Louise Leigh on the Funny Women Awards and Bristol’s Comedy Scene

The Funny Women Awards are where some of Britain’s best comics – some of them from the South West, of course – make their name.

Funny Women, the UK’s female comedy community, launched a South West chapter at the start of 2019, and it’s already nurtured some super-talented local acts based in and around Bristol. Louise Leigh was a regional finalist of the Funny Women Awards in 2017 and a regional semi-finalist in 2018. Now she runs the South West Chapter and hosts the regional heats of the 2019 awards (all this whilst preparing an hour-long show for the Brighton Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe – we can only assume sleep isn’t high on her list of priorities).

We caught up with Louise to talk about the awards, how Bristol supports women in comedy, and why her local pub’s comedy night is one of the best around.

The Kettle: Tell us a bit about the Funny Women Awards – what makes them so good?

Louise Leigh: The awards started in 2003 and there’s a sort of hall of fame of the finalists and winners – Desiree Burch, Kathryn Ryan, Jayde Adams, London Hughes, Suzy Bennett, Harriet Braine, and people like Susan Calman coming second. There’s also a One to Watch award, for up-and-coming comedians, and it’s great for their CV. Overall, I think there were about 400 entries this year.

It’s a great launch pad for new comedy.

Exactly – Kerry Godliman shared an article on Twitter recently on the best stand-up comedians to see live, and there were about five mentions of Funny Women. All competitions are subjective, but it’s basically asking if you’re marketable and if you’re different.

Funny Women Awards 2019 women in comedy regional heats
One of British comedy’s most prestigious awards. At least we think so.

What have we got to look forward to on Wednesday night with the regional heat?

We’re almost sold out! I can’t say much about the acts, as I’m on the judging panel, along with a Radio 4 arts editor. There are some finalists I haven’t seen before, but I’m so excited to work with these women.

My next project, in September, is to try to make the South West chapter of Funny Women more diverse and inclusive – we want to see more women of colour, more trans women, and have them perform in a safe space.

We could definitely do with more diversity. As a punter, I can see there are so many great women in Bristol doing comedy, but how would you describe the scene here?

We’ve got a depth of talent, but a few years ago there weren’t many of us – just me, Jessie Nixon, Eliza Fraser and couple of others. We never got to gig together as there weren’t enough of us to go around. Some of the ladies had to drop out for various reasons – we lost Angie Belcher, Alice Taylor-Matthews and Jo Duncan – and losing three women made a difference.

Whereas there are so many boys on the circuit, and they’re lovely, but would we notice that much if we lost three of them, unless they were David Hoare, Dorian Wainwright or Tony Chiotti?

I hate to say it, but probably not. [Apologies to all other male comedians in Bristol. At least you can console each other.]

Men drop out, for various reasons, but their numbers aren’t decimated. The solution is in the grassroots; we need more women to achieve parity. Comedy doesn’t bring in a lot of money, and we live in a patriarchy, so if you have a baby as a female comedian it’s likely you won’t be able to go out and do gigs because you’re not the breadwinner. Though in Bristol we do have the amazing Angie Belcher running AfterMirth [a daytime comedy show for parents].

Does having this collective of other women help your comedy?

Definitely. When I first went to the Funny Women Awards regional finals, three people did jokes on what I considered to be ‘my territory’, saying how expensive prams are. I saw how the boys feel, when they’ve all put together jokes about Tinder and wanking, then they have to push themselves when they see other people doing similar things. The boys get better at comedy quickly because there’s more competition amongst them, and they don’t care about being shit.

They’re pretty fearless.

Also there just wasn’t the same scene when I wanted to get into comedy at 21; I couldn’t picture myself in it because, except for people like Jo Brand and Victoria Wood, you didn’t see women around – not on panel shows, and not on the bill. I didn’t start comedy until I took a course aged 42.

This brings us back to what you’re doing now. You hosted How Lazy Is He? at The Lazy Dog pub on 9 May, where the line-up featured Calum Stewart, another graduate of that comedy course, so you’ve come full circle.

I mean, I’d have really come full circle if we were on Live at the Apollo… seriously though, it’s been three and a half years since we graduated and we hadn’t gigged together since! I knew he was one to watch back then; he’s a pretty special talent. It was good to reunite at the Lazy Dog – it’s such a supportive venue, and one of the best rooms in Bristol.

You even had TV cameras in that night [filming continuity shots for BBC Points West, as presenter Sabet Choudhury is going to try his hand at stand-up].

I’m just glad I cut my beard with scissors that morning, in preparation.

You’re hosting another edition of How Lazy Is He?, and The Lazy Dog pub is essentially your local. What makes the atmosphere unique there?

It’s a really relaxed night, in a destination pub, with a clever audience; they often laugh at the punchline before it happens. There are plenty of regulars and they tell their friends, so you know it’s good. Tony Chiotti, who normally runs it, is audacious in his bookings – he gets in touch with these big names, when other people wouldn’t dare to ask, and they say yes. It’s the perfect storm.

Louise Leigh Identifiable Bristol comedian
Louise’s love of a yellow anorak continues.

Lastly, I know you’re heading to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, so you’re busy preparing your show. I’m sure we’ll see some local previews added to The Kettle before August, but what can you tell us about it?

I can promise it’s not just all my usual jokes smushed in together – there’s a proper narrative arc. The show’s called Identifiable, and it’s character-based with a few songs. There are two characters, representing two sides of me, and it’s about finding a purpose for each of them; Candida, the perfect wife who’s unhappy, and Susan, who’s basically an idiot, so I get to wear tights on my head for that bit. I’m taking it to the Brighton Fringe at the end of May, which is terrifying.

Catch Louise Leigh hosting How Lazy Is He? on Thursday 30 May and appearing at The Cheese Comedy Club with Bobby Mair and Harriet Kemsley on Friday 31 May.

Main image credits: Louise Leigh; Abi Clarke.