Former owner of a lingerie shop, journalist and successful publicist, Lynne Parker founded Funny Women almost by chance. Now in its 10th year, Funny Women is a successful enterprise, providing a platform for women in the comedy industry to perform. Lynne also coaches corporate women on how to use humour to unlock their potential. She reveals to Myriam O’Carroll her personal challenges and what keeps driving her.
I was actually working for a comedy promoter, established in the States who was launching in London. I could not understand why they were never booking any women for their gigs – the ones I call the ‘smart sassy sexy female comedians’, so I came up with this idea and pitched it to them. They did like it very much, but the original client fell out with his UK partner, so new people came in fired me. I was stuck with a really good idea and I thought it was too good to let it drop, so I registered the domain name and protected the brand name. It then took me two years to get started!
What is the mission of Funny Women?
Our mission is to provide a platform for female in the comedy industry. We have regular comedy nights and our big thing every year is the Funny Women Awards, now in its 10th year – that is the lifeblood of Funny Women. Three years ago, we started doing workshop for companies, we also run stand-up comedy public workshops, which are always full, so the brief has extended.
How do women use humour?
I think women use it in a different and more subtle way than men. Humour is a way of unlocking a door. It is a way of relaxing the brain and when used properly, it is extremely powerful.
What are you the most proud of?
What makes me feel great is when girls are signed to do the big shows, when they really start earning money from their craft.
Funny Women actively support charities – how much money have you raised so far?
Over the 10 years, we are now into cumulative sums of about quarter of a million pounds, but we do it in small lumps. For instance, over the last few years, we helped Rise, which is a small domestic violence agency, raising for them £2,000-3,000 in total. It may not sound a lot, but for them it is very meaningful. The other extreme of that is our big Charity Challenge event, where we challenge ten amazing women from the world of business to do stand-up for the first time.
We have raised over £25,000 in cumulative funds this year, which were shared amongst the charities the women chose.
I get a huge amount of fulfillment helping charities and I think it’s not just about the fundraising, sometimes it’s about the awareness-raising.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I suffer very badly, on occasion, from depression and that’s my biggest personal battle. If you are lucky, you have people around you who recognize when you are struggling and will help you out of the hole you are in. That happened to me at the end of 2008, which was a very dark and difficult time. I lost all my sponsorship funding for Funny Women and I really did, at that point, question whether if I could get the business going again. Fortunately women in my business community, ladies like Val Corbett (Lady Val), Vanessa Vallely and Sarah Faruggia helped me a lot. They have been fantastic and very generous with their time. My family also recognized how important the business was for me, so we sold everything to keep it going.
The challenge for me now is not letting them down, I have got to make this business work.
How is the business today?
I am proud of it, I think we are in a really good shape. We have got a lot of things happening this year, we secured new sponsors, everything’s running nicely, it looks good and I think are now right for a proper investment. The challenge is also to balance how to be creative and be a business person. I do also have a wonderful husband who is very supportive, so if you are in a good relationship with someone you can really make things work.
What advice would you give to women wanting to start their own business?
I am terribly maverick. Everything I do in my life comes from a position of passion and belief.
I have done a lot of things with no money because I just had the will and despite all the things along the way, somehow I always keep that goal inside that I am going to make this work and never loose sight of it. So I would say to women who have an idea and believe in it ‘go for it, give yourself time, have a plan, but follow your passion!’