Influential Women – Lynne Parker

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.”

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!”

Over the years Lynne has picked up many award, most recently at the Awards to celebrate the One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women list at the King’s Fund in London. Lynne Parker, was nominated in the Arts and Media Category and took her place alongside an amazing array of women from all over the world who have succeeded in the most incredibly challenging and dangerous circumstances to achieve their goals and change the world.

“I was very humbled to be nominated alongside these women,” commented Lynne. “Helping women to find their voice, comedically or otherwise, in the UK, isn’t a hardship and at Funny Women we recognise that women are barely heard in some parts of the world. That’s why I’d like funny women everywhere to add their voices to the world wide campaign to get women onto the right platforms where their amazing and often unseen contributions to society get the full credit they deserve.”

Lynne also took two awards as well as hosting the Ladies at E11even Business Awards sponsored by NatWest.

Lynne was first honoured with the Inspirational Woman Award, for the woman who has overcome personal hurdles & challenges, to succeed in her chosen business.

“This means such a lot to me,” comments Lynne. “The last three years have been very tough with the lack of sponsorship income and we’ve diversified out of necessity to develop the business. With the support of my family, I’ve been able to invest in the business and now it’s beginning to pay off. This award is recognition for them as much as it is for me.”

Lynne also received The NatWest Award which recognises an inspirational and dedicated woman business owner who the judges felt has achieved outstanding business success. This was presented to Lynne by Carolyn Currie from NatWest, who now heads up the new business development team for women.

“I’m particularly honoured to receive this Award as I’ve worked so hard to present a business that looks professional and serves a wide range of women – from performers on the comedy circuit to working women who want to be more confident and improve their presentation skills. I’ve spent the last nine years giving out the prizes at the annual Funny Women Awards, so it’s great to be on the receiving end!

“Women need a voice in their business and personal lives and if I can help them to develop this, then I will have a legacy to be proud of.”

Funny Women and the3rdimagazine worked closely on the Stand Up For Dalits Fundraising event. You can find out more about it here and this successful format will be repeated in March 2012 at the Funny Women 10th Anniversary Charity Challenge.

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