Lynne Parker is the incredible founder of Funny Women, a community that has been supporting female comedians across the UK since 2002. Having seen the likes of Bridget Christie, Katherine Ryan, Andi Osho and Sarah Millican pass through their doors, you can’t help but feel inspired by Funny Women’s desire to help women find their voice through performing, writing and using humour in business and everyday life. Lynne (who has incidentally recently been shortlisted for the Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards) was gracious enough to share her very wise words and experience with us…
Funny Women Rising
I have been battling with the misconception that women aren’t funny for over 13 years. Sometimes it seems longer because it is still harder for female comics to breakthrough than it is for the battalions of check-shirted, skinny-jeaned, young men who populate the stages of comedy clubs.
I came up with the idea of Funny Women while working as a publicist for a misogynistic comedy promoter who told me that women aren’t funny and that there weren’t any ‘funny women’. Revenge is sweet! How wrong could one man be? I have seen thousands of women perform live comedy since I set up Funny Women in 2002. Although we’ve made inroads to more balanced bills on the comedy circuit, it is still relatively rare to see more than one woman perform alongside a whole line up of men.
Yet away from the circuit women are really successful. In the UK we have a rich heritage of funny women from Gracie Fields and Joyce Grenfell in the 1930s, 40s and 50s to Victoria Wood and French & Saunders in the 1970s and 80s through to today’s sassy crop of stand up performers like Katherine Ryan, Sara Pascoe and Bridget Christie, all of whom I am proud to say came through the Funny Women Awards. Women who first came into view on television with the advent of the British alternative comedy scene in the late 1980s and 90s include Jo Brand, Jenny Éclair, Sandi Toksvig and Josie Lawrence – all of whom are still regularly performing in between publishing the odd novel, appearing on stage or producing and writing sitcoms. Then there are today’s television breakthrough queens like Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican.
I am also a great fan of brilliant US performers and writers like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer who carry on the writer/producer/performer tradition established so brilliantly in the 1960s and 70s by Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore. The world of female comedy is so full and diverse there is just no place for the statement ‘women aren’t funny’.
What is so interesting about all these women is that they have created their own personal brand. In comedy we call it your ‘persona’ and this is developed as a way of presenting yourself to the world. Some performers prefer to hide behind a character or create a heightened version of themselves with props, clothes and imaginative material. In the business world you can create the same kind of presence by applying some of the principals of stage performance. For example, develop a professional persona to give yourself an edge when it comes to presenting in meetings and at conferences, and use humour to communicate your messages.
I never really set out to turn Funny Women into a business. I am a serial ‘adventurer’ when it comes to setting up businesses having opened a lingerie boutique and set up my own PR consultancy. I always wanted to be a journalist and my performance ambitions were modest and amateur in status – a highlight being the community pantomimes which my husband produced as fundraisers for our two children’s school! I faired rather better as a writer and in my twenties I worked for two major magazine groups NatMags and IPC and edited a fashion trade journal. In truth none of my ventures into business fulfilled my passion and interest as much as Funny Women has done. I love the creativity and topicality of comedy and combining this with encouraging women to stand up for themselves with humour ticks a very big box.
The power of networking
I have always networked. As a young rooky journalist I worshipped at the feet of some amazing writers and editors. I observed amazing ‘performances’ from women in business who managed to combine a cool professional image and focus while maintaining successful personal lives. I determined to learn from these connections and networking has always been the lifeblood of my business life – I always have an idea of who to connect with given the six degrees of separation rule. It works, promise. Somewhere within your network of friends, family and colleagues you are connected to the person or information you need. This does actually mean getting out and talking to people in person – you learn far more from being in the physical presence of other people than just being online.
Ageing is amazing
Using the principals and skills learned from the world of comedy I help women to feel less invisible as they mature. Men are imbued with qualities such as gravitas, wisdom and wit as they get older – women are often portrayed as foolish, forgetful and are often airbrushed out of business life. In fact, we become more powerful and wise with age and the ability to use humour helps. I founded Funny Women in my mid 40s and as I enter my 60th year I feel less inhibited and more able to challenge any system that puts women in second place. Like the octogenarian comic, Lynn Ruth Miller says ‘grow old disgracefully’ – it’s much more fun and people actually listen to what you have to say!
Men and women are different
Those male and female symbols are accurate in that women take a circuitous and less defined pathway to problem solving, whereas men are targeted and goal focused with less time for discussion and consultation. Mix them up and you get the perfect balance. Although Funny Women produces all female shows we are increasingly working with enlightened men who want to make the most of our feminine skills in the workplace. Women have organisational and communication abilities that ensure the job gets done and morale is maintained. We also draw on the strength and directness of male decision making and focused effort. In this sense, both genders are rewarded.
Follow Lynne @funnywomenlynne and Funny Women @funnywomen on twitter and check out their amazing line-up of events at the Funny Women Weekend Comedy Academy at the Edinburgh Fringe on 22nd and 23rd August (free to visitors at the Fringe). Early Bird tickets have also just gone on sale for the next Accidental Conference about Women and Media in partnership with our friends at the Guardian Women in Leadership on 10 October. Funny Women Workshops also run all year round – so find your next one here.