Laughter is the best medicine for women in comedy, and everyone
It is fairly well known that laughter is beneficial to health and well being and there are several acts appearing in the Women in Comedy Festival in Manchester who are proving this to great effect by celebrating a disability or illness with their own brands of humour.
“I think comedy can often be a more effective way to communicate with people,” says comedian Georgie Morrell. “Why can’t disability be told with humour? I wanted to break down this nervous approach to disability and celebrate it. And comedy can do that.”
Georgie has limited vision but being a comedian, she’s a good passenger to have on a car journey and what driver would not want somebody sitting next to them who can make them laugh?
Martha McBrier has a hearing loss, discovered after she was attacked, and then a benign brain tumour was found and if it is not kept in check, it could be life threatening. Without her hearing she had to change her set from improv with the audience to storytelling. Her loss of hearing was not altogether a bad thing.
“There is a huge amount of conversation that is not worth listening to,” she says. I think that is something we can all relate to!
In her set Karen Hobbs talks about having had cervical cancer at the age of 24. “It was barking up the wrong chuff,” in her opinion and she finds it funny that her private parts have been touched by more medical staff than lovers.
Jackie Hagan has lost a leg. She has not been able to find it yet but does have a good glitter and artwork endowed prosthetic replacement.
Stephanie Laing has mental health problems and in her show ‘Mad About the Boy’ talks about, “Trying to have meaningful and not so meaningful relationships when you’re a bit of a nutcase.”
GETTING RID OF THE PITY FACTOR
Pity is something often associated with disabilities and illness but it is not something these comedians are inviting. They don’t want people to feel sorry for them. They are taking a look at their particular situations, seeing its funny side and inviting us to join them in laughing at life itself.
Karen Hobbs life with cancer wasn’t all tears when she has found that saying ‘I’ve got cancer’ can be the just the right thing to say when asking for a seat on public transport and for getting free flight upgrades and a reduction in restaurant bills. She also found arranging check ups in the middle of the day beneficial in getting time off work and she advises planning your funeral music in case of the worst.
“I would have been really annoyed me if I’d died and the wrong music was played at my funeral,” she says.
BRAVERY DOESN’T COME INTO IT
Getting up on stage in front of an audience can be brave in itself but is it being patronising to say these comedians are being extra brave in getting up there with sets that include topics such as disability and illness? These women don’t think so.
“I started touring my show six months after having my leg off. That’s brave,” says Jackie Hagan who after a series of blood clots and infections had to have her leg amputated. She’s also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has dyslexia and an eye disease with the grand name of Fuch’s dystrophy. She now feels comedy is just a natural thing to do and has decided her amputation was a positive thing. And it does have its advantages.
“I get more bookings because of diversity festivals and the like.”
Georgie Morrell does not considers herself brave either.
“My disability is part of me, my character, who I am. I’m simply tolerant of my problem. To command a room with just language and jokes is so empowering.”
Jackie Hagan feels the disabled can often be used as ‘inspirational porn’, only being heard about when they have done something against the odds or their benefits are cut.
“Not all of us want to be Paralympians! We just want to carry on. That’s not brave, it’s necessary,” she says.
There’s no denying it’s not always easy for a disabled comedian. Jackie can find it a bit awkward getting up on stage without a handrail, and this in accessible venues. It’s a difficulty but not one that’s cannot be dealt with.
“Difficult situations are all part of life,” says Martha McBrier. “There is humour to be found in all sorts of circumstances and thank the living deity of your choice, we can laugh at all sorts of things. As long as the subject is tackled with respect and love.”
Georgie Morrell might make a good passenger when relying on good will to get her to gigs outside London but unlike a lot of people, she does love public transport. Maybe it’s something to do with London freedom pass she has.
Jackie Hagan perhaps says it all.
“Bravery is more to do with comedy and audiences and doing gags that are pushing the boundaries.”
Jackie Hagan is one who does like to push boundaries. She knows however she has to think about meeting her audience halfway, and keeping her audience.
Although her decorated prosthetic leg is difficult to ignore she uses comedy and performance to get her audience to think about more than that.
“People are more squeamish talking about money and class and the inequality of opportunity life deals,” she says.
In addition to stand-up Jackie also works with people who have challenging behaviour. Discipline is important but can work a lot better when delivered with humour.
“Yeah, you have to use cosy humour to make people behave. You have to be like a bolshy, firm but fair, but dead-nice dinner lady,” she says.
Thinking about your audience is one thing and these comedians do have a unique way of relating to their audiences by talking humorously about things that can be difficult or uncomfortable to talk about. Georgie Morrell and Martha McBrier are amongst those who have had people in similar situations to themselves come to them with a big ‘thank you’ after a show.
“We examine each others hearing aids,” says Martha McBrier, “Some people give their tumours names. That always makes me laugh.”
One problem Martha does have with audiences however is that she can’t hear them laugh. In an intimate venue she might be close enough to see their ‘non verbals’ as she calls them but bigger venues might mean recording a performance and playing it back. This is something a lot of comedians do anyway so they can assess how their set was received but Martha is not going to stop there.
“I’m determined to find a way of facilitating interaction and constantly research equipment to boost hearing.”
CHALLENGING WITH HUMOUR
By getting up there on stage all these acts are challenging people’s attitudes towards disability and illnesses.
“Disability should be freely spoken about and what better way to do that than through comedy. Comedy is a wonderful way to engage and educate,” says Georgie Morrell.
For Stephanie Laing including mental health in her set was a conscious decision.
“I think I decided to talk about it because I deal with problems by laughing at them. And because I wanted to turn my experiences into a positive, creative thing.”
Others find it empowering to challenge attitudes.
“People laughing at something they didn’t expect to is a great feeling,” says Martha McBrier. “Laughing at something makes it less scary. Humour is one of the best ways of dealing with any subject.”
These are all wonderful women. Nothing to do with not letting a disability or illness limit them. They’re wonderful first and foremost for being funny women.
HOW TO FIND MORE LAUGHTER
The Women in Comedy Festival is not only offering you these great acts you can also experience the benefits of laughter being the best medicine with Lara A King’s ‘Hang Out With Happiness’ workshop. Using theatrical exercises and improvisational games you’ll be able to explore your sense of humour and rediscover your sense of play.
“Humour can be used to alleviate all sorts of situations,” says Lara. “It can lighten a mood, create positivity, increase productivity, enforce status and leadership and boost confidence and communication skills.” Laughter can do all that? And more according to Lara.
“Humour and laughter are not only powerful and effective tools of communication but can also have positive physical and psychological effects leading to improved health, reduced anxiety and enhanced interpersonal relationships.”
You can also see award winning Lara A King in her solo show ‘Not Broken’ where she turns being thrown into jail into a comic adventure.
If you wanted to then put laughter making skills into action comedian Kerry Leigh will be facilitating a ‘Stand-up Comedy Workshop’ for those who want to get started in stand-up comedy. Learning how to evoke laughter in an audience has already worked for past graduates who shone on a performance night and have gone on to become regular comedy performers and public speakers.
Kerry also works for Laughology, a sponsor of the Women in Comedy Festival. It is a progressive consulting, learning and development organisation offering workshops, coaching, programmes and conferences for business, schools and health with humour and laughter forming the base for its philosophy and thinking models.
“Comedy is a great way to relax and helps find perspective on challenges that arise in everyday life so any festival that helps the masses do this, Laughology is behind 100%,” says CEO Stephanie Davies.
Kerry Leigh will be facilitating a ‘Let’s Talk Menopause Laughology Workshop’.
“Let’s have fun,” says Kerry. “Empower yourself with knowledge and debunk the myths and stereotypes. Men are also so very welcome to attend.”
ABOUT THE WOMEN IN COMEDY FESTIVAL
Director Hazel O’Keefe set up the Women in Comedy Festival four years ago with the intention of making it a celebration of diversity and inclusiveness, to show that women really can be funny, and to give a stage presence to the many, many female comedians out there who are not getting the attention, or the gigs, they deserve.
The acts mentioned here have not then been included in the Women in Comedy Festival as some box ticking PC exercise. Their shows have been included only because they are women, and they are funny. They are giving the gift of laughter and in the case of Jackie Hagan’s glittery decorated stump, it comes gift wrapped.
“A person without a sense of humour is the saddest of all disabilities and there are no humour transplants as yet.” says Martha McBrier.
Make sure you grab the gift of laughter which the Women in Comedy Festival is offering you.
The 4th Women in Comedy Festival, the only one of its kind in Europe, will be taking place in venues around Manchester City Centre 20th-30th October 2016. There are over 100 shows and the full programme includes many award winning stand-ups, open mic shows, workshops, shows for children, comedy flamenco and burlesque, a comedic murder mystery show and even a comedy writing competition. Something for everyone!
Jackie Hagan’s ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’ is on Sunday 23rd October 5.30pm-6.30pm at the Frog and Bucket, 102 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LJ
Georgie Morrell’s ‘A Poke In The Eye’ is on Monday 24th October at 9.30pm-10.30pm Gullivers Lounge, 109 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW.
Stephanie Laing’s ‘Mad About The Boy’ is on Thursday 27 Oct 9.30pm-10.30pm at Gulliver’s Lounge, 109 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
Martha McBrier’s ‘Pigeon Puncher’ is on Friday 28 October 5pm-6pm at Kosmonaut, 10 Tariff St, Manchester M1 2FF
Karen Hobbs’ ‘Tumour Has It’ is on Friday 28 October 8pm-9pm at Gulliver’s Ballroom, 109 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
Lara A King’s ‘Hang Out With Happiness’ workshop is on Saturday 22 Oct 2pm-3pm at Gulliver’s Lounge, 109 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
Kerry Leigh’s ‘Let’s Talk Menopause Laughology Workshop is on Saturday 29 October 4pm-5.30pm at Kosmonaut, 10 Tariff St, Manchester M1 2FF
And her ‘Stand-up Comedy Workshop’ is on Sunday 23 October 2pm-6pm at Gulliver’s Lounge, 109 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
Laughology website: www.laughology.co.uk
The full Women in Comedy Festival programme can be found here: www.womenincomedy.co.uk