“WOMEN aren’t funny.” In the film Funny Cow, released this week, a washed-up comic, peddling his tired stand-up routine in 1970s clubland, insists that comedy is a man’s world. But Maxine Peake’s character, a feisty working-class woman we know only as Funny Cow, has other ideas.

The film - about a female comic trying to make it on the tough social club circuit - is a funny, brutal, touching nod to the terraced streets, smoky bars and domestic battles of the North half a century ago. Shot largely in Bradford, Saltaire and Shipley, it’s a slice of social history that many Bradfordians will recall.

In an early flashback scene, a group of children race through a 1950s Saltaire backstreet. One of them, a young girl with a cheeky grin, faces the wrath of her father back home. “What’s up Dad? You seem angry,” she says, dodging under the kitchen sink as he takes his belt to her. Fast forward a decade and she’s a young wife, whose husband turns out to be yet another angry man.

It’s her sense of humour that saves her, and leads her into the male-dominated club circuit. It’s a tough gig, the social club crowd, where jaded chain-smoking comics take to the mic once the stripper has left the stage. But tough-talking Funny Cow might just win them round.

Set in Rotherham, the film is an unflinching depiction of working-class family life. But producer Kevin Proctor says it isn’t a “grim up north film”.

“It’s about a dying aspect of society - the working men’s club - but it’s also about humanity and community,” says Kevin. “Funny Cow had a tough childhood, and her parents had it tough too. They cope in different ways. There’s a conflict, but there is also love and humanity amidst all that.”

The film doesn’t hold punches in its portrayal of the comedy of the 1970s club circuit. “It was a time of post-war comedians and mother-in-law jokes,” says Kevin. “The most important thing we discussed from that era was the racism in acts at working men’s clubs. In this Brexit era, if you single someone out you’re being racist, but back then comics used “English, Irish and Scots” jokes largely as funny stories, without pointing the finger.

“On stage, Funny Cow turns hardship into comedy. People can relate to what she’s talking about. In the 1980s comedy became more politicised, and later it went rock 'n' roll and entered arenas, but long before that there were clubs on street corners where the Sunday afternoon bill would be a stand-up comic, a ventriloquist and a stripper.”

Adds Kevin: “We’re not taking the Mick out of social clubs, we’re highlighting a piece of social history. They were a big part of life, much more so than today, and we show people having a good time. Clubland has been under the radar for many years, but it’s something many people remember fondly. A mini-bus driver I met when we were filming said, ‘I can’t wait to see this film. It’ll remind me of my childhood’. This story is our love letter to the working men’s club.”

Maxine Peake gives a soul-stirring performance in the title role. “She’s told ‘the world of comedy is not open to you’ and she doesn’t accept that. She’s a contradiction, but some of the most wonderful films are about misfits,” says Kevin.

The cast also includes Paddy Considine, Stephen Graham, Alun Armstrong, Christine Bottomley and Tony Pitts, who wrote the film. There are appearances from Vic Reeves, John Bishop, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dominic Brunt and Dexys Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowland.”So many acts started off in little clubs. It’s a world Vic Reeves and John Bishop know well. Corinne’s dad played the clubs,” says Kevin.

Local landscapes unfold against a haunting soundtrack by Richard Hawley. Locations include Bradford Playhouse, the Midland Hotel, a house in Saltaire’s Mary Street, Shipley town centre and a cafe in Bradford’s Oastler market.

“We didn’t need to build sets - it was all there. This film spans 1950s-80s and it’s all preserved in Bradford. That was the reason we went there,” says Kevin, who worked with Bradford’s City of Film team. “These were incredible places to film, everyone was so open, kind and happy to have us, with all the disruption that comes with a film crew. People moved their cars so we could film street scenes. Places like the Playhouse and the Oastler Market were so accommodating, and (City of Film director) David Wilson was a huge help. I’d love to film here again, with the same crew and locations.

“This is a film about the beauty in humanity. And that’s what we found in Bradford, with its strong working men’s club heritage. We’re saying, to the people who helped us make it in Bradford: This is your film.”

Bradford City of Film director David Wilson said: “It was great to work with Studio Pow and support their location requests. I’ve seen the film and Saltaire, in particular, looks stunning on screen. 
“The combination of Tony Pitts’ writing talent and the sheer brilliance of Maxine Peake, with the addition of a sultry soundtrack by Richard Hawley, makes for something really special. 
 “The film depicts the harsh realities of 1970s in the north through the eyes of a female comedian. For anyone growing up in the 1970s, you can really identify with the characters in the film, though I would hope that attitudes towards women and the content of some of the comedians material have changed for the better. 
“Funny Cow comes out at time when independent films made in Yorkshire are really making some noise and I know from speaking to Kevin that more are planned.”