Actress, writer and comedian Helen Lederer is best known for her role as Catriona in BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. However, following the release of her comedy novel Losing It, she realised there was a gap in the market for a female-only comedy writing awards. Quickly writing a wrong, Helen launched Comedy Women in Print Prize (CWIP) in 2019.
Ahead of the fourth final on April 17 at the Groucho Club, we chat to Helen to find out more about what inspired her to create the awards, and if she has any advice for women who want to break into comedy…
What sparked the idea to launch the Comedy Women in Print Prize?
After I finished my comedy novel Losing It I looked around, rather hopefully, for a prize to win and realised there weren’t any prizes for witty women writers! This was what they called a gap in the market at the time – so I made my idea a reality.
Everyone loved the idea, it was just a pity it had to be me who made it happen but my ‘authenticity’ as a writer comedian from the 80’s and 90’s helped. The only person who had any doubts about the need for this prize was one agent who worried that there might not be enough witty published novels out there to take part. “Exactly” I said “That’s why we need CWIP!” Once Marian Keyes came on board with her support, we were laughing.
You’re a complete entertainment legend, but has being a woman ever held you back in your career?
I think when I began, I just got on with it because my passion was always to write and perform comedy. There were very few women doing that kind of thing in rooms above pubs at the time. The comic strip was already formed and the TV slots were taken…I was always pleased when I got a bite of anything and just cracked on.
Is the entertainment industry a better place for women today?
There are certainly many, many more brilliant women doing original work. There is a climate of acceptability that didn’t exist when I began. We had to do what we did for the climate to be what it is today. Am I bitter? Noooooo.
What advice would you offer for women who are trying to launch a career in comedy?
To be authentic, to be bold ,to be supportive and to be different. As time goes on it is more and more important for women to be as different from each other as feels right. We don’t need to emulate others to be funny if it is to be genuine, and then slowly, slowly the social and psychological conditioning of closed shops will change. It already has.
The CWIP awards offers winners an array of prizes, from cash to book deals and MA course places. What do you hope the awards will bring for all women who applied?
The impetus to finish their manuscript, so even if there isn’t a win or even being placed, there is a platform to create and celebrate funny writing. At a recent ‘salon’ of debate, CWIP discussed ‘Can wit conquer the world?’ with shortlisted authors and comedians Desiree Birch and Caria Lloyd and the reception was wonderful.
I really feel the time is right for CWIP to embrace and lead the charge for WIT to be used as a tool for change as well as laughter.
Will there be another CWIP awards next year?
Yes – we are working with some exciting new elements! Like everyone else, we like to work with partners and brands to enable skilled people to execute this prize – I am not very good at admin!