Updated: Friday, 29th May 2020 @ 6:20am

Taking the 'risk': Manchester's Laughing Cows give female comedians chance in the spotlight

Taking the 'risk': Manchester's Laughing Cows give female comedians chance in the spotlight

| By Louise Hill

In a world where the likes of Jimmy Carr, John Bishop and Dara O’Brien dominate TV panel shows and perform stand-up comedy in front of packed arenas, female comedians are often side-lined both on national television and on a more local grass-roots level.

Only a select few, the likes of Sarah Millican or Jo Brand, have managed to achieve the same level of fame as their male counter-parts.

It is this inequality that Hazel O’Keefe, founder of Laughing Cows Comedy, has been trying to counter act for the past 15 years.

Laughing Cows Comedy, the Manchester-based production company set up by Hazel in 1998, came about as a direct response to a London comedy promoter claiming it was ‘a risk’ to have more than one female comedian on the bill at a stand-up gig.

“I think bookers today need to be much more pro-active in looking for female acts,” said Hazel, who works as a DJ and producer.

“Inequalities on the comedy circuit aren’t officially reported or reinforced so we’re here to offer additional opportunities for females to counter-balance the sexism they often encounter."

The 37-year-old added: “Running female dominated line-ups was my natural feminist response, proving the point that a comedy night with more than one female could be successful."

HELPING HAND: Hazel O'Keefe, creator of Laughing Cows Comedy (Image courtesy of Jules Styles, with thanks.)

She was recently recognised for her work promoting women on the Manchester cultural scene at the 2014 Manchester International Women’s Day awards winning the ‘Woman in Art and Culture’ award.

“It was such a privilege to even be nominated and to win means the world,” she said.

“It feels like a seal of approval and it has motivated me to work even harder and it’s wonderful and energising to have recognition like that.”

The self-proclaimed ‘true Mancunian’ has helped a swathe of women get up on stage to showcase their stand-up with a number of well-known female comedians gracing the stage at Laughing Cow’s events including Jo Caulfield, Gina Yashere, Ava Vidal, Sarah Millican and Shappi Khorshandi.   

Hazel defends her promotion of female comedians against those who claim it is a form of discrimination in itself.

“Hegemony still exists, sexism is still rife and females are still under-represented in lots of industries including the comedy circuit,” she said.

Comedian Jenny Collier recently tweeted an email she received cancelling her appearance at an event because there were “too many women on the bill.”

Rightly, this received a damning response from her followers but reflects the situation female comics have been dealing with for years.

REJECTED: Email Jenny Collier recieved saying she had been dropped (Image via twitter)

Shappi Khorsandi, a female comedian who has appeared on Live at the Apollo, called for women to unite against this discrimination.

“We don’t need to scream boycott or go in hard, but we need to unite and express how unacceptable (sexism in comedy) is,” she said.

Hazel added that despite the sexism involved on the comedy circuit, her company has received plenty of support from the opposite sex.

 “I’m not a separatist; I am a feminist and a community activist,” she said.

“I prefer events to be as inclusive as possible as opposed to ‘women only’ spaces and I’ll be booking a new brand of mixed bills in the future to showcase and celebrate diversity within the art form of comedy.

“There are some male comics who have given us invaluable support”

Manchester City Council’s lead member for Women’s issues, Suzanne Richards, has praised the work that Hazel has done for female comedians and further afield.

 “There has been an outstanding range of women this year, who often lead the way quietly - but with skill, tenacity and compassion for the benefit of their community,” she said.

“Their work deserves celebration and will be a source of inspiration to all Manchester's residents.”

UP AND COMING: Future female comedians

With planning for the second annual Women in Comedy festival in full flow, Hazel has high hopes for the future of women in the industry

“Thankfully the debate is moving on a bit.

“A few years ago it was just unfounded sexist generalisations and boring circular conversations about women not being funny.

“Now we are debating what needs to be changed on an institutional and societal level.”

Images courtesy of Laughing Cows Comedy (unless stated), with thanks