“Man up, sit down Chin up, pipe down Socks up, don’t cry Drink up, just lie Grow some balls he said, Grow some balls..”
Powerful lyrics by IDLES on the topic of toxic masculinity. They make me think about the impact that language like this has and it’s why I’m supporting Emma-Jane Taylor by compering her event on male mental health in aid of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.
I love the WI. Having performed for dozens of groups and with bookings stretching out to 2021 (know this if you know nothing else, they are organised) it has been my absolute pleasure to meet hundreds of women who are hell-bent on supporting not only their fellow members, but fellow human beings too.
Since its inception in the UK 105 years ago, its members have campaigned against FGM, for equal pay – back in 1943 – and resolutions under consideration this year include whether to place pressure on the government to legislate for female crash test dummies (women are significantly more likely to die in a car accident) and how to protect our non-renewable helium resources which are at risk thanks to our reliance on it in the medical industry (see – it’s not just used by ravers).
It’s all about singing Jerusalem isn’t it?
No. I’ve only ‘known’ the WI for a few years but in that time I’ve performed for a wide range of groups and while some do sing Jerusalem, there are probably more that don’t. And whether they do or not, they will all join in with a song about your dog humping your leg if you ask them to.
I’ve performed for groups that meet in the day and those that meet in the evening. There are those who drink wine and those who prefer tea and cake. But, until last night, I hadn’t met a group who class themselves as ‘New Wave’. I knew they existed, because I’ve been on Twitter and found groups in London and Manchester like ‘Shoreditch Sisters’ and the ‘Social Lites’ but until, this year, I hadn’t been invited to speak at one. So I thought I’d go and find some by hopping on the WI website and searching for interesting group names that were near to me. Which led to a booking from Thame Belles who most definitely fit the New Wave bill.
What makes them New Wave – and what’s it got to do with being relevant?
1. They ‘get’ social as a means to attract and engage members.
Thame Belles are on Insta. And they’ve got more followers than I have. I need to tap up their social media person 🙂
2. They know good design is important to make you stand out
Getting people off their sofas and out into the real world – especially when you want to attract a demographic that is typically juggling career + family life + wanting a social life – takes skill and persuasion. They’ve created some very cool flyers that are on-brand with their banner and list out the year’s speakers. For once in my life I got top billing 😀
3. They know the power of a free sample
The reverse of the flyer had the offer of a free meeting – nice work!
4. They don’t compromise on the core WI values
Being New Wave doesn’t mean having to rip up the rule book. At the heart of the WI is fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. Its campaigns and mandates focus on serious stuff: climate change, mental health, ending violence against women. To call them “Jam & Jerusalem” does them a disservice that undermines their value as a campaigning organisation that is practical, ambitious and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.
In meeting Thame Belles I not only got a warm reception, an excellent night out and the opportunity to perform a poem about intimate grooming under the watchful gaze of a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, I also got to witness how an organisation that has been very much part of the British landscape for more than 100 years will continue to be relevant long into the future.
The set I performed for Thame Belles was ‘I Need a Wife’ – an hour of comedy and poetry that takes in some of life’s really big issues like how ashamed I am of my glass recycling bin and why I have totally had it with thongs. If you’d like to book me for your group or organisation – get in touch at email@example.com
“Love the ultra-local stand up – that takes a double serving of courage!”
That quote was my coach’s response after hearing that I’d performed stand up at a beer festival in a local village. And that the material featured said village (as well as my own – I like to be even handed with these things). It was a risk, but one I was willing to take because, well, sometimes we need to take a look at our reflection and have some fun with it.
I also covered cervical screening, grief, childbirth, intimate waxing, drugs, social mobility and the sense that ‘making it’ can leave you feeling like you don’t belong. Sometimes the weightiest topics benefit from the lightest of touch. And sometimes what is terrifying to one person will leave another feeling like they’ve had the chance to truly be themselves.
Performing stand up offers the opportunity to tell my story, connect with others and represent what many people are afraid to share or reveal. We build lives and personas, (rightly) modify our behaviour as we raise our children and for some of us (certainly me) we can find ourselves wondering where that part of us that leapt around in a moshpit went to. We become afraid to say what we think in the workplace, at home, in front of new friends. It helps when a comedian tells it like it really is.
Courage? Yes, I think so. But on the part of the venue – they knew what I was going to talk about – I’d like to thank them for having the courage to book me 🙂
As a writer, I bring humour and humility to what business leaders want to say.