Women take rude route to laughs: David Lister, in his third report on Edinburgh Festival comedy, finds most female humour still focusing on sex

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The Independent Online
JENNY HARRIS seemed to have got to the core of female alternative comedy when she came on and told the audience: 'I'm not going to talk about tampons, PMT, orgasms or oral sex. I don't discuss those things with my psychiatrist, so why should I talk to you about them?'

Her resolution did not last long. The above-mentioned are still the staple of many women comics' routines on the Fringe, perhaps one reason why so few of them are on television. Miss Harris's best joke - 'I plucked up courage and asked this guy if he'd like to come on a date. And then I ate it' - would probably not make it on to prime time.

But there are exceptions. The most glittering is Jenny Eclair, bouffant blond hair and wild staring eyes, she is stand-up, actress, sketch writer and storyteller combined, rude and anarchic, poignant and incisive. Her 'Bad Behaviour Show' at the Pleasance Theatre has one-liners: 'I've had my nipples pierced. It was very painful, but I kept losing the car keys'.

But her script also includes the audience by catching them neatly unawares. She pretends to forget the name of the problem page writer on Jackie magazine and when a male shouts it out the poor chap is a marked man all evening.

Offstage she is withering about the subject matter of female comics. 'There's a cloning that goes on with female stand-ups, genitalia-obsessed traditional female humour. I'm dying to see more character stuff, more visual stuff. Men have the confidence to do that. We think we can only be funny if we're being rude.'

The late-night Women In Comedy evening at the Gilded Balloon does not altogether contradict that view as Charmaine Hughes says: 'Don't try oral sex girls. It left burn marks on my thighs. Mind you, he was smoking a fag at the time.'

But there was variation from a bright new comic, Linda Smith, who describes herself as a dyslexic satanist: 'I worship the drivel.'

She is a dyslexic, she says, noting it is 'a terrible affliction and a bloody hard word to spell', and conjuring up an amusing vision of doctors searching for a word to describe people who can't spell, wanting to make it really hard for them and dropping a load of Scrabble letters on the floor to end up with dyslexic.

She takes a sideways look at religion: 'We know Jesus can't have been English. He is always wearing sandals, but never with socks.' Also at London: 'If you hold a shell suit up to your ear you can hear Romford,' and at country and western music: 'I play all my country and western records backwards. Your lover returns, your dog comes back to life and you cease to be an alcoholic.'

And as a Brixton woman herself she gives a version of how fellow Brixtonian John Major should talk if he were true to his roots: 'Lamont, don't you wind me up. I said I'd sort the economy. And don't think I haven't noticed those coppers outside my door all day. It's harassment.'

Black comedienne Angie Le Mar returns to the more traditional area of women's comedy, puncturing male pomposity. She encourages females in the audience to take out their femidom when next on a date and ask the guy with them to wear it, telling him: 'It fitted my last boyfriend.'

Women in comedy, page 24

(Photograph omitted)

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