Comedy Women in Print prize unveils mythbusting shortlist

Marian Keyes, chairing this year’s judges, says finalists ‘showcase different ways that women are funny’ and challenge belief that women can’t write comic fiction

Marian Keyes has hailed the “glorious” range of the 2020 shortlist for the Comedy Women in Print prize, but admitted “it’s going to take a long time before that whole ridiculous myth that women aren’t funny is done away with”.

The prize was set up by the writer and comedian Helen Lederer in 2018, after Keyes accused the Wodehouse award for comic fiction of a “sexist imbalance”. Only four women have won the Wodehouse prize in its 20-year history.Keyes, who is chairing this year’s CWIP judges, said: “I think it’s just that male humour and female humour are talking about different things – and as men are the ones who mostly review books, they don’t always identify with what female comic novelists are writing about. And because of that they just think it’s not funny. But they’re just talking about different life experiences.”

The shortlist of novels in the running for this year’s £3,000 prize includes Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie, which follows a young black woman negotiating the ups and downs of life and work, Nina Stibbe’s Reasons to Be Cheerful, in which a young woman starts work as a dental assistant, and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein, a twist on the Frankenstein story.

“I’m really excited about the shortlist because I think this really showcases different ways that women are funny,” said Keyes, who together with judges including the comedian Lolly Adefope also shortlisted Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, Michelle Gallen’s Big Girl, Small Town, Angela Makholwa’s The Blessed Girl, and Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

“All of them made me laugh and laughing is the most wonderful thing right now,” said Keyes. “I am absolutely delighted with our list. The range is glorious – everything from lighthearted commercial fiction to literary fiction – from established names to new talent.”

The novels may be funny, but they don’t shy away from difficult topics, Keyes continued, citing how Queenie tackles race and low self-esteem, and Big Girl, Small Town confronts alcoholism. “There’s a lot of darkness in those books as well, but because they’re both funny, in very different ways, it’s possible to keep reading, to not be overwhelmed with the sorrow,” she said. “That whole idea of comic novels as slapstick is not really useful. There are all kinds of ways to be comic in a novel and a book can be very very serious – the Jeanette Winterson is a very intellectual novel exploring ideas – and the humour makes it possible to stick with the book.”

 The CWIP prize has also shortlisted titles for its unpublished comic novel award, and the humorous graphic novel prize, in what Lederer called “an unbelievably good year for witty writing by women”.

“The 2020 titles reflect a range of surprising heroines that made the judges laugh in different ways,” Lederer said. “From empowerment to dentistry and chip shops – it’s all here.”

The winners will be announced on 14 September.

The 2020 Comedy Women in Print shortlist

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Reasons to Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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