Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Voices

Backstage natter

Last Monday, nine of the country’s best standups appeared at Standard Issue Stands Up For Comic Relief. Hannah Dunleavy had a chat with them backstage. When she could get a word in edgeways. Here she speaks to Susan Calman, Holly Walsh and Jessica Fostekew.

Susan Calman, Holly Walsh and Jessica Fostekew backstage

Susan Calman, Holly Walsh and Jessica Fostekew backstage. All photos by Debbie Toksvig.

Is this the most women youve ever done a comedy gig with?

Jessica Fostekew: Yes.

Holly Walsh: Except for Funny Women maybe.

Susan Calman: I did something with Sandi Toksvig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall where Sue Perkins was conducting an orchestra, but this is probably the most of us on the one bill in a proper gig. I met Holly doing Funny Women; we were on in the same heat. Her comedy was quite different.

HW: Yeah, I really hated women at that time.

JF: She did five minutes on what dicks women were and it got her into the finals of Funny Women.

Jessica Fostekew onstageAm I right in thinking you dont see other women very much on the circuit?

HW: Yes.

SC: Well, you do on the News Quiz and radio shows rather than gigs, but I don’t do club gigs much anymore, I just tour myself, so I don’t see anyone.

HW: I think women do get into touring quite quickly.

JF: I’m not there yet.

HW: I still do the circuit.

JF: It depends where you are. I quite often work with a woman, but it’s quite rare to have more than two of you on a bill.

HW: I still feel that it’s unremarkable and we shouldn’t go on about it. I do go on enough gigs with other women.

JF: Especially in London. Midweek in London, you can do a gig with an entirely female line-up and that’s not been arranged.

SC: Outside of London, it’s still a problem.

HW: The same as with feminism, where there are generations of it, I think we’re at a stage with comedy now where other people have done a lot of hard work and now it seems completely natural to have two or three women on a bill.

JF: If you’re working in either extreme, if you’re doing lots of radio and telly, or you’re new, you can be surrounded by women, maybe even half and half.

SC: But there’s a wilderness.

JF: Which I’m still in, which is weekends in cities that aren’t the one you live in. And those people that book those gigs that pay my rent, most of them would still only book one woman. But at least now they’re at the stage where they wouldn’t admit it.

Holly Walsh onstageSo is there anyone youre excited about seeing tonight?

HW: I haven’t seen Jo Caulfield in years.

SC: I’ve never gigged with [Sara] Pascoe. I’ve done a charity gig with [Katherine] Ryan and [Jo] Brand. Charity gigs is where I tend to see people.

HW: I’d never met Jo Brand.

JF: No I hadn’t either.

There was a point when Jo Brand first started gigging that she was out on her own a bit.

HW: Yeah, it was Jo, Jenny Eclair, Linda Smith and Sandi. It’s important to note that things have moved on in the last 30 years.

JF: And thank them whether they like it or not. Joan Rivers used to hate being thanked. *Puts on Joan Rivers voice* I did it for myself, I’m not a feminist.

SC: People don’t realise when they’re doing it. The aim isn’t to help other comics. I remember Mel and Sue with their daytime chat show and I went to see Sue Perkins …

JF: That was the first standup I saw in 2006. It was amazing.

SC: I think we’ve all had crappy things said to us. I’ve had gigs pulled because I was a woman. Because they had a woman on last month and she wasn’t very good. If there’s one thing I’d say is every single comedian is very different from one another, so to generically lump us together because of our sex is the worst possible thing. So when people say female comedians are all like Sarah Millican, we’re not, we’re all completely different and I think the fight we have is to get the media to acknowledge that.

Susan Calman onstageJF: And stop thinking of female comedy as a genre.

HW: I run gigs and as a booker I realise you need variety.

JF: You just need to get rid of the assumption that two women are the same.

SC: Some people do gentle things, some people don’t. I do my hour-long shows now, that’s where I feel happiest in myself. I’m not the same as Rhona Cameron or Sue Perkins just because I’m gay. And female comedians aren’t all gay.

JF: Two days ago, someone came up to me after a gig and said, “You’re the funniest woman I’ve ever seen,” and it’s so well meant that I can’t be arsed to challenge it every time someone says it. But why?

HW: Or you get “You were so great and I don’t usually like women comedians”. If you’re going to say that to me, say it to every other minority in comedy and see what it’s like to say that.

SC: I do a show called Listomania for Radio 2 and I drew up a list of people I thought should be on the show and they were all women who perhaps might not have been on these sorts of shows before and should be. And it was all women, women who should be getting more exposure. I think the next step is to be seen as individuals.

HW: Yes. This, for example, is a Comic Relief gig and I feel that’s the bigger story here. That’s the bigger agenda.

SC: And I think we all agree that going forward in the next few years with the current political situation, gigs where there’s a point to it, that’s what I’m most excited about. Tonight is for an incredible cause and it just so happens that Sarah called a number of us who said we were free because she has pictures of us all naked. I gave them to her.

JF: She deleted them and you sent them again.

HW: That was that Funny Women final.

SC: What a sexy night that was.

Read part one of Hannah’s backstage natter with Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan and Zoe Lyons.

Part three tomorrow is a chinwag with Jo Brand, Jo Caulfield and Sarah Millican.

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.