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Major Labia Talk Role-Playing as Pigeons, Mary Berry Raps and Comedy's Gender Imbalance

4 September 21 photos: Pamela Raith

From role-playing as the market square pigeons to performing Mary Berry-inspired raps, Major Labia are spreading laughs across Nottingham. As they get ready to perform live at Nottingham Playhouse this month, we chat to the Television Workshop alumni Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie, Phoebe Frances Brown, Gemma Caseley-Kirk and Narisha Lawson about their new show, comedy’s gender imbalance and chasing Lou Sanders down the street… 



For the uninitiated, tell us a bit about Major Labia…
Major Labia exists because we got bored of drunkenly yelling ‘women are funny’, and decided to put our money where our mouth is. We are an all-female comedy collective smashing the patriarchy one vulval pun at a time. Like Blazin’ Squad, we once rolled ten men deep, but are currently made up of director Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie and performers Phoebe Frances Brown, Gemma Caseley-Kirk and Narisha Lawson. All of us are proud Notts natives who trained at the BAFTA award-winning Television Workshop, where we honed our improvising skills, which we rely on heavily when creating Major Labia sketches. We have performed in many Notts venues including the Old Angel, Broadway and Rough Trade; we love sharing our sketches, raps and physical comedy in non-theatrical venues and platforming other creative women in the city at our gigs. We are currently Creative Associates at Nottingham Playhouse, where our latest show will be performed and live-streamed from. 

What can you tell us about the new show?
The new show features Gemma and Narisha and is directed by Siobhán (our Phoebe is making her own show, The Glad Game, which you should also check out!). We all write the sketches together and this time around you’ll meet fan favourites Mary Berry (rapping about the pastry-archy), Felatia and Miss Mattie (inappropriately honest children’s TV presenters) and Jane Torvill and Christine Dean (it’s Bolero, but not as you know it). There are also a host of new sketches featuring some ‘Girl Boss’ business women, the Female Problem Police and Henry VIII with a strap-on.

There’s been a lot of discussion about levelling the gender imbalance in comedy in recent years, with the BBC bringing in a no-male-only panel shows policy, for example. Have you seen much of a tangible change in the industry?
No. 

In her documentary Women Aren’t Funny, comedian Bonnie McFarlane spoke about the expectation on women to perform a certain type of comedy, which she said can be creatively limiting. Is this something you’ve experienced?
Honestly, no. We don’t put limitations on ourselves in terms of what we explore or how we explore it. Some of our work has an overtly feminist or political angle, but a lot of it is just pure silliness. We work with what makes us laugh; whether that’s a young, mixed-race, working-class woman from Notts playing an 85 year-old, white, middle-class woman, or straight-up clowning. We always ensure that our sketches ‘punch up’ and that we create from our own experiences, but we don’t feel under any pressure to create a certain type of comedy or to avoid talking about certain topics (e.g. periods). 

We don’t put limitations on ourselves in terms of what we explore or how we explore it

What makes you laugh?
Is it poor form, bad, distasteful or inappropriate to say: each other? 

Who are your own comedy influences?
So many! We love women who can play the clown as well as the straight ‘man’, so to speak. We adore sketch creators such as Roisin and Chiara, Lola and Jo and Lazy Susan. We’re big fans of fellow Notts women Charity Shop Sue and Sarah Keyworth. Then there’s Desiree Birch, Tiffany Haddish, Aisling Bea, London Hughes, Bridget Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin and of course the OGs -  the Smack the Pony crew, French and Saunders, Julie Walters, Victoria Wood (RIP, angel). And Stewart Lee is pretty funny (for a bloke). Honestly we could go on all day. 

We also have a track record of literally chasing comedians we admire down the street; our apologies to Lou Sanders who mentioned the incident on Richard Herring’s podcast, and our apologies also go out to the startled Nish Kumar (who to be fair shares a nickname with our Narisha). It’s good to go to great lengths to become friends with your heroes: Siobhán wore light up shoes to the opening night of Sara Pascoe’s debut play, but unfortunately Sara wasn’t in attendance, and a nasty review was published about the shoes in The Times. (Honestly! Check #DiscoBallLydia on twitter.)

With the last two years having been universally quite shit, how excited are you to be able to perform live and make people laugh?
Very! Laughter brings people together and it’s a genuine honour to be able to do that, especially right now. We feel really connected to our fair Notts, and we’re made up that our first gig back is in this city. The Panny-D (can’t quite bring ourselves to say pandemic) saw us pivot to making more filmed work online - with awesome local film-maker Georgianna Scurfield editing our silly Zooms together for our latest music video - and an audio-only sketch, where we played the market square pigeons. We’re so grateful to be back in a rehearsal room together. It also means we’re back to writing new sketches, as we were starting to become a rap group! 

Is there anything else you want to tell the LeftLion readers?
Join a union and always wipe from front to back. Oh, and stop littering ya slugs. 

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