Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Being called a fat whale is part of my act, says comedian Carly Smallman

Comic will have the last laugh after abuse by Twitter trolls inspired her new show about feminism
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The Independent Culture

Every stand-up who dares to entertain an Edinburgh Fringe audience is primed for the occasional heckle. But when Carly Smallman unveils her new one-woman show about body confidence, the comedian will take a stand against a vicious campaign of personal abuse which made her question her desire to appear in public ever again.

A musical stand-up and circuit regular who has won awards for her improvisational routines, Smallman said she was "shocked" by the misogynist reaction of some Twitter trolls following her recent appearance on an ITV2 series, Viral Tap.

In her own description, a "size 16 to 18" who has "always been chubby", Smallman did not consider her appearance had any relevance to her ability to make audiences laugh.

However she received a deluge of abusive tweets – none about her comedy but all criticising her appearance. She was described as "Miss Piggy" and a "fat whale", with a "deformed mouth and tongue". One wrote: "I wish I could come into the studio and shoot you."

Smallman, who began performing in 2009, reported the threatening tweets to Twitter but was told the offenders were not violating Twitter's terms and conditions.

"I am sad to say that female comics have to prove more than the fact that they are funny," Smallman wrote in a British Comedy Guide blog ahead of the festival. "They have to prove that they are funny whilst additionally being judged by some on the way that they look.

"Sadly, some members of the general public – those we work so hard to entertain, week-in, week-out – cannot accept seeing a normal looking woman on their screens or on stage."

She was unable to shrug off the abuse. "Why have I spent the past four months trying to rebuild my confidence so that I can go out of the house without trying on multiple outfits and fretting about it tirelessly?"

The experience has fuelled Smallman's new show. "It has taken me a while to regain my confidence, but I now feel more empowered and defiant than ever toward those who judged me.

"That's why I have written my new show, Made in Penge – to speak out about online abuse and draw attention to the fact we still have a long way to go to reach true gender equality... and it has jokes. Loads of jokes."

Smallman, who will be performing at Laughing Horse in Edinburgh from 1 to 24 August, joins a strong line-up of comics offering perspectives on feminism at the Fringe.

They include Bridget Christie, last year's Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award winner; Rosie Wilby, who traces the paths of her former colleagues at a feminist newspaper in Nineties Woman; Katherine Ryan's Glam Role Model, about the beauty industry; and Adrienne Truscott, who revives her award-winning, provocatively titled show taking a satirical broadside against rape culture, Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!