Live Review: Funny Women Awards Final 2016, Koko

If we wanted to get all political about it Funny Women shouldn’t exist. Comedians are comedians, why should gender even enter into it? But it does and the Funny Women organisation is clearly tapping into something. This year’s final was staged at a bigger venue than usual and it was absolutely packed. For the first time in as long as I can remember I had to review a gig perched on a step at the back of a room.

I didn’t have to stand for too long though. The final was a manageable six acts who were introduced by their mentors - a new idea this year - who had given them advice and tips. This made compere Kerry Godliman’s role slightly superfluous. Wile she was as brilliant as ever keeping everyone amused she was basically introducing the people who were going to introduce the acts rather than introduce the acts as a normal compere would.

First up, introduced by Zoe Lyons, was Rivka Uttley, a call centre advisor from Leeds. Things didn’t bode well when one of her first lines was explaining that she is single. But what could have been hack material soon had plenty of personality when she suggested that if you are single and going to conform to stereotypes by having a cat it might be a good idea to give it a man’s name rather than call it, say, Fluffy. That way you don’t sound quite so mad talking about it getting into bed with you etc in public. Uttley also had a fresh take on the perils of internet dating. A little bit of Sarah Millican crept in every now and again but Millican has done pretty well for herself since winning Funny Women so maybe that is no bad thing.

Second act Rosie Jones, mentored by Sara Pascoe, got easily the biggest cheer of the night. Jones is a quirky comic who happens to have Cerebral Palsy. Rather than judge her against other comics with CP she was clearly very funny in her own right, taking the piss out of her condition by leading the audience one way then pulling the rug in another direction. It’s not the first time this has ever been done onstage but Jones did it with bags of charm. She even got a big cheer when she had a mic problem. Her personality was certainly winning even though she wasn’t victorious on the night.

Closing the first half was musical comic Harriet Braine, mentored by Ellie Taylor. I saw Braine in the So You Think You’re Funny? final last month and thought her songs - about dead artists - were excellent, but her framing of her set as if it was an art history lesson and the audience was her class didn’t quite work. I don’t know if it was Taylor who advised Braine to drop the mock-lecture aspect but she didn’t do it this time, letting the songs do all the talking. On the one hand she was slightly cheating, using existing melodies from Steve Miller and Natalie Imbruglia, but her lyrics were truly inspired. She also does the best cornet/trumpet impression this side of Earl Okin. I thought she might be too quirky for the judges, but Braine - who works in a museum library in Greenwich by day - was the deserving winner of this year’s Funny Women stage award.

Though she did face tough competition after the interval. Irish comic Catherine Bohart, mentored by Shazia Mirza, is pretty much the perfect comedy package. She was totally assured onstage and delivered some excellent autobiographical material, mainly about being bisexual and having a father who is a Catholic deacon. There were echoes of Aisling Bea here, but Bohart is more relaxed and less high-energy. She didn’t win the award but it’s quite obvious that on the basis of this small set she is going to be a big name in a few years, probably juggling stand-up and acting. 

Jan Ravens was the mentor of Rose Robinson and she pretty much did my job for me in her intro (as well as doing some bonus Hillary Clinton/Theresa May impressions) by describing Robinson as following in a lineage from Joyce Grenfell to Morwenna Banks. Lob in a bit of Miranda Hart and you’ve got this very impressive character comedian whose act was a short talk about the supernatural, discussing questions such as “Yvette Fielding - is she really that scared?” This was a beautifully constructed piece of character comedy. While it is inevitable she will be compared to other performers at this early stage in her career make no mistake, Robinson is very distinctive in her own right too.

Last up was Dutch stand-up Micky Overman, mentored by Tiff Stevenson. I thought she was certainly in with a shout of winning during her first half of act but she did start to run out of steam towards the end (or maybe that was partly me, having had to stand all evening…). The material here was brutal and dark and had a very inventive twist to it that it would be unfair to reveal. A night that started well if a little predictably ended even better and unpredictably. As I said at the outset, in an ideal world maybe Funny Women should not exist, but when it uncovers acts as good as this I’m glad that it does. 

Picture/Creative by Wren.

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