Foul-mouthed, female musical comedy acts are set to tear it up at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Vikki Stone, Katie Goodman, Carly Smallman and EastEnd Cabaret discuss filth, fun and feminism
This article is from 2013.
This Fringe features a healthy rash of female musical comedians. But why are so many of them just downright rude? Claire Sawers braces herself for some filth and fury
Prudes be warned. A deluge of filthy comedians is about to flood Edinburgh, armed with cuss words, smutty singalongs and a healthy disregard for good taste. They care not a jot for decorum or politeness, they unashamedly perform bawdy songs as part of their show and, perhaps most shocking of all, these foul-mouthed comics are all women.
If someone was to make a compilation CD of the 2013 Fringe’s female-musical-comedy highlights, then this year’s Greatest Hits might include ‘The Phillip Schofield Song’, a lusty plea from Vikki Stone for the silver-haired TV presenter to ‘wear her like a glove puppet’ and ‘rest his balls upon her chin’. Then there’s Carly Smallman’s ‘Made for Each Other’, a heartfelt ballad to the olive-skinned object of her desire, who just happens to be her brother. ‘Danger Wank’ is a crowd favourite in EastEnd Cabaret’s show, about furtive bursts of self-love in the cinema, while Katie Goodman’s ‘My Vagina is a Feminist’ sits comfortably alongside her signature song, ‘Fuck This Shit’.
‘Best not to come to my show if you find sexual language offensive,’ suggests Vikki Stone, who has also written comedy jingles about ‘horsey’ sports presenter Clare Balding as well as the ‘cold, callous twat’ who became a CCTV sensation when she flung a cat in a wheelie bin. ‘I’m never seeking to offend,’ Stone is at pains to point out ahead of her third full Fringe show. ‘My style is more cheeky and naughty. Yeah, sometimes my material gets a bit full-on, but I always do it with a wink.’
While Stone’s schtick involves a lot of double entendre and casual mentions of her desire for celebrity scientist Brian Cox to give her ‘wormhole a right good batter’, fellow British comic Carly Smallman delivers her lines with a bubbly, giggly effervescence, her own personal key to getting away with murder.
Smiling sweetly from behind blonde curls, 27-year-old Smallman – whose Twitter profile says she likes ‘nail art and feminism’ – is well aware of the secret weapon her femininity adds to the show. She disarms with ditsy, little-girl airs, then in a 30-second song she wrote to diet-endorsing Daily Mail writer Samantha Brick, sweetly calls her ‘a prick’.
‘Whether you like it or not, certain things sound a lot more shocking coming from a woman,’ says Smallman. ‘If a man does a wank joke, no one bats an eyelid. If a woman does a wank joke, the crowd reaction is totally different. It’s considered much less acceptable for women to talk about things like that in public.’
Bernadette Byrne, who together with the cross-dressing, half-moustachioed Victor Victoria, makes up the saucy, double-act EastEnd Cabaret, puts it another way.
‘When a man does a wanking joke, it’s a funny thing,’ says Byrne, who claims she starts her day with a session of naked yoga followed by a stiff gin. ‘When a woman does a wanking joke, people start thinking sexy thoughts. There’s definitely a very different reaction. And it’s usually a more shocked one.’
That’s the part that’s really shocking out of all of this, points out Katie Goodman, a New Yorker who describes her comedy as ‘feisty, American, liberal, a little bit Jewish, and feminist’. She chooses to drop that particular ‘F’ word from UK publicity material, though, as she worries it still carries man-hating connotations here. For Goodman, what’s much more shocking than females getting on stage and discussing such frown-making topics as knicker-peeing, tampon-forgetting, self-touching and brother-loving, is that there should still be such taboos. ‘I grew up watching Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin,’ says Goodman. ‘Those were funny, funny women, who were not afraid to say outrageous things. It’s not new for women to say what they think, or be funny. And they’ve always had to take shitty comments for it.’
Another of the comic’s early inspirations was her own mother, Ellen Goodman, a liberal, feminist columnist who has written for The Boston Globe and The Washington Post since the 70s. She taught her daughter not to take criticism to heart. ‘There are people who post really obnoxious comments underneath my YouTube videos, calling me ugly, fat, disgusting, even a cunt. For my song about homophobia, "Probably Gay”, someone wrote that I’m going to hell.’ Goodman, who co-writes material with her husband Soren Kisiel, and last performed at the Fringe in 2010 as part of the female-foursome Broad Comedy, considers her solo stand-up and musical comedy to be a bit like ‘a feminist column, but onstage’.
Having coined her own comedy catchphrase (‘unfuck it up’), which summarises Goodman’s vague attempts to rally against what she considers to be a number of social injustices (gender inequality, homophobia, pro-life campaigns, men who consider themselves ‘too big for a condom’), she likes the idea that her off-colour jokes can be seen as a version of political activism. ‘We’re used to seeing people like Tina Fey [30 Rock], Wanda Sykes [Curb Your Enthusiasm] and Melissa McCarthy [Bridesmaids]. Young comedians forget how much easier it’s got, compared to a few decades ago. We were always catching up, fighting for our right to be funny.’
While all four shows threaten to crinkle shocked brows and tickle funny bones in equal measure, perhaps their filthy female patter will prove that, a bit like music, when you take gender out of the equation, there are still only two types of jokes: good ones and bad ones.
The Appalling Carly Smallman, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 622 6552, 3–25 Aug (not 13), 7.30pm, £8–£10 (£6–£8). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £5.
EastEnd Cabaret: Dirty Talk, Underbelly, Cowgate, 0844 545 8252, 3–25 Aug (not 13), 9.10pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10). Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £6.
Katie Goodman: I Didn’t Fuck it Up, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 662 6552, 3–25 Aug (not 12), 4.30pm, £9–£10 (£7–£8). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £5.
Vikki Stone: Definitely, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 3–25 Aug (not 14), 7.20pm, £11–£12 (£10–£11). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £7.