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The View From the Front: Lucy Pearman

Lucy

There’s nothing like agoraphobia to really put a spanner in the works of a good comedy blog. Thankfully, Howl Sanctuary stalwart Flash (aka Neal Peters) has been doing the hard work so I don’t have to. Here’s a review of Lucy Pearman, from his excellent blog View From the Front. Thanks, Neal – Aaah-aaaah! You Saved Every One of Us!

lucy-pearman

I’m not a fan of character or clown comedy (except in a couple of cases) but I love Lucy Pearman’s Maid.

I was aware of Lucy from the LetLuce duo but her solo show Maid of Cabbage secured her place in my comedy mind palace. I first saw it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, after experiencing a smattering at All Day Edinburgh, at the brilliant Monkey Barrel venue, where Lucy was nominated for Best Newcomer.

The show tells the story of a new maid in an, let’s say, Edwardian country house owned by the abusive Lord and Lady Wynd, and her hunt for the perfect cabbage, whilst trying to not let her bad side out.

Lucy is a highly imaginative and creative performer and literally interacts with her entire audience, shaking hands with everyone as part of the introduction. The props and puppets are cleverly utilised and implimented and there’s a fair amount of audience involvement with little instruction, which allows the Maid to play even more, slightly embarrassing the “victim”. However, Lucy chooses subjects well and no-one ever seems to mind, even whoever gets to play the horse.

I’ve really enjoyed this show each time I’ve seen it but now it’s coming to an end and the Maid must leave service soon, as Lucy prepares for her next world for us to be invited in to.

Not a prodigious tweeter or facebooker, Lucy can be followed here and here, but please do try to track down Lucy’s performances wherever you can.

This review appears on Neal’s View From the Front blog. With thanks to Neal for letting us feature his writing. 

 

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TV Review: Red Dwarf XII Episode 2

Guest reviewer: Simon Wiedemann

So, the latest episode of Red Dwarf, Siliconia; was it any good? Well, it started off small, with ‘everyday’, space age banter. However, the conversations were far from boring. The classic lighthearted tone was set immediately and all dialogue linked in with the grander environments and plots that were to come. The contrast from normal to odd and almost nightmarish was is in part what made this episode intriguing. These scenario changes progressed very well and impressively subtly, and came neither too late or too soon. Not only were Kryten’s reactions to his changing surroundings amusing, they simultaneously paralleled modern day social problems in a way that was deep, well thought out and unpretentious. As time went on, more and more connections between fiction and reality were made, in a way that was almost scary.

Whilst the way things went from good to worse was captivating, the way things turned back to normal seemed very rushed. Not only did the ending almost come out of nowhere, it was also quite unrealistic. Things went from terrible to great and there were no more issues to be dealt with, when really there should have been. It was kind of a childish ‘and they lived happily ever after’ plot device. Unfortunately, this seems to becoming a habit with Red Dwarf, now. The first episode of series 12 had huge adversities conquered in seconds and with next to no effort. I’m sure the creators of the program would have loved to make their work a good ten minutes longer, so as to make their ambitions more believable. In comparison, imagine a Doctor Who show only lasting 30 minutes. It would be very difficult to pull off.

Despite the many strengths of the comedic themes, the characters could have been fresher at times; Rimmer was often annoying, the cat shallow, Kryten sensible and Lister immature. Ring any bells? However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the characters were forced to change their ways, and because of this, there was some interesting character development. It didn’t last forever, but the journey was nevertheless engaging. The occasional reference to past Red Dwarf shows (for example Lister’s guitar and his music in general) created a sense of nostalgia and hope for things to come. Did this episode capture the magic of the ones all those years ago? In my opinion, I think it did for the most part. Perhaps the science fiction elements of the latest show weren’t as strong and unique as the now quite old ones, but they did at least make sense and invoke curiosity.

7/10

Fringe Reviews: Research reveals gender bias across leading publications

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I was unable to see any Fringe shows this year due to a crippling bout of agoraphobia . I was miserable to be missing out, and by my third month of hermit-like existence I was desperate to participate in some way, so idly decided to tally up a few star ratings to see if men and women were rated equally . It’ll kill an hour or so, I thought, and in any case, I was running short on episodes of Undercover Boss.

What followed turned into a two week full-time project, during which I had to teach myself first Excel and then (in a late realisation) basic maths.

What follows are my findings. It’s a long read, but don’t worry, there’s pictures.

*****

Review stars, eh? What a wonderful, unbiased way of summarising the artistic originality and accomplishment of an act. In the Edinburgh sea of nearly 4000 comedy shows, the 1*- 5* rating system is an easy way of separating the wheat from the chaff, and letting punters know the best shows out there.

Or is it?

During August, I’ve lurked like a benign spectre on various Facebook groups for performers and have seen the same themes crop up again and again. Gender bias. This publication only awards 1*s to women. That reviewer only rates men. This reviewer reckons a woman discussing her fertility is somehow too niche for public consumption: two stars.

Of course, it would be unnatural if there weren’t a small punnet of sour grapes attached to some of these remarks; a comic probably won’t ask a reviewer to their wedding if they’ve said their show’s a hackneyed pile of garbage.

But individual beefs aside, I wanted to know if there was any truth in the rumours of gender bias in the awarding of stars, so I decided to crunch the numbers to ascertain if bias really existed, and who the worst offenders were.

In all, I looked at 1530 reviews across 12 publications: Fest, The Skinny, Broadway Baby, Ed Fest Mag, The Wee Review, The Scotsman, One 4 Review, Chortle, Fringe Guru, The List, The Telegraph and The Guardian. Although the latter two had small sample sizes, their ratings mean a lot so were worthy of inclusion. (I’m sure I missed some important publications, and it would help me greatly if you could let me know in the comments, just in case I decide to embark upon this foolhardy enterprise again next year).

There are significant limitations to my research. The data were collected on 24 August before all publications has submitted their reviews, and is therefore not entirely complete (this was the only way to analyse the data before the Fringe was a distant memory). I had to make not-wholly-scientific decisions about who I included; although I only analysed the ‘comedy’ category, I had to make judgement calls about large mixed-gender troupes (I left them out) and sketch groups where the ratio is two male one female and a female director (thanks Geins) or vice versa. A serious criticism of the research is that it operates on the gender binary – I had to guess gender from the artist’s name; failing that from their photo; and if I was really stuck then the pronouns used in the show blurb, so anyone who chose to identify as non-binary would likely have been noticed but the research doesn’t have the capacity to account for this. Finally, the research ignores intersectional axes of oppression such as disability, sexuality, race, religion and class. Although these are big issues and shouldn’t be ignored, it would have been impossible and foolish to try and make judgement calls about these signifiers based on the little information I had.

One factor I was really shocked by is that the Edinburgh Fringe don’t collate any information whatsoever about the demographic of participants – and this would be so easy to do, since performers must complete some sort of registration – how hard would it be to include an equal opportunities monitoring form? When I spoke to the press office to see if they held data on the gender split of comics at the Fringe, my question was blithely laughed off with the claim that ‘the Fringe is open to everyone’.

Yes, but so is Eton. Oh, unless you’re a woman (amirite Lou Sanders?). It seems to me that the Fringe is missing a big trick here, and as it becomes increasingly crowded with performers and expensive to play, it seems likely that the most privileged groups will dominate and elitism will prevail. Equalities monitoring wouldn’t stop that, but it would give a jumping off point to understand how structural inequalities are preventing certain groups from participating in this ostensibly ‘open’ event.

Notwithstanding the limitations of the data, here’s what I discovered.

There are more male than female comics performing so you can’t compare like for like. The publications I looked at reviewed an average of 69% men to 31% women, so star ratings were weighted to reflect this. Here’s how all stars awarded looked across all publications.

Control Data

Looks pretty unbiased, right? With the exception of the male weighting towards 1* reviews (which is a little misleading as the sample size of 1* reviews is tiny – many publications don’t give any at all).

But although the overall picture looks benign, once I began to break down star ratings to each publication, a different picture emerged.

In order to ascertain how fairly stars were awarded to men and women, I calculated the average gender split reviewed by each publication, and then worked out what percentage of stars were awarded to men and women in each ratings category. So, as an example, The Wee Review reviewed 66% men and 34% women, yet awarded 93% of their five star ratings to men and the remaining 7% to women, so it’s clear to see that there is some bias at play here. However, the same publication may not replicate the same level of bias across all star categories – for instance, in the case of this publication the 4* awards were tipped in favour of women, and the 3* awards were fairly even.

It’s not an exact science.

Wee Review

I’d gone in, somewhat naively, expecting bias to be screaming itself loud and clear from the rooftops, and yet the findings were nowhere near that simple.

There was only one publication – The Scotsman – that indicated bias in favour of men across the board, awarding them far more 5* and 4* ratings and reserving the 1*s and 2*s for the women. I spoke to the Arts Editor of this magazine for comment, however he simply informed me that his reviewers were all unbiased and highly experienced thank-you-very-much and assured me my remarks would be borne in mind at next year’s festival. So much, so revolutionary.

Scotsman

By contrast, I spoke to Ben Venables, editor of The Skinny, which was much more favourable to women in awarding star ratings across the board. Ben explained there was a clear ethos in place about criteria for reviewing in general; schedules were assigned in advance and at random so reviewers could not choose ‘favourite’ performers – a reviewer from a different publication (who asked not to be named) told me that it’s commonplace for people to choose who they review. The Skinny placed an emphasis on seeing acts debuting the Fringe for the first time, and there was a strict criteria for allocation of stars, with very few being given out at both ends of the spectrum. Even more hearteningly, Ben showed an awareness that even where they were getting it right on areas like gender, their reviewers still tended to meet a certain age, race and class demographic. He recognised the imperfections in their system, which is at least a start. He also told me that they vet potential reviewers. Anyone with the attitude that ‘women aren’t funny’ never gets through the door.

Skinny

Of the other publications I reviewed, it was hard to draw any concrete conclusions as each one painted a unique picture. It did seem as if more 5* awards were going to men with the notable exception of Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Hannah Gadsby. I was left wondering had she not performed the festival this year, if women would have been represented much at all at the 5* mark.

Here’s the rest of the publications broken down.

Telegraph

 

One4Review

List

Guardian

Fringe guru

Fest

Ed Fest Mag

Chortle

Broadway Baby

Telegraph

Why is any of this relevant? As each performer tells themselves for three weeks, ‘reviews don’t matter.’ Except they do. The comic Athena Kugblenu explained to me how she hates the review system, yet ‘I want the 4* and 5* as much as the next comic, not for the endorsement, but for the marketing and PR.’ And as Edinburgh stalwart Kate Smurthwaite explains, ‘Anything less than a 4/5 star is of no use cos you can’t put 3* on your posters.’ I spoke to one experienced reviewer who hypothesised that reviewers simply aren’t going to enough female shows. Proportional representation is all very well but because female comics are still in the minority, their work is still viewed as marginal which means reviewers are less likely to award the more prestigious star ratings. As encapsulated in the comment that Sara Pascoe’s material was ‘too tamponny’; when male comics talk about their lives it’s comedy. When female comics talk about their lives, their shows are described as focusing only on ‘women’s issues’ or pigeonholed as feminist, as if feminism was somehow a bad thing rather than just a wish for gender equality and an end to young girls having their genitals mutilated. Something one hopes we would all strive for, whatever our gender.

Although the project above focused on numbers rather than qualitative analysis, there’s no doubt that the use of language in male vs female reviews is an area ripe for research. As a little test I decided to peek at the content of the reviews of Sara Pascoe’s acclaimed show Lads Lads Lads and the 2017 Comedy Award winner John Robins’ show The Darkness of Robins. I chose these shows because I’ve seen them both, and although the content of the shows isn’t identical, they were both written on the back of their breakup in late 2016.

The reviews I looked at were from the Guardian, the Standard, the Skinny, the Scotsman and Chortle, and all awarded 4*. Of the five reviews of Pascoe’s show, she was referred to as endearing twice, vulnerable once and ‘oversharing about sex’ – presumably because she had the temerity to mention masturbation – a theme that’s rarely absent from most male standups’ staple material. Robin’s show, despite containing several depictions of sex with his ex partner and a whole bit about women’s pubic hair, did not attract any comment on the topic of sex whatsoever. Adjectives attached to Robins’ show included ‘extremely forthright’, ‘high-powered, front foot delivery’ and ‘an eloquent howl of rage’. The assertive adjectives attached to Robins’ reviews are ironic if only because in both Pascoe and Robins’ depiction of their break-up, she is undeniably the one who is taking it better.

The most telling observation, however, came from the three out of five reviewers who commented on Pascoe’s stage attire – a sparkly bodysuit and fishnets. This might be understandable were it not for the fact the John Robins went on stage every night donning a tailor-made bright yellow leather replica Freddie Mercury jacket. Not. A. Mention. [Edit – apparently John ditched the jacket after the first two previews so this isn’t an entirely fair comparison. Thanks to commenter Pete for pointing this out].

Kate Smurthwaite provides some examples of gendered reviews from her own experience.

My first Chortle review call[ed] me “too alpha female”. My second says sometime I make a political point instead of a joke which is TRUE but that’s the style of my comedy and no-one complains when Mark Steel does it. 

We also need to take into account the structural bias behind the scenes before shows even make it to the review stage. Smurthwaite claims that bias amongst venue managers means women end up with less favourable rooms and slots, and a poor slot with a barely warmed up or hungover audience, taking in their first show of the day, can have a devastating effect on reviews.

Conclusions?

Mark Twain was right when he talked about lies, damn lies, and statistics. I embarked upon this project looking for easy (or at least clear-cut) answers, and aside from the fairly unequivocal findings of the Scotsman, the results turned out to be a little more complicated.

It has certainly given me food for thought about how we can build on this information in years to come, and I hope that comics of all genders will feed in with their own experiences. I’ve set up a Facebook group for this purpose: Edinburgh Fringe Ratings.

Female (and many male) comics don’t need to wade through a 2000 word blog to know there’s gender bias in comedy. I just fancied drawing a few graphs to illustrate it, and as Stewart Lee’s apocryphal taxi driver once remarked “Well. You can prove anything with facts”.

For the full report and datasets, visit http://wp.me/p8JV3i-dU.

I welcome your comments and notification of any errors via this blog. Please bear in mind I’m an amateur unpaid blogger, so by all means tell me I’m wrong but please do so with respect. If you like this article you can help by sharing it on your social media.

Edit: Quite a few commenters are asking why I didn’t take into account the gender of the researcher. Here’s my response:

I consciously didn’t analyse the gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age or class demographic of the researchers  because i thought it was a red herring. There’s no obligation for women to support women and women are just as subject to the patriarchy as men. They’ve seen more male comics in more prestigious venues/media slots etc. They’re sitting in an audience of people who may well have the embedded beliefs that men will automatically be funny, women have to prove they will be, and god forbid they should hear a mention of ovaries. This of course impacts on the performance, audience reaction and subsequent impression left upon the reviewer. 

I do think there is space for [analysis of the reviewers], perhaps as part of a larger piece of research that looks at organisational culture. I was struck by the comments from the Scotsman that their reviewers were well established and experienced, and the Skinny that they tended to have a high turnover of younger reviewers. I think these factors surely also have a bearing as much as the researcher’s gender. 

 

 

 

 

Review: Daniel Simonsen – No Net

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Reviewer: Andy McHaffie

daniel simonsen 2

For three nights in a row I’ve found myself watching Daniel Simonsen’s ever changing show at The Bill Murray as part of the Camden Fringe. This year he has two shows: No Net, and Net. The first show is completely unscripted as he speaks about whatever pops into his head, or maybe tries to improve on routines that he came up with the night before.

Daniel Simonsen won the best newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe 5 years ago, but I think most of these audiences know him as Bob Mortimer’s oddball son from the brilliant “House Of Fools”. That’s what I gathered from my pre-show eavesdropping anyway!

The first show I saw on Sunday, Daniel was not really enjoying it. He felt uncomfortable and didn’t have any confidence in himself. I know that because Daniel told us straight up, which I think made a lot of the audience lose trust in him, which meant the show was never really going to recover. There were some great bits though, such as his long explanation of why red is his favourite colour and telling us that his nickname growing up was ‘Crying Daniel’. But there were real belly laughs all round when he decided to try out a few different accents.

The next night there was a much smaller audience in, and Daniel expressed surprise that I was back, having seen the show the previous night. I did tell him that it really wasn’t as bad as he thought it was! But this show was blisteringly funny! The Crying Daniel routine was lengthened, and there were far fewer silences than the night before. Sadly he had dropped his Irish accent this time which was a shame, because it’s such a lot of fun to hear someone with such a distinctive accent try some other ones.

I found back there on Tuesday, and again another superb show. The accents were back and Crying Daniel was even stronger. The only thing that spoiled it was two annoying audience members who insisted on a Q&A session, with one of them in particular being downright rude by asking Daniel “What’s the best joke you have?” Daniel told them he doesn’t really do jokes, but he thought for a bit and left the stage with a wonderfully out of character piece of smut!

Net is slowly evolving from No Net, and as the days go on I fully expect this to be a totally joyful, funny, five star show. There are three more No Nets left before Net begins. Check the Angel Comedy website for dates and times.

Daniel Simonsen on Russell Howard’s Good News

Daniel as Eric on “House OF Fools”

Review: John Robertson: The Dark Room

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Phoenix, Cavendish Square, 6 July 2017

Yes! I have finally arrived as a comedy reviewer, in that I was actually offered free tickets to a gig. Albeit I had to turn up and pretend to be someone else, but still, I’m on my way.

The freeness of the gig was partly what got me there, because from the billing I was convinced that The Dark Room was Not My Sort Of Thing. For a start, the only descriptions I saw online were heavy with mentions of horror, death and fear, and my mental health is currently so precarious that an emotional dog meme is enough to send me into an existential crisis. My general practice is not to research shows online before I see them, as I prefer to go with an open mind, but verbal feedback from people who’d seen the show described it as ‘very dark’  which at least adheres to the description, I suppose.

As one might glean from the title, we were ushered in and seated in a dark room, which for the purposes of this show was the basement room of the Phoenix which provided just the right level of gloom. The only things I could vaguely make out were a screen up ahead, and a trestle table of assorted rammel, including a pineapple, a fur coat and a bathmat.

After a few minutes of tense anticipation (this isn’t the sort of show where you have a chirpy compere warming you up) on came Robertson, his bleached hair swept back, and his terrifyingly spiked collar bedecked with strips of neon. I can only describe him as a modern-day Riff-Raff, and his delivery is also pretty O’Brien-esque. In fact, the whole show bore a lot in common with the Rocky Horror show, from the audience call-and response to the in-jokes between devoted attendees.

And it quickly became clear that The Dark Room was indeed a cult phenomenon. At least half of the audience had been before and quite a few sported the mark of the true geek: the merch t-shirt. But even as a newbie it was easy to join in and me and my party of three mates (who were all new to the show) quickly picked up on where to join in.

Billed as  ‘the world’s only live-action video game‘ the concept is pretty simple. Each round of the game begins with the same premise: you awake to find yourself in a dark room, and you have four options. Which one you choose will determine the course of the adventure, and Robertson promises the winner a prize of £1000. Losers, sadly, are killed off, to gleeful shrieks from the audience of ‘YA DIE, YA DIE, YA DIE!!!’

dRK ROOM SLEEP

If this sounds intimidating, it’s not. No one is dragged up on stage, and even Robertson’s crowdwork is archly camp rather than insulting – when myself and blue-haired lady got picked to play, he described us as ‘the two ladies with coloured hair who have not yet given up all hope of joy in the world’. Participants are invited to choose options from their seats, which keeps the game moving nice and quickly. Player after player meets their grim fate, but they don’t leave empty handed (I came home clutching the rather fetching bath mat).

Five minutes into the show, I was glad I came. Ten minutes in, I decided that this was just what I needed in my life. And by the end of the show, I’d decided that if we all had a bit more of this in our lives we wouldn’t have voted Brexit. In short, The Dark Room is what the world needs, it’s an hour of pure, unalloyed joy, camp, and silliness. It’s definitely going on my Edinburgh spreadsheet.

Speaking of which, Robertson is also doing two other Edinburgh shows: a kids version of the Dark Room, which I reckon will be no less hilarious, and his stand up show Dominant, which I’m intrigued to see. Robertson is a self-confessed sadist, and as a fellow member of the kink community I can’t wait to see how he works a BDSM-themed stand-up show.

Spoiler alert: sadly no one won the £1000. Maybe next time.