Bitch Night is a new variety evening in Edinburgh aiming to promote female acts across the artistic spectrum while remaining inclusive and open to everyone. We spoke to founders and hosts Isla MacLean and Heli Kostadinova about the ethos of Bitch Night, what to expect from the show, and their dream acts.
Can you tell us a bit about Bitch Night?
Isla: Bitch Night came about from a text that Heli sent me that said she really wanted to start a female comedy night and would I want to be involved. I said that sounded really good. We sat in the Tron pub and we didn’t even have any paper and a pen, we had to borrow them from the bar staff and we sat and went through all our ideas.
Heli: We jotted down all the ideas of what we wanted our ideas to be – basically, what would our perfect night be? It was crazy, as we had our first Bitch Night exactly three months to the day after that, and it was genuinely everything that we put down; everything we didn’t expect to get.
I: The main ethos of Bitch Night is that we want to promote female talent while still creating a quality environment. As important as it is to give women the stage, we also didn’t want it be females only.
H: That would be taking a step back. We want to give the stage to the best acts, but also to provide a safe environment for female acts to perform and for them to not be scared if they fail, or to try something new.
I: And not to feel like the token act. Both Heli and I do other open spots and it does sometimes feel like they only have us on as it’s an otherwise entirely male bill and they want to make it look more equal. The joke that we have is that we turn that on its head and we have three wonderful female acts plus a token male. Because you need to give them a chance; it’s so hard to be a male performer out there in the culture we have.
We hear so many female comedians talk about the pressure as the sole woman on the bill, because they come off stage and worry people think that if they weren’t funny, people think all of women aren’t funny.
I: I’ve personally had that lots of times. I suppose there has been a massive breakthrough in the last few years of female comedians getting into the big time, but there is still that barrier of people not wanting to see a female comedian because they think their material will be female-based. We wanted to show people that female comics don’t just talk about periods and stuff like that. There are a lot of very funny, very thoughtful female comics out there, alongside a whole heap of other variety acts. The key point is that it is a variety night.
H: We wanted as much variety as possible and we genuinely want to find the best acts that are out there. We’re constantly talking to new people and we have this big database of acts, and we work at being man-bitch friendly as well. There’s never any sense of anyone feeling that they shouldn’t be on our bills because they’re a man. We just try to make it as friendly and as open to everyone as possible.
How did you come up with the name? There’s a certain belligerence to it.
I: We liked that idea, as “bitch” is seen as quite a derogatory term, but I call everyone bitch. We kind of wanted to almost reclaim it, and turn it into something powerful. I think that we are in a culture today where woman are taking back what was seen as an insult. Yes I’m a bitch! So what? I’ve got my own night!
H: It’s a lot of fun where you’re writing an email and you misspell it and end up writing “Butch Night” instead. Which is whole a different thing entirely!
I: And Google will occasionally email us saying things like, “Welcome to Google, Bitch!”
You held the first evening last month. How did that go?
I: It was incredible. Better than we could ever have expected.
H: We knew that it was an idea that people would get on board with, but it’s been crazy, and it caught us by surprise just how many people we had there. They were so welcoming, so it was easy to get on stage.
I: Right from the word go, everyone was so keen and into it. The acts had an amazing time.
H: We also had a little dancing stage at the back and we were playing disco music before the night began and during the intermission, so anybody that wanted to could get up and dance.
I: The crowd were so up for it and acts really fed off that as well. People were coming up to me afterwards and saying things like, ‘I never thought I would enjoy a spoken word act, or an improv act, but I really enjoyed it tonight’. I think for us that was the biggest compliment we could have gotten.
And what can we expect from the next one (15th February)?
H: We’ve got what I believe is another really stellar line-up. We’ve got a variety, but it’s more comedy-orientated this time. We’ve got comedians Sarah Norman and Ciarán Dold. We’ve got musical act Kalina Buradzhieva, and we’ve got Suky Goodfellow headlining, who is fantastic spoken word artist.
I: Although it’s around Valentine’s Day, we didn’t want to really theme it that way specifically. But we are going to ask people for their worst Tinder chat-up lines.
H: Or the worst romantic gestures they’ve ever had. We’ll get them anonymously and put them in a bucket at the start of the show. During the intermission we’ll go through and choose the best ones and read them out.
How do you go about planning a show like this?
I: As Heli and I are very good friends anyway, we’ll have a meeting every week or two weeks where we’ll catch up with each other. Then we’ll get down to business; go through our emails and plan our acts from there. We’ll try to have as much variety as possible. We’ll see if there’s any festivals coming up at which we can promote Bitch Night. We’ve applied to some things, so fingers crossed we’ll be offered a spot.
H: It’s always been the case that we want it to be bigger and better. We do try and keep the most important parts of the planning until we can do it face to face. That way we can co-ordinate who we’re contacting together.
I: It’s a really wonderful relationship. We don’t really have fixed roles, but Heli’s stronger at things like social media, whereas I’m a lot better at admin and things like that. Things like Instagram, Heli’s great at, but a bit scatter-brained when it comes to keeping track of things.
H: But if one of us is struggling with something the other can pick it up with no problem.
I: We just make sure that whatever we’re doing, we run it by the other person first. We’ve also got a great relationship with Colin MacGregor whose responsible for our posters and created Roberta, our dog-headed woman.
Both: We Love Roberta!
I: We’ve been very lucky in our support network and the opportunities we’ve had.
Do you think you’ve stumbled on exactly the right moment for a strongly female-driven evening?
H: I think we’re a bit late to it! I think it’s one of those things where it’s about time. There’s other groups in Edinburgh with a similar aim; I think there’s one that performs at the Monkey Barrel that’s based at Whistle Binkies that’s been going for a couple of years. But we want to very much add rather than take away.
I: We’re actually very socially-linked to another show called the Freakeasy Showcase run by our friend Ross Hepburn. He’s had some of our acts on, and we had some of his on in January. We want to create a very collaborative atmosphere; not at all exclusive. We just want an evening where people can just come along and enjoy our acts.
You don’t want to be militant.
I: That’s exactly it. We’re strongly for the equality side of it. The minute we start going, “You can’t be involved because of X,Y and Z”, that’s when you’re losing the heart of Bitch Night.
Are there any dream acts you’d love to have at Bitch Night?
H: Paul Currie! An absolutely incredible Northern Irish comedian. I very desperately want to have him on. He’s amazing! Every time he’s on stage he’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.
H: And she recently fainted in front of one of her heroes.
H: And that’s why you should never meet your heroes.
I: But if James Mackenzie wanted to come on Bitch Night we’d be glad to have him. But he’d have to come as Raven.