Interview: Charlie George, Alex-Bertulis Fernandes & Sharlin Jahan Talk Triple Bill “Funny Femmes”

Audiences won’t need to be spoiled for choice when it comes to “Funny Femmes” – they’ll get three cracking comedy sets for one in this triple bill comedy show from an all-female comedians of colour line-up.

Who’s on the bill you ask? Charlie George is an award-winning stand-up comedian and writer who was voted LGBTQ New Comedian of the Year in 2019. Sharlin Jahan, a Rising Star Comedy 2020 finalist and semi-finalist for Get-up Stand-up 2019, is a stand-up comedian, actor, improviser and writer. Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, a 2Northdown New Act and a So You Think You’re Funny? Semi-Finalist, is a stand-up and writer. “Funny Femmes” is set to play dates at the Camden Fringe (15th August at 2Northdown) and Battersea Arts Centre (29th September), and here the trio chat about routes into comedy, comedy heroes and their passion for a diversified comedy circuit without tokenism.

First of all, how are you and how are things going with preparations for this comedy triple bill, Funny Femmes?

Charlie: Fresh off the back of our successful show at Top Secret Comedy Club, we’ve been watching the footage back and doing our own Rocky-style training montage to get ourselves in shape for the show this Sunday 15th at 2Northdown. Lots of mic lifting and lunges! As well as yelling supportive/aggressive affirmations at each other.

So what drew you into comedy – where did it all start?

Charlie: We have a variety of stories for you! It was a beginner’s stand-up course at the fabulous Angel Comedy Club, one rainy January, I started hiding nearby in a local Pret A Manger writing jokes to perform each week and that behaviour hasn’t really stopped (pandemic permitting).

Alex: I’d been working on a book about my (poor) mental health and my Editor said that some bits were funny and would make a decent Edinburgh show. She asked if I’d ever consider doing stand-up, and I said yes because I was (am?) a people-pleaser. I did my first open mic with the organisation Funny Women, who run supportive nights for women starting out. I really enjoyed it, and I’ve been trying to make people laugh ever since.

Sharlin: I can’t explain to you how little I thought about comedy before I did a beginner stand-up course at City Academy. I’m quite spontaneous and I had always made my friends laugh – so when I saw the course come up, I thought ‘what the hell’. Anyway, it’s not really stopped ever since.

Quite varied then! Who would you say your comedy heroes/ influences are?

Charlie: There was this theatre company called Gonzo Moose who came to my secondary school in Swindon and in the cast there was this woman called Pascal who played an entire Greek senate, switching seats to embody all the characters and give them different features/mannerisms. She had this really malleable face and was just hilarious; with one look she could have an audience howling in recognition of who that character was. I was mesmerized. I knew then that was exactly what I wanted to do. Contort my face to make people erupt in laughter. Also Mike Birbiglia’s show Thank God for Jokes, is perfection & what I aspire to in writing/stand up!

Alex: Jena Friedman is my favourite stand-up at the moment. I love how incisive she is, and some of her jokes are so good they make me angry. Jena talks about taboo subjects in a really hilarious and insightful way – she’s definitely inspired me to be a bit braver in my material.

Kemah Bob is also one of my heroes. She runs the FOC IT UP Comedy Club, a comedy night featuring women and non-binary people of colour. Kemah gave me my third ever gig – and she paid me for it. I don’t think many people would pay an act that new, and it made me feel valued and hopeful – something you don’t often feel on the open mic circuit! The community Kemah’s built around FOC IT UP has really helped me see other comedians as allies rather than competition…for the most part.

Sharlin: Michelle Wolf is such a genius that I have bought a voodoo doll and a book of the dark arts so that I can demand the heavens for such brilliance! I’ve mostly gotten second hand smoke issues from too many indoor candles, but I am positive it will work. There are many, many others. And, much like Alex, I am equally as angry at the whole lot.

Tell me a little bit about how this show came to be then – the who, the what, the when and the why.

Charlie: Alex, Sharlin and I met through Kemah Bob’s fabulous FOC IT UP night. We loved the rare experience of appearing on a bill with so many other women of colour. Nights like Kemah’s have proved what we suspected all along – that even though we’re all brown women, we all have different perspectives and opinions?! We decided to do Funny Femmes to challenge ourselves to perform a show where our ‘thing’ wasn’t being brown women, where we weren’t tokenised. All three of us have been working together to develop our own distinct styles this summer.

How would you describe the style of each set? Are you offering audiences quite distinct styles in terms of the ‘observational comic’ or the ‘one liner comic’, or is the material freer than that?

Charlie: We are all pretty different! [Here’s the rundown]:

Charlie G has been described as a luminous firecracker, with wry humour and a confessional storytelling style. She regales audiences with the hangover of growing up evangelical in a rural UK town with a racially different parent, getting kicked out of home for her queerness and sexuality as a teen, and ongoing struggles to find her place in millennial-hood.

Alex B-F is more deadpan, and definitely a lot darker. She has a lot of material about mental illness, so she’s got little incentive to recover.

Sharlin J is the most energetic of the three, what she lacks in height she makes up for in enthusiasm and volume, with explosive tales of her Muslim family, her Canadian upbringing, arranged marriages and her hatred of British shampoo?!…

I always want to ask comics about the unpredictable nature of audiences – so how do you prepare for those over-enthusiastic audiences who might heckle, alongside those audiences who might just sit silently and kill the buzz?

Alex: We each have primed some harsh heckle put-downs and stashed them in our bras, we’re not afraid to use them! So, interrupt our flow at your peril. For the buzzkills, it’s highly likely Charlie or Sharlin will approach you and attempt to bring you into the fold, as no one wins by leaving the house and having a rubbish time. I will look even more depressed. You have been warned.

Love it! SoFunny Femmes” is paving the way for change in terms of challenging the under-representation of women and women of colour on the comedy gig circuit, but what do you hope to see from venues and programmers going forward?

Sharlin: Ideally, we’d like to see more than one woman of colour on the line-up, with promoters not seeing it as a one in/one out system, with each of us vying for a ‘diverse’ spot. Have several women of colour on stage and you’ll quickly realise we shouldn’t be in competition with each other – we all have different points of view on the world and very different comedy styles. It has to be seen to be believed! (At our show – 2Northdown on Sunday August 15th at 8pm.)

And you’ve previously played a sold out show at The Vaults and you’re hoping to see a regional tour taking place in the future – how are things progressing with those plans?

Alex: We still have two more dates this summer – the Camden Fringe this Sunday August 15th at 2Northdown – and Battersea Arts Centre on Wednesday September 29th. Then we’ll reassess how everything has gone and what we want to do to improve moving forward. We have just booked a date at Manchester’s Women in Comedy Festival, which is very exciting! That’s on Friday 1st October. Hopefully there’ll be more to come! Book us in a town near you!

What do the Camden Fringe and Battersea Arts Centre opportunities mean to you in this current COVID-19 climate in the industry?

Charlie: These dates are huge opportunities for us to get proper stage time and a platform for our comedy. They also allow us to have more control over our experiences, both on and off stage, than we do at other gigs. To have the space and opportunity to run our own shows, to be in control of our music, marketing and how we want to run the line-up, has given us some sense of control in a time where so much feels out of control. Our shows are also a way for us to cover the costs of doing comedy, which often involves paying travel to a lot of unpaid gigs and trial spots in the beginning.

And finally, in one sentence only, why should audiences’ book to see “Funny Femmes”?

Charlie: Three brown women for the price of one white man post a Me-Too scandal…what more could you want in this current economic climate!? 😉 We’re also really, really funny.

So there you have it! Remember: “Funny Femmes” is set to play dates at the Camden Fringe (15th August 2021 at 2Northdown) and Battersea Arts Centre (29th September 2021) – tickets can be found here.

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