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Sunday, 11 August, 2002, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Funny women at the Fringe
Miranda Hart
Miranda Hart: Women can cross the divide

French and Saunders, Mel and Sue, Victoria Wood and Smack the Pony are some of the handful of female comedy stars who have broken into the comedy mainstream.

But at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival there is a positive deluge of ladies desperate to make the audience laugh - and perhaps become the next big thing in the world of female comics.

And they can no longer get away with telling period jokes and "all men are horrible" gags, because it has all been seen and done before.


I think it is a shame that more women don't act the fool and let go a bit

Miranda Hart
Miranda Hart, who has appeared in Smack the Pony, is one of the emerging female acts currently baring her soul daily for the titillation of the Fringe audience.

She is particularly wary about pitching herself to a single sex audience, preferring to perform character monologues that appeal to both men and women, but agrees some women do have problems finding an identity for their act.

"A lot of women seem to be either very laddy in their stand-up, or don't want to break their pretty, feminine look.

Tricky

"I think it is a shame that more women don't act the fool and let go a bit - that is what naturally appeals to me but maybe that is just my personality," she said.

Ms Hart, who is performing her first solo show Miranda Hart-Throbs, which is centred on her playing an understudy for a revue show, believes it can be trickier for women to break into the comedy circuit.

Haynes: Aims to be inclusive in her act
"I think that women need to be funnier than men to break into the circuit. That is, I think men can get away with a lot more, and women couldn't necessarily pull that off.

"I often see shows that audiences like and think if there were three women doing that it would die on its a***."

Although her act is more of a sketch show than a stand-up, she would like one to day to brave the lone microphone.

She puts the lack of female stand-ups down to the fact that it is not in the majority of women's natures to be "brash and the centre of attention".

One woman not afraid of the notoriously harsh stand-up audience is Natalie Haynes.

Hate mail

Her Six Degrees of Desolation is playing at the Pleasance Theatre to largely full audiences.

Her act has caused controversy to the point of her receiving hate mail as she makes jokes about death, cancer, Siamese twins and teacher-pupils relationships.

She is herself a former teacher at an all-boys school who confesses to having had more than an educational interest in one pupil.

Her act is not focused so much on being a woman as on her youth as a neurotic person growing up in the 70s and 80s.

"I don't think my jokes would appeal to just women because I try to be quite inclusive," she said.

Influential

"There is more of a divide between the ages and the reactions I get. It tends to be the younger people who are outraged by jokes about death but it is the older ones who come up and say they were funny because when you do get older you learn to laugh about mortality."

Ms Hart is pleased with the rise in the numbers of her female colleagues performing at the fringe.

"It seems that sketches and character comedy is making a comeback, and that opens the door to more women," she said.

"Although we still need to be more adventurous - our main point of reference has been French and Saunders who were so big and influential and I think women can do more now, and cross the divide into more daring comedy and stand-up."

"I love double acts, but I think they do need to be exceptionally good to go far and get a TV series, because people feel it has been done.

"It seems one is enough at any one time, so until Mel and Sue stop working, there supposedly isn't room. Which is silly."

Coverage of the 2002 Edinburgh Festival from BBC News Online

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