I’m a big fan of standup comedy and when we started the Edinburgh Feminist Review a few months ago I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to review: Wicked Wenches, the monthly all-female comedy night at the Stand. So you can imagine my disappointment when I checked their website and found out that it was no longer a thing. Janey Godley, a Glasgow standup and veteran Wicked Wench, recently commented (in the highly recommended weekly podcast she does with her daughter, fellow comedian Ashley Storrie) that the end of the women only slot isn’t a major problem since the Stand does actually book female comics if they are good. I agree to the extent that the Stand does comparatively well when it comes to female voices. But the crucial word here is “comparatively”. I had a look around the venue before the start of Josie Long’s show: the walls were covered in posters announcing upcoming shows and I counted exactly two female faces – Josie Long and Zoey Lyons (a track record that is confirmed by the online listings). If that means the Stand is doing well then we are clearly setting the bar far too low.
Having said that, I immediately felt very comfortable when I arrived at the venue: an audience that is pretty much gender balanced and covers an age range of roughly 40 years is always a good sign. That way, if the unexpected, ‘hilarious’ cock or rape joke does pop up at least I won’t be the only one sitting in stoney silence, breathing fire and shooting daggers with my eyes. Good start.
I was quite surprised when Josie Long herself started the show, effectively warming up the audience for her warm-up act, Johnny Lynch, aka the Pictish Trail. It was good that she did, because Lynch’s act was, well, odd. He played a few songs (imagine something halfway between Jack Johnson and Damien Rice and you get the picture) before regaling the audience with a number of 30 second pieces which sounded like David O’Doherty going through a bit of a dark phase. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy Lynch’s performance, but rather than feeling warmed up and ready for a comedy show I was mostly just confused.
Fortunately, I was in good hands: after the break Long bounded onto the stage and immediately drew the audience in. It’s obvious that she is a seasoned comedian (having started performing at the age of 14) who knows exactly how to manage a room. A random audience comment, a failed joke, somebody going to the loo right before the punchline – it doesn’t matter, she takes it in her stride. Watching her is a pleasure because you know you can sit back and relax. But not only that, she also creates a great atmosphere. Cara Josephine is a lot less political than her previous material, effectively talking about heartbreak and Long’s feelings of insecurity as she grows older. You’d be forgiven for thinking that that’s not exactly prime joke material but trust me, it is. Long is a keenly intelligent, kind and relentlessly optimistic person and it is these qualities that enable her to see the funny side in a string of failed relationships without ever falling into the trap of bitterness or self-deprecation, which seem to be the easy way out for many other comedians. There was not a single moment when Cara Josephine felt like therapy, which, in my eyes, is what made it a great show. It is a genuine attempt by Long to share her positive outlook on life, warts and all.
So yes, the Stand does book good female acts. But what about those who aren’t good yet? Josie Long doesn’t need Wicked Wenches and neither does Zoey Lyons. It’s the next generation of female comedians for whom getting their first ever slot is becoming increasingly harder. If we really want to see a more diverse comedy scene in the UK then we need to give young talent the space to develop – cutting Wicked Wenches shrank that space.