Funny Women, founded in 2002 by Lynne Parker, is a production company dedicated to promoting female comedy talent. It has grown to become a unique entertainment brand promoting new female acts and working with established performers. In January we spoke to Lynne and asked her about her company, her life and the future direction of Funny Women.
“Everything in my life has led to here,” Lynne explains, “It is my perfect job – a mix of all my skills and experience. I am pursuing my passion.”
Lynne trained as a fashion journalist and describes herself as the original “Ugly Betty”, first working under aloof editors at Harpers and Queen, a job she describes as “awful”, before moving on to work with IPC and a job as fashion and beauty editor in the teenage magazine department. While this market doesn’t really exist now, those of us of a certain age will remember the time when newsagent’s shelves were full of titles such as Diana, Mirabelle and Jackie and lunchtimes were spent discussing the latest in the Cathy and Claire page.
For Lynne, this was a fantastic opportunity and one she thoroughly enjoyed, so much so that it gave her the first chance to “Live the Dream” when she and a friend decided to open a store selling lingerie. What should have been a joint venture actually resulted in Lynne spending a disproportionate amount of time in the shop and after three years she left to return to journalism.
In fact the freelance work she started quickly led to a full-time PR position, a job she held for the next 20+ years, living the high life of a beauty specialist with leading brands such as Avon and Yardley, flying aroud the world to promotional conferences and major beauty events. This high profile position led to regular appearances on cable TV, with a weekly programme on fashion and beauty being broadcast across Europe.
So, was it this experience in front of the camera that led to an interest in performance and stand up?
“No, not really. Part of me thought that it was alright being in front of the camera but I much preferred my work on radio.”
“Funny Women really came about when, around 10 years ago, the PR company I was working with brought a US comedy brand to the UK. Since by that time I had lots of experience in entertainment I worked very closely with them to establish weekly comedy nights to showcase new stand-up comedians.”
“One thing that struck me, week after week, was that there were no women on the bill. At that time most female comics were performing in character roles and even the great female stand-ups like Jo Brand and Jenny Eclair were not getting much exposure.”
So, when the American company decided to pull out of the UK left and returned to the US, leaving Lynne with new bosses who fired her, she decided to go ita lone.
“I’d already had the idea for Funny Women and thought, “You *******, I’ll do this myself!”
It took 2 years from that point to the first Funny Women event and in 2003 the Funny Women awards, which Lynne describes as the “backbone” of the company, was launched.
Lynne explains, “I love finding new acts and it is fantastic to see women prepared to stand up and give it a go.”
The company’s heart and soul is its annual competition, the Funny Women Awards. Now attracting over 250 entrants each year, and featured on the BBC’s Comedy Extra website, the winners and finalists are guaranteed a platform for their talents. Last years winner, Miss London (Dionne Hughes), described as “As feisty as they come,” by one reviewer of the 2009 awards, was quickly signed up by a big agent and is appearing across the UK.
Alongside the annual awards and charity events, Funny Women host new talent showcases at the Leicester Square Theatre in London on the second Sunday of each month. And 2010 will see Lynne expand the brand nationally with producrs auditioning women from all over the UK at established comedy and cultural festivals such as Brighton festival, Bath Festival, Liverpool Comedy Festival, Queer Up North in Manchester, the Edinburgh Fringe, Latitude and the Guardian Hay festival.
“This is part of a comprehensive strategy to make female comedy more – accessible – not just for would be performers but encouraging women to use humour in their lives and giving them their voice.”
Last year, after 6 years of competition, attracting 100’s of women into performance, Funny Women lost it’s main sponsor due to the economic downturn and by Lynne’s own admission was facing a difficult time. However, people have rallied round and out of adversity Funny Women have become even more focussed as a brand, as Lynne puts it, “No free stuff to get performers to give it a go, just the competition and it has been FANTASTIC!”
“And I just love working with people. The amazing thing about the comedy nights is that everyone works together to put on a show and we all have a great time!”
Funny Women is also a building a business brand.
“As women we have a lot to give but hide our real selves behind what we think we should be. We naturally collaborate, we naturally network but to get women up to speed and to the top in, for example, business and politics, we need to support each other.” Working under the banner ‘standing up to stand out‘ women are coached on how to use humour to build their confidence and improve their presentation skills. We will come back to this is the next issue of the3rdi magazine.
And Funny Women aim to be socially aware and raise funds for causes relating to women at events throughout the year and is currently working with V-Day: Until the Violence Stops, the UK arm of the movement to stop violence against women and girls.
This is the seventh year that Funny Women have staged a charity benefit on International Womens Day and as Lynne explained “We are always very grateful to the acts that give up their time to put on this show each year. This show will appeal to regulars and comedy virgins alike, plus we’ll be raising money and awareness to help the women and girls of the Congo.”
This year’s event takes place in the Leicester Square Theatre on Monday 8th March, International Womens Day. The event will be hosted by Mrs Barbara Nice (Janice Connolly) and star Miss London, Eve Webster, Jo Selby, Shazia Mirza, Jan Raves and special guests. More details are on our EVENTS PAGE and if you are not able to attend but wish to support the work of V-Day then you can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/funnywomen.