Yorkshire’s funny women taking centre stage

Rivka Uttley and Rosie Jones
Rivka Uttley and Rosie Jones
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Two Yorkshire women are in the final six of the UK’s Funny Women Awards. Catherine Scott meets them.

When Rosie Jones appears at the finals of the Funny Women Awards tonight it will only be the 10th time she has told jokes on stage.

What makes Rosie, from Bridlington’s achievement even greater is that she was born with cerebral palsy.

She was starved of oxygen at both when he shoulders got stuck during delivery and she didn’t breathe for 20 minutes. The result was damage to her brain which affects almost her entire body.

“I have a very wobbly walk and my speech is affected,” says the 26- year old television researcher.

For Rosie getting through to the final six of the national competition aimed at recognising new female comedians, is an achievement in itself especially as she only started to do stand up earlier this year.

Sarah Millican is a pervious Funny Women Awards finalist

Sarah Millican is a pervious Funny Women Awards finalist

“I come from a very funny family,” says Rosie whose parents recently moved to York. “I was brought up in an environment where everyone told jokes all the time. I always say I am the least funny person in our family.

“When ever I was in the pub I would always end up being the one telling the jokes. It got to the stage where all my friends were saying that I should do stand up. I used to laugh I say but I can’t event stand up properly.”

But in February this year Rosie went to see a friend perform and the end there was an open mic spot and her friend said she should do it.

“For some reason I said ‘okay’. I hadn’t even planned anything but luckily my comedy is very natural and conversational - it’s just me really.”

For Rosie being funny helped her deal with having cerebral palsy.

“I have had to use my sense of humour throughout my life to try to make people forget the fact I am disabled - I want to say to people ‘ignore my disability, look at my humour’.

“I think my humour and my personality grew more because I had to compensate more for my disability.”

Rosie, who has just returned from Rio where she was working on Channel 4 programme The Last Leg, says she never planned to tell jokes about her disability.

“When I started out I was determined that I wasn’t going to talk about my disability because everyone expects me to. But now I talk about it because I think it’s interesting - not a lot of people know what it’s like to be me. I never make fun of disability, but I make fun the experiences I’ve had.”

But Rosie is more than aware that people will make assumptions about her from the way she walks and talks.

“When people see me walking to the stage the way I do I always get a lot of nervous laughs. And then when I start talking a lot of people are afraid I won’t be funny. I make sure my first couple of jokes are short and sweet so that they get used to my voice and they can relax in the knowledge that I am a bit funny.”

For Rosie being in the finals isn’t just a victory for her personally,

“I am fighting not only to see more women on television, but more disabled people. I am really passionate about showing people that women and disabled people can be funny.”

Rosie has worked in television for the last five years after she was part of a Channel 4 scheme to help people who were diverse get into television. Since then she has worked on shows such as 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You and most recently The Last Leg. She is about to start work on a new Harry Hill panel show.

“The Last Leg was amazing and terrifying at the same time as I had never worked on life television before. But I loved it. My biggest passion is to get more disabled people on television.”

Appearing alongside Rosie at tonight’s final in London will be Leeds comedian Rivka Uttley.

By day Rivka works in a Leeds call centre, but for the last two and a half years she has been doing stand up gigs around the area in her spare time.

“I think I’ve always known I was funny but never really did anything it,” says the 31-year-old who lives in Armley.

“When I was about five or six my Mum asked me if I was going to be a comedian when I grew up. I didn’t know what it meant so I cried and told her to stop calling me names. She reminds me of that all the time.

“Then two and a half years ago did a comedy course in Leeds. At the end there was a show and we had to do a five minute set which made me do it as I don’t think I would have been able to do it otherwise as I have always had terrible stage fright. It was absolutely terrifying, but once I was up there I really enjoyed it.”

Rivka’s humour is based on her life and things that happen to her.

“I take a note book with me everywhere. And if someone says something funny or something happens I write it down and then work on it later. I have always loved telling stories and a joke is really a funny story.”

She does two or three gigs a month and says she has had times when people don’t laugh.

“If anybody tells you that they haven’t had that happen to them they are lying. Sometimes people just don’t like your comedy, and on other occasion it may be your own fault.

“I used to get worried about it. But the more you stress the worse it becomes and then you forget what you are saying. You just have to pick yourself up and get on with the next gig. It is amazing to be in the final of Funny Women,” says Rivka whose ambition is to become a full-time comedian.

Funny Women Awards

The Funny Women Awards were launched in 2003. Former contestants include female talents such as Bridget Christie, Susan Calman, Katherine Ryan, Andi Osho, Kerry Godliman, Sara Pascoe, Zoe Lyons, Holly Walsh and Sarah Millican (pictured). The Awards are continuously diversifying with sub-categories for best Comedy Writing, Stage Award, and best Comedy Short. They offer agency introductions, script options, and mentoring as part of the prizes.

Due to the numbers entering, this competition has three stages. Heats take place over April, May and June and from these heats, 20 acts are selected. Four semi-finals are held in Brighton, Manchester, London and Edinburgh and from these, six acts are selected to go through to the final. Previous venues include Leicester Square Theatre and Kings Place in London. This year’s final take place tonight at Koko where all finalist will performe and the winner will be announced. For the first time the finalists have had a mentor in the form of a previous contestant.

www.funnywomen.com

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