Why on earth is she calling her show ‘Bitch‘? Is she reclaiming the word? Is there a canine-themed focal point? Is it because she’s been called this so many times on social media she might as well use it all as free advertising? Yes. All of those, Smurthwaite tells us. The Fringe veteran returns with a new standup set as part of the PBH Free Fringe programme (which she vocally champions) and as fans have come to expect, the comic touches on politics, feminism, liberalism, and polyamory. This show isn’t a rehash of old material, though. Instead, Smurthwaite has created an invigorating hour of fresh laughs that captivate the Banshee Labyrinth audience.
The tone of the hour is set as the crowd enter to a slideshow of YouTube comments left for the star – all of them containing the word ‘bitch’, and all of them heinous. After a few minutes of reading them, though, it’s difficult not to laugh at their sheer stupidity – something we feel Smurthwaite is inviting us to do. From here, the show catapults into action as the comic expands on what we’ve been watching and dishes out funny and shocking anecdotes about her ongoing online abuse (received, essentially, for being a woman who regularly speaks about feminist issues on TV). Her ability to laugh at the venom she’s dealt is admirable and even a little sad, realising this has become a daily norm for her – not that Smurthwaite seems to want us to feel sorry for her in any way.
The set then transitions from memories of the first time she remembers being called a bitch – as a child – to thoughts on the use of the word in rap music, to a disappointing axing of a gig at an LGBTQ pub who refused to host her for bizarre reasons. All of this is littered with winning punchlines and, again, Smurthwaite is never seeking sympathy but merely highlighting infuriating aspects of the world we live in. For a while, the show digresses a little into a series of dating stories. They might feel disconnected from Bitch‘s central focus but are recounted with an excited enthusiasm that keeps the audience engaged. The set is then steered back on course as the topic of ‘likeability’ is discussed – particularly the double-standard in the way we might use this word to describe men as opposed to women.
What is most effective is Smurthwaite’s demeanour and delivery style. She is conversational, honest, and most importantly, incredibly funny. She forges what feels like a real connection with her audience, stopping amid some jokes to dissect which references are most likely to reach which audience members (and does this without sacrificing pace). She also throws in some physical comedy, undertaking a witty costume change mid-set and finishing with a knowingly ridiculous finale piece.
Bitch is an hour from an accomplished comedic performer that manages to elicit rolling laughs while also exploring important topical issues. Banshee Labyrinth’s sauna-like Cinema Room is surely too small a venue to contain the comic next year.