hilarious science comedy shows a day. She performs Domestic Science with her real life partner Rob Wells, about fun experiments you can do at home. It would make an amazing kids tv show and they have great chemistry (sorry)! Then in the evenings, she’s one third of Fesitval of the Spoken Nerd. Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker are basically the rock stars of science comedy. The show is clever, funny and doesn’t relegate Helen to the role of ‘assistant’. She’s really genuine and an amazing role model for women in science and women in comedy!
This is a piece of theatre I was invited to when I met one of the Crowtown Theatre Company performers, Jess McKerlie, while she was doing an unexpectedly awesome space-themed living statue piece in St George Square. Bonk! is a show based on the book BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach, after project leader Isobel Marmion secured the rights from the author over a few emails! It’s sex positive, queer friendly and very funny. The international and culturally diverse cast have a lovely rapport with one another, the stats and research are woven into the narrative and the characters have depth. I want this show to go on tour so I can take my friends to it. It could also work as a sketch comedy show. They’ve had to leave out a lot of the book so I really hope they do a sequel!
Rounding off the awesome science geek section, this was the first show in the Fringe programme that caught my eye; as someone who’s done comedy about the history of menstruation, I feel an obvious affinity with chartered physiotherapist Elaine Miller, who’s put together a funny and educational show about pelvic floor exercises! I was really upset that her show was named ‘the weirdest show at the fringe‘ this year but, when I spoke to her afterwards, she reassured me that it was actually really good press and brought more people through the door. Elaine’s show has everything I like: science jokes, stats, visual aids, hand outs, mnemonics, a quiz, and her material included all genders and sexualities. Turns out everyone’s got a pelvic floor! The performance has us all nearly wetting ourselves, but luckily there are exercises we can do for that, so we’re good.
See this show if you are a person who wants to trampoline in your old age.
This is outstanding longform improvisation that makes me seriously jealous of the format and the obviously strong relationships between the performers. You’ve got to have so much trust to do high quality longform in a genre the audience clearly knows inside and out! People were queuing an hour early every day at the start of the run. By now, they are probably camped outside the Counting House like it’s the latest Apple release. (Comedy is better than iPhones! Hooray!) There is standing room only. I don’t mind standing for an hour – it flies by.
The show is different every day, so you could see it a few times. The day I attend, leading lady casting stereotypes are reversed and the guy takes his wife’s last name at the (inevitable, it’s Austen) wedding at the end. Plenty feminist for this Clueless-loving Jane Austen fan. Cariad Lloyd, who started Austentatious and is a comic in her own right, is lovely when I introduce myself afterwards and tell her about The F-Word’s new comedy section. She immediately and unreservedly recommends I see Rachel Parris, another member of the group. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see Cariad’s show, but magnanimity and promoting women in comedy will get you everywhere with my heartstrings. Which brings me to…
Rachel Parris, of Austentatious! fame, has a show (which is also standing room only the day I attend) in which she debuts a musical recital of songs commissioned (in the alternate universe of Rachel Parris) by well known organisations. The whole thing is great. My favourite: she makes time-withered ubiquitous audition piece ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ shiny and new again, with a reimagining of the context that has a hilarious payoff. All of the happy.
Susan Calman’s show is a hilarious celebration of brainy lesbian married life. Although she jokes that her packed out audience is quite diverse because of her local stand up appearances, Radio 4 comedy and lesbian fans, everyone laughs throughout. My favourite bits are about honeymoon travel, sleeper trains, pet cats and the comedy song finale (more comedy songs, please)! A famous, mainstream comedian doing loads and loads of material I can relate to leaves me with the rare warm glow of finding myself truly included. We need more comedy like this.
On the whole, this show is a real and positive way to challenge mental health stigma
This show is amazing. It lives up to the hype and dispenses with any potential heckles by anticipating them and addressing them within the show. It is also not afraid to get serious. The polished final version is even better than it was in early previews and The F Word review found it pretty amazing then. It’s been selling out and running with standing room only every morning (yes, morning! 11 am!), but I hope Bridget tours it all year.
We don’t have a lot of established elder stateswomen in UK comedy who could do a ‘my life in comedy’ style retrospective show like this. It’s fascinating and inspiring to hear stories about Sandi Toksvig’s long career in comedy, radio, presenting, writing and children’s television. She talks about UK immigration, finding her comedy inspiration in the New York Jewish comedy tradition when living there for a while as a kid and reminisces about her time in Cambridge Footlights in a way that doesn’t exclude me. She also shares stories about friends, colleagues and family – all with loads of laughs. The huge theatre is full of a whole range of people, but includes lots of older lesbian couples. I feel like I am surrounded by loads of queer aunties and am inspired to do lots of comedy.
Kate Fox smoothly transitions from poetry to comedy this year, with a show wittily defending the choices of those who are childfree. Her surprising stats, charming charts and audience challenges definitely sway a few audience members – in both directions – before the show is over. Several childfree audience members laugh and nod throughout. One man at first professes to hate children, but by the end of the hour, he is cuddling a doll like it’s a real baby. Each show is like a choose your own adventure book, full of jokes and observations, that refreshingly presents an alternative to a life trajectory that includes baby making.
I find I’m not laughing my head off at this show, which makes me think it is more like theatre or storytelling than pure comedy, but I really, really love it. Laura Levites talks about her mental health problems so frankly and clearly that I realise she happens to have all of the same diagnoses as my favourite aunt, who’s also, coincidentally, an intelligent, fast talking New Yorker. Laura’s show is the story of how she seeks support and manages her impulses, while also finding the resources to take a show to the Fringe, referring very cleverly to self help guides from the past and present. Her presence is strong, though her sharp challenges to a quiet and small audience are uncomfortable, but she is infectiously bubbly and eager to make connections throughout the show, including before the start and after the end, when she offers the audience candy floss. I politely challenge her afterwards about an unexpected moment of adlibbed casual racism in the show and she responds well to my criticism. On the whole, though, this show is a real and positive way to challenge mental health stigma and I’m glad Laura Levites is doing it. This is the show I think about the most now that I’m back home in Sheffield.
The atmosphere at this show is warm and welcoming; the comics and storytellers on the bill casually chat to each other and the audience (from their own seats in the crowd) before things get started. Veronica Elizabeth creates a warm and positive space for queer people of colour in particular and the room somehow actually feels like a piece of Greenwich Village in Edinburgh. The next time I’m in New York visiting family, I hope to see this show in its natural habitat at The Stonewall Inn. Nice one, Veronica.
That’s all the comedy I had time to see. I was doing bits in a few spoken word shows as well as comedy shows, and I always feel really welcomed by the Spoken Word scene at the Fringe. There is a lot of support for women on the scene, plenty of crossover and encouragement and more diverse representation generally. Fay Roberts coordinates the Spoken Word section of the PBH Free Fringe and also comperes Other Voices, which I was lucky enough to be involved in for part of the run. She jokes about having a ‘token male’ in the open mic section of the show, in a nod to the circuit tendency to assume one woman on the bill makes it ‘diverse’. Here are a couple of spoken word recommendations:
I was invited to do a guest spot on this show after Samantha was the featured poet on one of the days I had done a set at Other Voices last year. Back then, her middle aged, middle class, middle England stilted persona’s first attempt at poetry was hilarious but I found I was laughing with her. The full show is even better, and it has a daily podcast!
Ms. Samantha Mann, a drag persona created by the lovely Adrian Gillott, has a full solo show that is delightfully feminist. Samantha shares her story of how she doesn’t ask for permission – just starts living her life to the full and breaking out of her societally- and self-imposed expectations. It’s a feel good hit. The venue isn’t a great space to perform in though – it’s next to the toilets and hasn’t got doors. Samantha takes it, like everything, in her stride, but she deserves better.
This is a lovely, silly and wistful spoken word show and installation dedicated to the sky and all the lovely stuff in it.
Stop press: Rob has just been awarded the ‘best joke at the Fringe’ prize, except that the joke itself is intersectionally iffy and was selected by the demographically skewed Dave channel. It’s great his name is out there (and it’s lovely to see Chris Coltrane make the list as well with a far more right-on gag), but it’s a shame they only put this throwaway line to the public (i.e. Dave’s audiences) vote, because the real hidden gem of his show is when he strikes a small but important blow for feminism with a thoughtful takedown of one of the most rubbish and stereotypical lines in 1990s cinema in the most delightful way. Request the Four Weddings and A Funeral ending to his show to see what I mean.
This Spoken Word solo show is about activism, moving, immigration, romance and the pressures of going legit to please parents
And, finally, here are some shows I really wanted to see but which clashed with my and their performing/days off schedule. If you’re in Edinburgh, you should definitely go to see them and report back. (Did I mention we’re looking for more reviewers?)
Gutted to have missed this show by Cynthia Levin; I missed out on multi-heritage US comic solidarity.
A daily political chat show hosted by Kate Smurthwaite. Maybe it’ll be on telly one of these days. Come on, BBC, take a chance.
Awesome reviews and features have come in about Rosie’s new show about monogamy and polyamory from a queer-inclusive perspective. The F Word reviewed her last show, about her university feminist fanzine years, and this one looks excellent as well!
Two of the many feminist shows at The Stand (I saw Susan Calman and Bridget Christie this time around and Jo Caulfield on a previous visit) also look great: Nadia Kamil and Mary Bourke: Muffragette. How brilliant it is to be spoilt for choice.
This Spoken Word solo show by F Word Comedy Reviewer and UK Slam Champion Steph Dogfoot Chan is about activism, moving, immigration, romance and the pressures of going legit to please her parents, is now finished, but you can catch it in London.
Stand up by scientists! Seriously. Stand up by actual scientists! You can see that I’m a big fan of comedians who do science. I’m equally enamoured of scientists who do comedy. Check it out, and if you’re doing research yourself, consider giving it a go!
Pete’s a fellow Sheffielder whose show I’ve seen in previous years – it’s highly entertaining and self-deprecating and sitting in the audience feels like a safe place to be for all genders. Pete and I met up for a drink this year and chatted about how his reviews tend to focus more on his looks than his abilities as a performer, which I’d never heard a male friend complain about before, though it happens to my female friends all the time. He is more than just a pretty face.
If you’re in Edinburgh, or have the time and means to pay that lovely place a short visit, there is a feminist smorgasbord up there. Lots of the shows I saw were free or had concessionary rates and two-for-one offers. I’ll put up more reviews and you guys keep making and seeing comedy. Deal? Deal.
Stay tuned for some more reviews from other Fringe-goers!
If you’d like to review for The F Word’s comedy section, the main two criteria are that you’re interested in seeing feminist comedy and you’re keen to tell other people about it.
The F Word comedy section logo: A mint green square with moss green writing – The usual F Word logo above the word ‘comedy’ which is in Yikes! font.