For someone as naturally funny as I, it seems strange that I’ve never been to support my fellow funny females at Camden Fringe.
Maybe I’m missing the sisterhood gene. Whatever it is, I made this year my first Fringe and I chose to focus on female stand-up comedians, in the hope that I could learn a few more witticisms to add to my extensive repertoire.
I picked six shows from the extensive list of performers and venues in the hope that I would get a variety of topics, humours and performances. Reader, I’m sorry to say, I was a tad disappointed.
…issues that surround homosexuality and bisexuality…
Let me explain. Despite my chosen comedians representing a range of backgrounds and ages, one theme reigned supreme: sexuality and sex. Whether they were applauding love in its many forms, sharing the myriad of issues that surround homosexuality and bisexuality, or simply making light-hearted fun of it, what you’re doing in the bedroom and who you’re doing it with seemed to dominate my Fringe experience.
In cases such as Rosie Wilby, I think I would have enjoyed the show far more were I drunk, a lesbian or, preferably, both. I was, and am, neither. Wilby’s show, entitled ‘Is Monogamy Dead?’ investigated the benefits of polygamy and being a swinger in a lesbian or bisexual group before uncovering a drawing of a polygamous unicorn. The hour-long set culminated in a protracted game of Family Fortunes in which the audience had to make the appropriate game show noises to guess the top audience definitions of cheating. Funnily enough, sex was the top answer.
…funny and disturbing…
Iszi Lawrence also took a sexy stance on things, opening her set by describing herself as a ‘lesbian thundercat.’ She also illuminated for many of us what making love to a woman is like; ‘baking a cake in a really complicated oven’ is her verdict on the matter. Lawrence also shared with us her penchant for Hentai porn, her views on lottery winners (‘poor people with money’) and made us think about Iain Duncan-Smith’s penis. As funny and disturbing as this sounds, I spent most of the set with my face contorted into various states of confusion, pondering whether the material was actually funny. The jury’s still out.
I hate leaving performances early, but I had to twice during my Fringe experience and the bad news is I didn’t feel bad about it either time I snuck out, head down, precariously balancing on my tiptoes. The two I cut short were Lawrence and Jacky Wood, who was scheduled to finish at 11:30pm, too late for me to make the last train home. Wood brought her solo show ‘Five Characters in Search of a Guitar’ to the Fringe, in which she performs self-written songs in five different guises. Wood began as herself, singing a nice little song about being the victim of vegetarian hatred – as an enthusiastic carnivore, I understood entirely where she was coming from – however when the characters came along, the show started to unravel. A teenage rapper singing about being a member of the ‘teenage generation’ got the audience to sing along, presumably to cover her own appalling vocals, whilst a country singer claiming to be from Texas, Tennessee (the joke hopefully being that this place doesn’t exist) performed in an accent so screechy and stereotypically awful I’m sure at one point, the lights flickered on and off, as if blinking in horror.
…‘Grandma’s gone Bi. Deal with it.’…
However it wasn’t all doom and gloom for ladies this year in Camden. The show I left Lawrence for was Conference, which took the theme of sexuality and women and turned it on its head, making light-hearted fun of feminism, lesbianism, transgenderism and everything in between. The show’s set-up – a Conference of Sisterhood – sounded incredibly forced and difficult for the audience to latch on to. It proved to be the polar opposite; upon entry everyone was given a sticky label according to how their sexuality was perceived. I got ‘prefer not to say’ and I’d prefer not to say what I made of that. Everyone was referred to as ‘sister’ and various commercials interjected the hilarious action with such taglines as ‘Grandma’s gone Bi. Deal with it.’ What I enjoyed most about this performance was its simple combination of incredibly funny one-liners, stories and visuals with physical comedy that made light of our physical selves and everyday emotions. My sides were quite literally splitting and for the first time in a while, I found myself laughing uncontrollably.
As was to be expected for so many first-timers at the Fringe, each performer’s audience consisted of mainly family, friends and die-hard fans. At many performances I felt like an invading hostile force. This was especially true for Danish comedian Arna Spek, whose boyfriend I inadvertently sat next to, therefore was in prime position to observe how often she looked to him for reassurance and guidance throughout. Half endearing and half dull, Spek struggled to fill a thirty-minute set with what must be a potential goldmine of cultural stereotypes, difficulties and differences. This did make up the majority of the set, however halfway through Spek started to flag and seemed to rely on jokes that only her friends understood, of which there were many in the crowd. Spek’s half-hour had some chuckles, interesting points and, refreshingly, barely any references to sexuality or sex. What a lovely change.
…when was the last time you heard Dara O’Briain talk about homosexuality?…
Speaking of lovely changes, I’ll end on the highlight of my Fringe. ‘Elf Lyons is a Pervert’ is an assertive and confident name for a debut solo show and thankfully we were treated to an explanation early on in the set. Whilst I suspect most of the crowd knew Lyons personally, she endears herself to the audience almost instantly, with her nerdy confessions of tube-spotting and her own unique take on the tiresome cover letter. Her caricatures of friends and family were hilarious, as was her own tube-porn – that tragically overlooked literary genre. Flitting from one end of the stage to the other and scrunching up her face in a variety of contortions, Elf is my Fringe One To Watch.
I ended my Fringe experience pondering on the variety of topics I had heard discussed by the women of the Fringe. Sexuality topped the list by a mile, which is interesting when you compare female to male comedians – when was the last time you heard Dara O’Briain talk about homosexuality? However there was also a frankness that rang true through all the performances, a casual lack of self-obsession and keenness to interact with those around them. The incredibly irritating North American phrase ‘reaching out’ applies here – this really was what these funny ladies were doing, reaching out to the intimate audiences and making life funny for an hour or so. The degree of success varied of course, but underlying it all was a sincerity that was refreshing and overwhelmingly endearing.