John Thompson

Laughing Cows celebrate 15th birthday

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Pictured: Sarah Millican was one of Laughing Cows’ resident comperes.

This weekend Laughing Cows Comedy will be celebrating an impressive 15 years in the business.

Over that time they have opened clubs across the nation and expanded onto the continent, playing host to a number of big name female comedy acts whilst nurturing new talent.

The club began life in London in 1998 when founder Hazel O’Keefe took up the gauntlet thrown down by a well-established club promoter when he confessed that the reason he wouldn’t book two female acts to play the same bill was that, ‘I wouldn’t take that risk’.

O’Keefe set out to prove that female comedians aren’t some kind of bizarre specialist act or, the other common misconception, that all of them perform the same kind of material but in actual fact are as varied and as myriad performers as any comedian – regardless of gender.

In addition, Laughing Cows set out to confound not just those mistaken promoters but some audience members who seem to think that they don’t find women funny.

O’Keefe set up her first club within the bar she was then running in London. A few years later she returned to her native Manchester where she set up an additional club.

Fifteen years on and with the addition of Maureen Younger on the team, there are clubs all over the country including Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester and Reading as well as in Berlin.

The clubs not only promote existing female talent but also provide a nurturing environment in which burgeoning comics can develop their skills away from the male dominated stand up scene.

The clubs offer not just open spots to female comics but there’s the new act night, Laughing Calves, too. The club has helped acts such as Hayley Ellis and Kerry Leigh hone their skills and Sarah Millican was the resident MC early in her career.

The club plays host to many big name comedians. Acts that have graced the stage include the legendary Jo Brand, the award winning Jenny Eclair, Phoenix Nights’ Janice Connolly AKA Mrs Barbara Nice, the Perrier nominated Donna McPhail, former LA resident Gina Yashere, the incisive wit of Shazia Mirza, Peep Show’s Isy Suttie, actor and comedian Jo Enright, Iranian comedian and telly regular Shappi Khorsandi and sharp TV writer and performer Jo Caulfield.

Of the club Isy Suttie noted: “I have always loved gigging for Laughing Cows, they just have such a love of comedy and look after the acts so well.

“As a consequence the gigs are a joy to play because they’re not out to make a fast buck; they really care that everyone – acts and audience – has as much fun as possible.”

The team have recently put on the first ever Women in Comedy festival with appearances from the aforementioned Connolly, Mirza and Yashere, as well as the fantastic Glaswegian comic Janey Godley, star of What Would Beyonce Do? Luisa Omielan, Ava Vidal – as seen on Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo, Funny’s Funny competition winner Harriet Kemsley, Ideal star and brilliant character comedian Jo Neary and the latest solo show from telly face Lucy Porter.

As well as numerous other solo shows and mixed bill nights, there were book signings from Viv Groskop and many workshop and debate opportunities.

Operating an inclusive policy, Laughing Cows also invites transgender and gender queer comedians who identify as female to perform and men are more than welcome in the audiences.

Laughing Cows will be celebrating the 15th birthday at their regular monthly gigs across the whole of November, where the acts on the bill will range from the likes of Red Dwarf’s Hatty Hayridge in Birmingham, seasoned Scottish comedian and promoter Jo Jo Sutherland in London and Swadlincote, the bombastic Annette Fagon in Leicester and Manchester act Rachel Fairburn in Glossop as well as many others.

The official birthday gig will take place in Manchester on Sunday 24 November at the Frog and Bucket with a storming headline set from Janey Godley with support from wry Brummie Susan Murray, Ellen Tomlinson and Penella Mellor with Kerry Leigh hosting.

Here’s to 15 more.