Inspirational Woman – Lynne Parker

Meet the talented Lynne Parker; she’ll make you smile and inspire you!

Lynne runs the successful company Funny Women, an organisation which exists to promote women into the funny business. Funny Woman is celebrating its ten year anniversary so it seemed like a good time to talk with its founder Lynne Parker.

Funny Women exists to promote  and nurture female comedy talent so I was really interested to find out how Lynne came up with the original idea.

Jane: Lynne, thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with us. I know you’ve just returned from the Bath Comedy Festival and are very busy in your 10th anniversary year, so many thanks. First question, how did the idea for Funny Women occur to you?
Lynne: The idea came about because of a misogynist male comedy promoter who, when I asked why he didn’t book any women, said that it was because there aren’t any funny women! He was a client of my PR consultancy and my angry response was to prove that there are and I came up with the idea of Funny Women.

Initially it was a one off event for charity but I also realised that in order to get more women working on the circuit, we needed to encourage them.  I eventually set up the company in 2002 (11th March 2002 to be exact) with the aim of providing a friendly open platform to develop their comic voice.

The Funny Women Awards were launched in 2003 and we’ve just launched the competition for the 10th year running.

Going back just a short while, what did you fancy doing when you left school? We’re of a similar age so I’m pretty confident in saying I can’t imagine anyone encouraged to start your own business!
When I left school I was very clear that I wanted to be a journalist.  My teachers didn’t understand this choice – they were comfortable with teacher training, the new opportunities that technology and computers offered school leavers at that time (mid 1970s), and university.  It was a grammar school but there wasn’t the pressure to go to university that there is now.  A lot of my friends got admin jobs, married and had families!  I found a course in Fashion Writing at the London College of Fashion, and then went into women’s magazines magazines – Ugly Betty and Devil Wears Prada are about me really!

Why do you think there are relatively few women with a high public profile in comedy?  Are the issues so different?
There are quite a few high profile women in comedy now – they are all over the telly when it comes to Comic Relief and Children in Need but it is always the same old faces!!!  The only real ‘breakthroughs’ to go big in the last few years are Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican but there are loads of others who deserve exposure too.  TV producers tend to play safe and stick to the same names, men and women. They are not very brave.

When I mentioned that I was interviewing you I was met with a few ‘Women stand ups aren’t funny”. Do you think comedy is gender specific? Do men like men and women only women? Is the humour so different?
Oh that old cherry!  It’s a reflex action! Comedy is good as long as it’s funny and I no longer answer questions about whether women are funny or not!  They are, just as men are – we just need to see a few more of them.

Check out my Bath article which explores this a bit more. (Here’s an extract from that- My favourite point of the evening was made by a lovely jumper clad man (not my husband) who said that he believes women engage with comedy on an emotional level.  It’s true that women feel very comfortable with men who are not frightened to expose their feminine side and will laugh more readily at their jokes.  This extends from full on gayness, to the biggest butchest man attempting a delicate chore, such as hanging up his wife’s smalls on the washing line!  We women enjoy vulnerability, empathy, and, it seems, FILTH!. You can read it in full here)

Who is your favourite female comedian? (If you dare answer!) I see Miranda Hart is a supporter of Funny Women. I think she’s really funny; her slapstick humour is timeless and classic.
My favourite female comedians tend to be whoever is ‘in my face’ at any given time. I’ve just had a meeting with last year’s winner of the Funny Women Awards, Lara A King, who we’re promoting at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.  I’ve never done this for one act before so I think she’s worth it and very, very funny.

I also love Suzy Bennett, Andi Osho, Zoe Lyons, Katherine Ryan…. In fact all the women who’ve won our competition over the last nine years!  My vintage favourites are Joyce Grenfell – she was a genius and before her time – and the late great Lucille Ball, an amazing comic and a clever business woman.

(By the way, if you want to enter the Funny Woman awards click this link, Jane)

What qualities do you need (apart from being vaguely amusing) to be a successful funny women?
To be successful as a comedian you have to be uninhibited and lacking in the ability to be embarrassed!  Asperges helps! The trick to good comedy is looking and listening because the funny stuff is all around you.

In many areas of business the research shows that women aren’t particularly good at blowing their own trumpets, at least not in a competitive way. I haven’t fully researched this (!) but it seems to me that a lot of female comics make humour out of putting themselves down (Jo Brand, “fat bird” etc). Do you agree?
Women could get degrees in self-deprecation, that’s true! It does really come through in our humour and forms the basis of lots of female comedy. That said, great male comics like Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay, do this too. It’s laughing at yourself and making a joke about your shortcomings.

Who has been your biggest supporter?
My biggest supporters have been my family – husband Richard (Lightman – I don’t use my married surname) and grown up (supposedly…) children, Alex and Grace.  We’ve had some really hard times over the last few years to keep the business going as Richard has been studying for his Masters and now his Doctorate, and we’ve not had any sponsorship or funding due to the recession.  So, we’ve sold the house to re-invest and the pressure is on me now to make sure it works!!!  As long as they believe in me it’s all worthwhile.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? Personal and business?
Best personal advice:  Fear goes away when you realise you have forever…’
This also applies to business because I have been very anxious that the company has not always been financially successful over 10 years.  It’s made me relax a bit!  In terms of business advice, not directly, but the economist John Kay has written a brilliant book about business called Obliquity. I saw him speak at an event and it was a ‘light bulb moment’ because he validated the way I do business.

I always arrive at my ‘destination’ but often take a circuitous or ‘oblique’ route to get there, as do quite a few successful business people. It was a revelation!

If you could choose to live at any time in history when would you choose and why?
Any time in history is easy – mid 1850s when London is being connected to the world with railway and Charles Dickens is flavour of the month! He was I believe one of the first ever stand up comedians!  I would have loved to have seen him perform!  I’m also a lover of Jane Austen, so Regency period would be good – my history is rubbish so not so sure when this is!  Late 18th century, early 19th? ( FYI Jane Austen 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817, Jane)

Which female comic do you think would be good in the current prime minister’s cabinet (which seems to lack both humour and women!)
I think David Cameron would benefit greatly from having Miranda Hart as his ‘SPAD’, special adviser!  She could just fall over to create a diversion when he makes another stupid gaff about petrol or pasties!

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring funny women, what would it be?
Be open to the world around you, look and listen because there’s humour to be found in most things.  Also I believe that everybody has the ability to be funny – babies are funny and we were all babies once!  Life just gets in the way!

Lynne, thank you so much. I wish you a very successful 10th anniversary year and I’ll be sure to try and catch Lara A King at the Edinburgh Festival this year (I saw Sarah Millican there last year and she got her own show afterwards; I am obviously a good luck taliswoman….)

If you’d like to find out more about Funny Women or enter the Funny Women awards in 2012, this link will take you to their site.

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Posted on April 5th, 2012 by

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