Jenny Eclair: the first blonde in space

And the 1995 Perrier Award for Comedy goes to... a woman?
It came as something of a surprise to Jenny Eclair when she was nominated last Wednesday for the Perrier comedy award. "I woke up laughing, then had a little cry," she said. "I'm shocked to the tits." Not that she thought she stood a realistic chance of winning. Sure, everyone recognised she had one of the strongest shows on the fringe, but there was just the slight problem of her gender, not to mention the lewd nature of her material.

She was looking on her nomination as a sympathy vote. "I'm riding the Liz Taylor ticket. You know how she always used to get nominated for an Oscar when she had a tumour on her spine or a hip replacement... It's more a reward for long service." When asked whether she stood a realistic chance of winning, she responded with, "Don't be daft."

Twenty four hours later, Jenny Eclair holds the silver Perrier trophy on high. "I'm the first blonde in space," she yells at the disbelieving schmoozers below. In its 15-year existence, the award had never gone to a woman. Sooner or later the law of averages was going to work out. On Saturday night it did. Jo Brand came close three years ago; Musselburgh stand-up Rhona Cameron was strongly fancied this year, until she went and, allegedly, nutted a policeman. Despite a wide-held assumption that Boothby Graffoe was going to land the honours, Eclair, with her show at the Pleasance, broke the duck.

Thankfully the panel had the good sense not to let the filth-factor count against her, just as it didn't prevent Frank Skinner from winning the award in 1991 with some of the bluest material ever heard outside Bernard Manning's Embassy Club. At the very least, she hopes that, after 12 years slogging it out on the circuit, she'll not have another three-and- a-half week Edinburgh burn-out inflicted upon her. "They can't make me, can they?" she wails. "I'm on my knees. I'm going to change direction and become a supermodel at 35."

Along with Eclair and Cameron, American Diane Ford is the only other woman to be granted a post-9pm slot at one of the big three Edinburgh venues. Like Eclair her comedy is relationship-based, and with three marriages to choose from she's not short of material. A no-prisoners "road comic" and five-time nominee for Best Female Stand-Up at the American Comedy Awards, she looks as cute as Wilma Flintstone but cuts up like Bette Davis. "You know that saying," she drawls. "Men don't make passes at women that wear glasses... Most men I know'll fuck a tree."

Whereas Eclair's in-yer-face-down-yer-throat-and-out-the-other-end tactics aim to leave her audience shellshocked, Ford tries for a subtler approach. "Men like to have sex after an argument. For a woman it's like eating chocolate cake after you puke... Well it is, and now you know."

Ask the pair why they target sex and men and they concur almost word for word. Ford: "Women are by nature more obsessed with personality and emotion. Angst is what we dwell on, so it's natural to talk about it."

Eclair: "I know the new comedy god is surrealism, but it doesn't touch my heart. Women are more emotional and it's natural to talk about it."

Even Kate Robbins of Spitting Image is keen to bring sex into her show. The only impressionist on the fringe, she's been pulling in the Radio 2 crowd who come for Fergie and Queenie, and balk at the odd anal-sex reference.

A couple of TV series on Granada apart, Robbins has always been heard and not seen. But she is sick of voice-overs and reckoned the time was right to put on her first live show and get back to her cabaret roots. "These days every female I meet is a stand-up. 'Yeah, I'm doing stand- up down in Camden.' 'What were you doing last week?' 'Oh, I was working in the Stock Exchange.' "

The final of last night's So You Think You're Funny?, Edinburgh's annual comedy talent contest which has already produced Rhona Cameron, featured no less than four females out of the eight finalists, so perhaps Robbins has a point.

Two new comedians who have been attracting regular sell-outs in only their second Edinburgh run are Mel and Sue. Last year they felt they were over-hyped - "the critics thought, 'it's comedy and they've got jugs,' " says Sue. Being a female double-act, they have been compared somewhat predictably with French and Saunders. Unlike the rest of this year's succesful female acts, their made-for-TV show is sketch-based and non sex-oriented. Instead of targetting men, they dish it out to Emma Thompson and give a masterful impression of Liz Hurley trying to act her way out of a paper bag.

But they remain the exception on the fringe. Everywhere there are feisty women comedians. And feistiest of all is Prozac-popping, gin-swigging Jenny Eclair, self-styled "rotting whore of the fringe". Now that she's received her Perrier accolade, will she be devoting more time to her family? "Men," she sighs. "You can't live with them... and you can't just chop them into little pieces and boil the flesh off their bones 'cos that'd be cooking, and I don't do cooking."

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