Laura Shavin, the founder and compere of Hersterics, a comedy club with all-female bills, wants to refute one of the oldest chestnuts about women stand-ups here and now: that all they talk about is the menstrual cycle. "Very rarely do you hear tampon or period jokes," she asserts. "Nobody's done that for 10 years. There's nothing new to say, and it's not particularly funny. When we started doing stand-up, women were renowned for doing that, and people latched onto it because of the shock value. Now a lot of female comedians can shock, but they do it more skilfully."
When she opened the club 18 months ago, Shavin "needed a gimmick. The all-women thing wasn't political, it was just `Give women a chance, because we often don't have one'. I can't believe no-one had thought of it before."
The idea has taken off, she reckons, because "It's different. You have Irish, Jewish and gay comedy nights - this is just another perspective. People who choose to come to a women's comedy night tend to be more sensitive," she declares, before adding with a laugh: "not that I'm biased. People don't come to look at your tits. We get New Men, not dirty old men."
A experienced comedian, Shavin has had more than her share of prejudice on the circuit. "I got fed up with bookers telling me, `I can't put you on this week, because I already have a girl on the bill'."
Female stand-ups have to fight society's preconceptions. "Women have to prove themselves as funny," Shavin stresses. "With men, you presume they're funny. Men are innocent until proven guilty. Also, in the stand- up world you have to be aggressive, and you don't associate women with being able to insult people. A woman's attitude to stand-up is `How frightening, people will hate me'. We're not brought up as aggressive as men."
So Hersterics is providing a vital, friendly training-ground for female comedians, but how does Shavin respond to accusations that the whole idea of it is sexist? "Probably with a four-letter word," she replies. "It's ridiculous. There are black comedy nights and you wouldn't call them racist. Male comedians aren't that bothered by it. It's not like it's a huge money- spinner and they're being denied an opportunity. It's not the Palladium."
Does that mean, then, that Shavin would be happy to showcase male stand- ups at Hersterics? "I'll have men on the bill as long as they'll dress up as women."
EYE ON THE NEW
Political comedy may be about as fashionable as voting Tory, but that doesn't matter when Mark Thomas is performing. You can catch just about Britain's last political comedian at Waterman's Arts Centre, Brentford, Middlesex (0181-568 1176) tonightReuse content