Hav­ing a Laugh

Ire­land’s come­di­ennes have the last laugh

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Kip Car­roll

‘To say that a woman can’t process hu­mour is like say­ing that they have no sense of smell or facial recog­ni­tion’

Idon't think there is any­thing that can sur­pass a good auld laugh. A good cry can be cathar­tic but it can also be drain­ing and headachein­duc­ing. A proper laugh, though, can leave you gal­vanised. You know those laughs where your whole body shakes, your eyes are stream­ing, you don't know whether you should hold your nose or your mouth or both, you for­get who and where you are and then you have to slap your thigh to bring your­self back to re­al­ity? A good laugh can be sim­i­lar to those few per­fect mo­ments when you awake from a slum­ber and re­al­ity hasn't dawned yet. There is hope with laugh­ter. You can't be an­gry or sad when you're laugh­ing. Laugh­ter makes you feel like ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be fine.

I be­lieve that ev­ery­body has an in­nate sense of hu­mour. It may not be ob­vi­ous in some peo­ple; this sixth sense may be buried un­der var­i­ous things like bit­ter­ness, heartache, re­sent­ment, ac­coun­tancy stud­ies and al­co­hol. Some peo­ple may not re­alise that they har­bour a sense of hu­mour un­til they are faced with death. The fact that you never found any­thing funny through­out your ex­is­tence may ac­tu­ally be the fun­ni­est thing ever when you're slip­ping to the other side.

Now while I be­lieve that ev­ery­one has a sense of hu­mour, not ev­ery­one is funny; not ev­ery­one pos­sesses the abil­ity to make oth­ers laugh. That's a good thing, though. How ex­haust­ing would life be if ev­ery­one was hi­lar­i­ous? Women are funny. Men are funny. Now, thanks to YouTube, ba­bies and dogs are funny. So­ci­ety needs un­funny folk as much as it needs the funny ones and both of th­ese types of hu­mans de­pend on each other. We need the solemn folk to gauge what we need to be se­ri­ous about and we need the witty to in­ter­rupt this se­ri­ous­ness.

The Sky Cat Laughs Com­edy Fes­ti­val is on in Kilkenny from next Thurs­day un­til June 3. The Cat, now in its 19th year, is back with more women than ever, and it shows the new di­rec­tion that the fes­ti­val is tak­ing, a new di­rec­tion but with some old ideas.

Women re­main out­num­bered in the com­edy world. It's not be­cause they are be­ing turned away or not be­ing given a chance, they just don't seem that at­tracted to the com­edy world. I de­cided to talk to some of the women in­volved in this year's fes­ti­val to dis­cover why they be­came in­volved in the male-dom­i­nated world of funny.

Like all women, not just come­di­ennes, Na­van na­tive Grainne Maguire hates the ‘are women funny?’ ques­tion that is bandied about. “Well, if I hated women I wouldn't find them funny ei­ther,” is her stan­dard re­ply if the ques­tion un­for­tu­nately arises. “To say that a woman can't process hu­mour is like say­ing that they have no sense of smell or facial recog­ni­tion.” I agree whole­heart­edly. The thing about the ‘are women funny?’ ques­tion is that it's usu­ally di­rected at peo­ple who are ob­vi­ously funny and mak­ing a liv­ing from com­edy.

Based in Lon­don, Grainne re­cently won a writ­ing bur­sary for BBC Ra­dio 4 where she writes jokes for the pres­ti­gious show, The News Quiz. It was when she was lis­ten­ing to this same ra­dio sta­tion seven years ago while she was work­ing in Spain that she re­alised she had to give com­edy a try. “In Spain I started go­ing home early from par­ties just so I could lis­ten to Ra­dio 4 come­dies on my flat­mate’s com­puter. I was lis­ten­ing to stand-up com­edy from the Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val, feel­ing like I was eaves­drop­ping on a mag­i­cal king­dom.”

On one of those nights when she was feel­ing par­tic­u­larly home­sick, she heard Tommy Tier­nan in­ter­view her old drama teacher: “They were talk­ing about how im­por­tant and spe­cial com­edy was. I knew that even if I failed hor­rif­i­cally I had to at least try.”

Grainne is a self-con­fessed po­lit­i­cal nerd and feels that the older she gets, the more po­lit­i­cal her jokes get. This is also re­flected in the col­umns she writes f or The In­de­pen­dent, To­tal Pol­i­tics and the Evening Stan­dard. Grow­ing up in Na­van, she had a poster of Tony Blair in her locker in sec­ondary school and she has since per­formed at last year’s Labour Party con­fer­ence, go­ing on stage af­ter Har­riet Har­man and be­fore Ed Mil­liband. That was one of her proud­est mo­ments, what she calls her “ul­ti­mate gig”, and on the night she was pre­sented with a signed pic­ture of Tony Blair him­self.

“What I re­ally love about com­edy is that peo­ple aren't be­ing sold things at a com­edy gig,” Grainne says, “they're not be­ing lied to.” She loves how a good com­edy show can be life-af­firm­ing and can make you feel ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be OK. She also loves when a weird or stupid thought gets a laugh and it no longer feels weird be­cause some­one else has re­lated to it. This is so true. While we all want to be orig­i­nal in our think­ing, there is noth­ing more ter­ri­fy­ing than the fear of no­body re­lat­ing to what you put out into the world, that fear of never con­nect­ing. Co­me­di­ans do need a penny for their thoughts and they only get paid for them if peo­ple un­der­stand them.

Grainne hates when peo­ple re­act to a word in a joke and they don't lis­ten to the joke or its con­text. I find this one of the most frus­trat­ing things about com­edy. Once, a man ap­proached me af­ter a gig I did and told me that he found me funny but couldn't laugh at my jokes be­cause his neigh­bours were sit­ting next to him and he didn't want them gos­sip­ing around the town. “Well, Mary, I'll tell you this — wasn't Marty next

‘What I re­ally love about com­edy is that peo­ple aren’t be­ing sold things at a com­edy gig. They’re not be­ing lied to’

door laugh­ing at a joke about pae­dophiles? Sure, he must be one him­self ” seemed to be his as­sump­tion.

Ex­cited about this year’s Cat Laughs, Grainne is look­ing for ward to see­ing Tony Law again. She saw him at last year's Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val and wit­nessed some­thing mag­i­cal. Grainne's hero, Dy­lan Mo­ran, is also ap­pear­ing at the fes­ti­val. She once fol­lowed him around a Sains­bury's in the UK and then de­cided that it prob­a­bly wasn't the best place for her to meet her hero. She is hop­ing the Cat Laughs will be a more ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting.

The im­prov sec­tion is back at the fes­ti­val this year and Cork woman Tara Flynn re­turns to per­form with the In­ter­na­tional All-Star Im­prov. Her favourite Cat Laughs mem­ory was back in 2000 when she was on crutches be­cause of a leg in­jury. Au­di­ences thought that the crutches were a prop she for­got to use dur­ing her set. She re­mem­bers the comic Phil Kay walk­ing out on to a busy street in Kilkenny and stop­ping the traf­fic to let her cross the road.

That's what I love about the fes­ti­val: you never know what com­edy heroes you might see wan­der­ing about the place — queu­ing up for chips, shout­ing at an ATM or buy­ing nos­tril-hair clip­pers in a phar­macy. One of my favourite sight­ings — one which gen­uinely moved me — was of Doug Stan­hope in McDon­ald’s look­ing de­jected and adorable while star­ing at his burger.

Tara was al­ways a huge com­edy fan; it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion as she got into im­prov through act­ing and then gave stand-up a shot. She is one of the best comedic ac­tors in the coun­try and last year she ap­peared in The Mario Rosen­stock

Show and Ir­ish Pic­to­rial Weekly. I re­mem­ber the first time I saw Tara; she was in the RTE Two sketch show Stew. As I was watch­ing her on the TV, her tal­ents were be­com­ing more ap­par­ent — she could act, she was bril­liantly funny and then she had this in­cred­i­ble singing voice. I was sit­ting there think­ing, ‘I can't even do one of those things mediocrely.’ Dis­play­ing her singing voice at a party one night was how she ended up join­ing the Nualas, which she then left to fo­cus on her act­ing ca­reer.

‘Com­edy is a job for life if you want it’

— Ais­ling Bea

‘I used to be so anx­ious do­ing stand-up and I don't get that anx­i­ety with the im­prov. I feel safe in a group’ — Michelle Read

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