Observing the success of several women who have come through the final of the Funny Women Awards and taken second, third or just a coveted place in the final, it says a lot about human ambition that being the apparent ‘loser’ often spurs you on to be the eventual ‘winner’.
Higher profile competitions encapsulating nascent talent on prime time television appear to prove the theory – X Factor’s JLS are doing pretty well for themselves having come second to Alexandra Burke in 2008, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of heatthrob Olly Murs who came second to Joe McElderry in the 2009 X Factor, now that he’s also signed to Simon Cowell’s Sycho record label too. Famously Liberty X outlived their rival winners Hear’Say in the 2001 ITV reality talent show Popstars.
Something about coming second or even thinking you should have won can have the desired effect on your career. Talent can win out and never mind the persona. Take a lesson from Susan Boyle’s experience of being pipped to the top spot – less is expected of you for coming second and you do have to wonder if Susan could have coped with the pressure of being number one. She still has a multi million pound recording career at her finger tips and it gave talented dance group, Diversity a well deserved break.
The same has happened with the Funny Women Awards. Sarah Millican, who missed winning the 2005 Funny Women Awards by a nano point, has gone on to become one of the most sought after new female comics on the circuit, winning the Amused Moose competition the same year as the Funny Women Awards and latterly being dubbed as the ‘best newcomer’ in the ‘Eddies’ at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
Only just four years ago we were struggling to fill a room in Sarah’s home town of Newcastle with a touring show of female comedy acts. This is a real ‘if they could see me now’ story as Sarah has now performed to several million people with television appearances on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Mock the Week, plus her own series on BBC Radio 4. Ultimately Sarah is the ‘winner’ because she’s living her dream, regardless of whether or not she won a competition.
And surely this is the point? I run the Funny Women Awards to give women the opportunity to perform comedy without the jibes and prejudices they may encounter on the unremittingly sexist comedy circuit. Although we have brought about a cultural change and it has become a different place from the circuit I first encountered eight years ago when I first launched the competition in 2003, some promoters remain resistant to booking female acts. Plus, ironically, the hardest people to please are female audiences! They tend to be the biggest critics of their own gender.
So how do we define ‘losing’? For me it’s when we fail to sell enough tickets to cover our costs and, the biggest sting of all, when our much celebrated sponsorship with Nivea fell through just over a year ago at the first bite of the recession. But that’s when the tough get going and necessity really is the mother of invention. I had so many women wanting to enter the Funny Women Awards it had to happen and a last minute minor sponsorship deal on the final from Boots, just about made it pay.
But just when you think all this is acceptable, there is another sting in the tail. Sponsorship, financial and in kind is still essential to keeping the Awards on the road. Yet, my harshest critics from within the industry have derided Funny Women as a ‘PR stunt’, a remark linked to the fact that over a period of six years we have ridden upon a wave of successful brand sponsorships with Babycham, Sheila’s Wheels, Avon, Nivea and Boots with supportive contributions from BA and the Londa Hotel in Cyprus, who continue to provide a holiday as first prize for the Funny Women Awards and hosts our touring show. Now we’re looking for sponsorship again but at least we’ve proved that we can survive (almost!) without.
I was even rather humiliatingly told by an established comic that she hoped that after five years there would be no more need for the Funny Women Awards as it ‘wouldn’t be necessary’ to encourage any more women to do stand up. The implication being that there would be quite enough, thank you!
Yet the odds continue to be stacked against female performers on the circuit who struggle for stage time. We have a waiting list for our regular Second Sunday showcase night at the Leicester Square Theatre and our entry rate for the competition rises year on year. We had over 100 registered for this year’s competition ahead of our launch.
Funny Women is surviving in restrained circumstances with the competition at its heart, and fueled by the lifeblood of new and innovative female comedy talent. Over 250 women participated in live shows during the run of the 2009 Funny Women Awards and we set off again in May taking in some new and wonderful locations as part of the drive to seek out the best new female comedy talent.
When I see great new female acts like Zoe Lyons, Susan Calman, Sarah Millican, Anna Crilly, Katy Wix, Sarah Pascoe, Andi Osho and our latest protégé, Miss London on the television, I feel pleased and proud that they’ve all graced the Funny Women stage along their way. We are just a small part of their success, and it’s good to celebrate the emergence of new talent.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter about the winning or the losing. It’s about making it happen.