Updated: Sunday, 19th November 2017 @ 8:06am

'Long overdue': UK-first Women in Comedy Festival in Manchester nurtures female talent across North

'Long overdue': UK-first Women in Comedy Festival in Manchester nurtures female talent across North

By Ana Hine

The first Women in Comedy Festival in the UK will be held across Greater Manchester this October.

The month-long celebration of stand-up comedy, spoken word, comedy theatre, debates, art and workshops will run from October 1-27.

Organised by the founder of Laughing Cows Comedy, Hazel O’Keefe, this cross-collaboration between female comedians, producers and supporters offers a chance to reflect on what ‘women’s comedy’ means and the importance – or unimportance – of gender in the UK comedy landscape.

For one of the performers, Athena Kugblenu, the festival will be an excuse to visit Manchester for the first time. She’ll be coming to the Lass O'Gowrie on October 19. A regular on the London comedy scene she finds she is often the only female on a bill.

Athena said: “It's important to understand the environment this culture creates for women in comedy.

“This festival gives us the opportunity to perform to audiences without feeling token or exceptional. I look forward to friendly, diverse crowds and lots of laughs.”

Ex-school teacher Allyson June Smith has come over from Canada to conquer the UK. Fresh from her Edinburgh Fringe debut her brisk and forthright style will start the festival launch night on October 1 with a bang at The Frog and Bucket on Oldham Street.

She said: “I feel there is so much female talent coming out of the UK and so many from the North, that I think this will be a wonderful beginning and a great chance to highlight that talent.”

Allyson describes the decision to start her UK career in Manchester as one of the best she could have made. She heaped particular praise on Laughing Cows.

“They accepted me from day one with open arms and have provided me with support in regards to work and beyond,” she said. “I feel this festival will be a success because of the love from the people putting it all together.

“I am so excited to be a part of the 'women in comedy' festival.”

Rosie Wilby will also be performing at the Women in Comedy Festival at the Lass O’Gowrie on October 19. Her new show, Nineties Woman, looks at her experiences of running a feminist newspaper while a student and chronicles her attempts to trace her fellow ex-activist colleagues.

She also mentions Laughing Cows and their ‘supportive’ atmosphere.

“I think they have provided a pivotal role in nurturing new female talent and attracting them into comedy in the first place,” she said.

However, she has noticed a ghettoising effect where women’s comedy is becoming its own specialist genre and circuit.

She said: “Female audiences, particularly lesbians, are choosing to go to all of the women's gigs, where they feel more represented and comfortable, rather than support female acts when they're on with a bunch of men at a 'mainstream' gig in front of agents and talent scouts.

“If women are less supported at the big circuit gigs because supportive audiences are going elsewhere then it only reinforces the glass ceiling.”

Yet, Ava Vidal is not as concerned. She will be performing a sole show at The King's Arms in Salford on October 4.

The Mock the Week veteran and mother of two said:  “I think a women in comedy festival is long overdue.

“Women have been marginalised in comedy for far too long and this festival gives us a chance to showcase our talents.”

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