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jo caulfieldAbsurd as it may seem, the ‘Are women funny?’ debate rages on. Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon answered emphatically in the affirmative in 30 Rock’s ‘Stride of Pride’ episode – as well as in every other episode of a brilliant comedy series with a female showrunner – and yet there is still a noticeable imbalance in many areas, particularly stand-up.

Last year, The Guardian investigated the female stand-up void and asked whether we need positive discrimination to right that imbalance. Perhaps, but with comics as assured as Jo Caulfield, the question is moot. Should venues book her because she’s female? No, they should book her because she is riotously funny, to men as well as to women.

There was no sign of gender divide in the Soho Theatre’s achingly cool downstairs space, where a mix of sexes and ages crowded around jazz-bar-esque round tables and plush booths. Caulfield powered through a strong 70-minute set, only meandering slightly at the end because – as she cheerfully revealed – she’d had to rejig it from two 45-minute sets and her ending accidentally happened two-thirds of the way through. No matter: by that point, the audience was more than happy to go along for the ride.

Caulfield recently noted that her reviews tend to feature the word ‘bitchy’ alarmingly often – a derogatory term never used about men with a similar comedic style. However, I’d argue her caustic voice is the key to her mass appeal. Many of her material appears to be on more ‘female’ terrain (relationships, shopping, reality shows), but she lands firmly in the darkly observational bracket, bringing a healthy scepticism and wry exasperation to her subjects.

Above all, she is not a girly girl. There is no whimsy or cosiness, no safe Miranda throwbacks or genial Isy Suttie crooning. In fact, such women are often a great source of irritation (and comic material), from the overly positive ‘friend’ or overly familiar couples encountered on holiday to the perma-grin Stepford Wives of female product advertising.

Caulfield also has a great line in the absurdity of the everyday: ordering blinds turns into a ludicrous pitch battle; a silent film grows out of crossword rivalry in the Quiet Coach; gigging in a small town takes on Broadchurch overtones; and a trip to Abercrombie & Fitch becomes a dark night of the soul. Throughout, she combines deliciously acute judgement with laid-back warmth, as well as a quick-witted response to audience involvement.

When she does venture into relationship territory (the show’s title is inspired by a recent discovery about the legal status of her 10-year marriage), she illuminates differences between men and women without alienating male audience members; rather, there are chuckles of recognition from everyone, as well as the odd uncomfortable shift.

That we are simultaneously embraced and challenged is the sign of a supremely confident performer. Jo Caulfield isn’t just flying the flag for great female comedy, but for great comedy. Go see her and have a brilliant night out.

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Reviewed 10/05/13/

By Marianka Swain

9th May – 11th May 2013
Soho Theatre, London, W1.

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