Every year the Edinburgh fringe throws curve balls. A new comedy icon comes out of nowhere and turns out to be exactly what we never knew we always wanted. And it happened again this year. But even in the “expect the unexpected” world of the fringe, who thought feminism would be the next big thing in comedy?
Yet so it was. Bridget Christie winning the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy award with her standup set A Bic for Her has made the most noise. But other shows also gave this year’s fringe a feminist flavour. Christie’s venue, local comedy lynchpin The Stand, had three shows that fit the bill. All were hugely popular and very funny indeed.
With A Bic for Her, Christie has found a rich seam of comedy that mocks misogyny; her set – which comes to London’s Soho theatre from mid-November – delivered a satisfying, cathartic and very funny hour of standup about her battles with everyday sexism, from sports reporters to lads’ magazines. And she sold out Stand One at 11am, even before the shortlist for the award was announced.
Meanwhile Nadia Kamil’s debut Edinburgh, Wide Open Beavers, was did extremely well across the road in Stand 4. The show’s title, Kamil claimed, was meant to distract people from the dour topic. But her show wasn’t dour for a second. It was the exact opposite, weaving puppets and games around set pieces – which included a rap about going for a smear test and a burlesque act where slogans about equal pay were all that was revealed. Kamil even took on that most divisive concept in current popular feminist chatter, intersectionality, explaining it with a catchy jingle.
Mary Bourke, Gráinne Maguire, Sara Pascoe, Kate Smurthwaite and Dana Alexander all made shows that discussed feminist ideas. And Adrienne Truscott’s show tackling rape jokes, Asking for It, won the Foster’s award Panel prize. Comic performance art was also in on the act, with Figs in Wigs taking an off-kilter look at female objectification in We Object, while in the charming but disturbing show Credible, Likeable Superstar Role Model, Bryony Kimmings and her nine year old niece Taylor, created an alterative aspirational pop star – complete with dance moves – to look at the sexualisation of tween girls.
This explosion of feminist-fuelled entertainment is welcome. Too often, standup is reactionary, laddish and boorish. The ethics of rape jokes wouldn’t have become a hot topic here and in the US if comics didn’t rely on them for edgy lulz. Meanwhile, TV comedy panels shows notoriously exclude women, or edit them so we know they did more than laugh at the jokes the men made. When the mainstream is this bloated and homogenous, and when every comic tells the same boring and often depressingly sexist jokes, we desperately need an alternative. Suddenly the rise of feminist comedy doesn’t seem so sudden after all. I can’t wait to see what Christie and her patriarchy-smashing pals do next.