Bristol success story: Female-only stand-up comedy night What the Frock!
IT is just over two years since Jane Duffus was first drawn to the shocking gender inequality on the comedy circuit. Inspired to redress the balance, her mission became to raise awareness of the lack of female representation and promote women in stand-up.
Two years on and What the Frock!, an all-female stand-up comedy night, has attracted thousands and is now up for a national award as it prepares for its first ever gig at Colston Hall this month.
The gig is expected to sell out the 250- capacity Lantern hall while 34-year-old student support worker Jane has high hopes for picking up the Best Entertainment, Celebration or Event Provider at the What's On 4 Me awards in London.
Jane, who works at UWE, took up the fight on behalf of talented female comedians after listening to two of the county's top female wits, Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent, at a live panel debate in Cheltenham in 2011.
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"It was just the two of them sitting on stage with a bottle of wine showing just how funny they could be," Jane told the Bristol Post.
"After going away I had a few conversations with friends who shared my feelings about misrepresentation and it went from there."
A little more investigation found a woefully low number of female comics booked at nights across the country and so What the Frock! was born. Jane said: "It was supposed to be a one-off point-proving exercise at first but we had such a good response.
"The point was that there were a lot of funny women out there and people would pay to see them. We proved a lot of people wrong that night.
"It has turned into a comedy night with great comedians, which is what it is all about. But our point remains – there is not enough female representation on comedy shows and at stand-up nights."
Given the comedy night's success, Jane said she was happy to have raised the profile of countless female acts while helping bring the issue of representation into the mainstream media.
Coverage in national newspapers and interviews on national radio have kept up the debate on getting more women booked onto TV shows and at local stand-up nights.
She said: "People often aren't aware things like this are happening until it is pointed out to them. It is about following it up and saying 'oi, it doesn't have to be like this!'.
She added: "It is tough to be a breakthrough comedian anywhere. But I have spoken to people who say they have been turned down for a gig on the basis that the venue has already fulfilled its quota of one woman."
Cerys Nelmes, stand-up comedian with What the Frock!, said the night has been positive for up-and-coming comics and great for Bristol.
The 35-year-old from Wotton-under-Edge said: "What the Frock! has been amazing for promoting local talent. There is nothing like it around here and it has given a lot of good stand-ups a chance to show what they are about. It can be difficult for female stand-ups trying to get booked as it is very rare that you find more than one woman on the bill at a comedy night anywhere.
"When you see how much What the Frock! is supporting local comedy it is great. The fact that it is all-female also means it brings in all the best from across the country too as it is a one-of-a-kind night."
What the Frock! is next on at Colston Hall on November 14. The What's On 4 Me awards ceremony is on the same day.