‘A stronger statement’: MM meet the Women in Comedy Festival founder who’s ‘not scared of a scrap’

Women in Comedy Festival founder Hazel O’Keefe is used to taking her gloves off to get attention.

The Salfordian feminista first started her own comedy club ‘Laughing Cows’ in 1998 to create a quality of opportunity for all marginalised comedians.

The mother of two had been around various comedy gigs in London and realised that they all had entirely male line-ups.

Taking matters into her own hands, she asked around and all the club promoters had to say was that they don’t book more than one woman on the bill because they’re not funny.

So a disgusted Hazel decided to set up a ‘Women in Comedy night’ and prove them all wrong.

She expanded it out in a big way, ending up having about 25 shows all over the UK and Europe.

“It was great but we didn’t feel like it was going to hit the mark politically. We wanted to do it to change things,” Hazel told MM.

So she started putting less effort into ‘Laughing Cows’.

“It never made a lot of money, it was hard enough to pay the acts, let alone pay yourself,” she added.

Hazel kept one ‘Laughing Cows’ based in Manchester and came up with the ‘Women in Comedy Festival’, which has been running and touring now for five years.

“The festival was going to create more organic development for networking, learning and it’s just a stronger statement,” Hazel explained.

“It frustrates the hell out of me that we haven’t got enough accessible venues in Manchester for people of different races and sexualities.

“We don’t make stages accessible, so performers with physical disabilities won’t be able to access clubs the same way anyone else would.

“We don’t have the same support for people with mental health issues to be able to cross any particular barriers.”

It’s a quality of opportunity that Hazel is working to improve on all different levels – indeed this current project works with younger and older women, all trans-inclusive.

As someone who has been marginalised, for what she describes as her “butch” appearance, she finds great pleasure in opening doors for others who have been misjudged for whatever reason.

“I am a walking contravention of a stereotype, I have redefined who I am as a person and I’m very comfortable with that,” she said.

“I do like fighting. In my 20s and 30s I fought and now it’s just steering and influencing.

“But I’m not scared of a good old scrap as well.”


Laughing Cows is all about mixed audiences says Hazel.

“People ask if they’re allowed to come to ‘Laughing Cows’ and we do a lot of work and marketing to make sure that men know that they are more than welcome to come and join in the fun.”

Hazel made it very clear that her ‘Women in Comedy’ nights and festivals were in no way women-only events or organised sourly by woman.

“Our assistant director is a man, the secretary is a man and then there’s me the director.

“In fact, we’re currently working towards a 50/50 women and men completely equal quality comedy festival.”

The combined acts of different races, genders and sexualities have made for incredible shows and business investments as they attract very mixed and diverse audiences.

“If you’re only booking four or five male, white, middle-class men, your audience will only ever be white, middle-class men or whichever stereotype you want to take,” added Hazel.

“The creative and performing arts are really struggling at the moment and it is very important that we share our experiences so people can find out how they can support it.”

Image courtesy of That’s Manchester TV via YouTube, with thanks.

Related Articles