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TV Quickfire: Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders celebrate their favourite female comedians in Funny Women

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders celebrate their favourite female comedians in new TV special Funny Women. We found out more from the veteran comedy duo...

Funny Women: Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders
Danielle de Wolfe

HAVE YOU ENJOYED WORKING TOGETHER AGAIN?

French: People call it a reunion but it's not, because we've never been apart. But it's always the same – being very funny in rehearsal, then forgetting it all.

Saunders: That's always how it is! Always funnier in our heads. What is slightly weird is doing it on the White Room set. The second we got on to the set we just reverted to being children.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT 'THE WHITE ROOM'?

Saunders: Yes. Sometimes it's a lot of watching clips on an iPad, other times it's a lot of talking. The further away we get from our childhood, and the closer to someone who's on Live At The Apollo now, the less talking we have to do! It's extraordinary.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT THE PREMISE OF THE SHOW?

Saunders: It's about funny women who have influenced us who we've admired from when we were kids, but also women who are carving careers out in comedy right now, who are just a genuine delight to learn about. We also wanted to include clips that people might not have seen before, and to include things that were more personal and a bit more unusual.

WHAT'S YOUR VIEW ON BEING COMPARED TO THE LIKES OF FRY AND LAURIE OR MITCHELL AND WEBB?

Saunders: That's a nice comparison. Honestly, we're just desperate to be funny, get laughs, dress up and be silly. There is a place for just trying to be funny, whether you're a man or a woman. You can get a bit po-faced in some comedy nowadays, but I think you've just got to up the gag rate.

French: That's how Victoria Wood always gave you bang for your buck. She would always want you to get value for money, and she would absolutely feel like she'd failed if she didn't give you loads of gags!

WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF FEMALE COMEDIANS ON TV/RADIO?

French: Funny actresses like Thora Hird, Hylda Baker and Joyce Grenfell. In male comedy, a lot of women were the sidekicks, or were overlooked. There would be a woman in there, but she wasn't really given the funny lines. I loved Denise Coffey, who was in a programme called Do Not Adjust Your Set, which Spike Milligan was a part of. It was quite a boys line-up, but she was the one who made me laugh.

Saunders: We also realised that a lot of female comedy was done by men, so you had Alastair Sim playing the headmistress in St Trinian's, you had Dick Emery doing funny comedy, Les Dawson being Hylda Baker basically, and even the Monty Pythons had someone being a dolly bird, but the men took all the funny parts. I mean, come on.

HAVE YOU MANAGED TO IDENTIFY WHAT IT IS THAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?

French: It's hard to put your finger on something that makes you laugh, because it's so many different things, isn't it? Julie Walters, Victoria Wood and Hannah Gadsby are all in this show, and they are all people in my life where I think, "Yes, yes, yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Saunders: It's quite hard, especially the early ones, because there were so many funny actresses… Julie Walters could walk in a room and make you laugh without saying anything. Hannah Gadsby would say something to make you laugh. Lucille Ball would just fall over and make you laugh. There are so many different ways of doing it – but most of it is timing.

:: French and Saunders: Funny Women aired on Saturday July 17 on Gold.

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