The best female comedians in Scotland

The best female comedians in Scotland

The current state of Scottish female comedy

Scotland has its share of comedy heroes, but what about its heroines? Kirstyn Smith speaks to some of the Scots just trying to make you laugh, pal

This is not the sort of article to pose the incorrigible ‘but seriously, are women funny?’ question, not just because anyone who spends any amount of time seriously pontificating on that old bastard needs euthanising, but also because Janey Godley would slay me. ‘You can look up hundreds of articles: “women: are they funny?” You wouldn’t be allowed to say “can female lawyers get convictions?” I’m in the only industry where journalists are allowed to discriminate against me sexually.’

It’s becoming obvious that my original brief for this article (the heritage of women comedians in Scotland) needs a change of pace as, speaking to Janey Godley and Elaine C Smith, it’s fast becoming apparent that there is no clear-cut female legacy. Admittedly, it’s slim pickings on the male side too: Billy Connolly, Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges being among the more obvious exceptions, but the pool extends to Stanley Baxter, Chic Murray and Armando Iannucci. Thank God for Una McLean and Dorothy Paul blazing the female comedy trail, though rather depressingly, they’ve been driven into pantomime and television comedy roles where they frequently deliver the feed while the men get the punchline.

The phenomenon of women in straight stand-up has only been picking up speed in recent years. Indeed, when pestered for influences, Elaine C Smith cites Connolly and Eric Morecambe while Godley plumps for her own mother. ‘There are great women out there, but there’s a tokenism about it,’ concedes Smith. Recalling her time spent working for the Comedy Unit, which produced Naked Video and Rab C Nesbitt, she mentions ingrained sexism. ‘I don’t think there’s any real design in it, but they just don’t like us in the room. We interfere with the male modes of behaviours – the joshing and the slagging.’ Godley’s experience on the stand-up circuit proves just as enlightening, but in a different way. ‘Five men can die in a gig, but if a woman dies in a gig, she’s the one who’s got to worry. It’s like we’re snipers in a war. Imagine all the male snipers miss their targets – see if a woman misses her target, she’s getting her gun taken off her.’

Speaking to Paul Pirie and Des Clarke brings an interesting male perspective. Pirie argues that the scene is looking healthy for women comics these days - ‘Sarah Millican, Miranda Hart and Susan Calman are all huge dominant figures in the industry’ - but admits he’s come across sexism – no more, however, than any other kind of discrimination: ‘It’s in the same way I hear people pick on musical comedians because the act uses music to convey their comedy, or racism because the act is of a different nationality.’

‘I would say comedians are some of the most supportive and open-minded people you’ll ever meet,’ Clarke notes, making the salient point: ‘Our pay structure is also transparent and equal.’ His experiences are on a par with something Godley also brought up – that it’s not misogyny in male comedians you have to worry about, but in audiences. ‘I’ve often overheard this phrase said to a female comedian after the gig: “I don’t usually find women funny but I really liked you”. It’s like you can justify a sweeping generalisation with a wee compliment at the end. May as well just pat your head and give you a biscuit. I actually think it’s quite a straightforward industry. No formal qualifications needed. No nepotism required. Just be good at what you do and work at it.’

This, at least, is something both genders can agree on. While some comedy clubs offer women-only nights, Godley is adamant that while they are encouraging, women need to accept that hurdles will, possibly always, exist. ‘If you’re a female comic and you’re finding it hard and can’t take it – give up. It’s a tough business. If you don’t like it, fuck off.’

Top 5: Funny Scots ladies

1 Susan Calman
2 Natasha Yapp
3 Ashley Storrie
4 Rhona Cameron
5 Keara Murphy

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