A FUNNY thing happened to Lynn Chambers and Sally Nettleton, not on the way to the forum, but at a medieval banquet at Redworth Hall, near Darlington.

"We were the entertainment as well as serving food and controlling the audience, stopping them having food fights," recalls Nettleton. Nothing funny in that, you might think, and you'd be right. But the occasion was responsible for the two Northerners - one from County Durham, the other from Wensleydale - meeting and becoming friends.

The comic consequences came later, after they shared a house in Darlington and eventually became a comedy double act, described as both a female Morecambe and Wise, and French and Saunders on drugs.

Being a double act on the comedy circuit is rare enough. Being a female one is as rare as a bellylaugh in a Shakespearean tragedy.

Now the pair are heading over the border to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With an agent, a PR consultant and sponsorship from Ribena behind them, they're hoping this three-week stint could be the start of something big. The fringe has provided a springboard to fame for the likes of Frank Skinner, Jenny Eclair, Lee Evans and the League of Gentlemen. But the A1 North is also littered with the corpses of comedians who went, were seen but didn't conquer one of the most famous festivals in the world.

Chambers and Nettleton are better poised than most to succeed. Neither are exactly newcomers to the entertainment world. Nettleton worked as an actress following drama school, while Chambers sang on cruise ships after giving up her job at the Flymo factory in Newton Aycliffe.

Five years ago, they began house-sharing in Darlington before deciding to move to London, as Nettleton puts it, "in search of fame and fortune - her to do singing and I'd started to get into comedy". Then fate intervened in the form of a friend of a friend who "sat us down and gave us a good talking to, telling us we were a natural double act".

They approached the idea with caution, worried that working together would spoil their relationship. "We had a good long think about it because our friendship came first. We had similar interests but to start working together as well was a whole new ball game. But, to be honest, we've never looked back. Having played the circuit on my own, I know it's so much nicer doing it with someone else," says Nettleton.

Since doubling up, they've won their way through to the final of the 1999 Hackney Empire New Act Awards, become regulars on the London comedy circuit and recently opened their own comedy club in the capital.

They're aware that funny female double acts are the exception rather than the rule. "People say we have a warmth about us that's a bit Morecambe and Wise. It's extremely flattering to be compared to anyone who was a household name but hopefully people will realise we have a style of our own," she says.

Fears that working together could affect their friendship appear to have been groundless. "You have to be pretty brutal with each other, be honest and brave," says Nettleton. "Ultimately you respect the other person, their openness and the way they work. We still share a flat. Hopefully, when we're financially able, we'll have our own places."

As thirtysomethings, Chambers and Nettleton believe their age is working to their advantage. Nettleton says: "There are some real shining lights who are younger, but I think you really have to get to know yourself and what you think of everything - I know this sounds a bit deep - before you know what's funny."

That's something taken up by Seymour Mace, 32, from Jarrow, who's competing in Channel 4's So You Think You're Funny? competition at Edinburgh this weekend.

He spent ten years as a street theatre performer before switching to stand-up comedy and winning the Newcastle Comedy Festival competition. "It's something I would have liked to have done sooner but what you gain coming into it later, I suppose, is you have a wider variety of things to talk about."

He switched to stand-up after a decade performing with the Natural Theatre Company playing "bizarre characters in ordinary situations or ordinary characters in bizarre situations". Interacting with the crowds gave him valuable experience for doing stand-up when he has no character to hide behind. "I'm more presenting myself and talking about what I find funny which, in a way, is more nerve-racking. If it doesn't go down well, it's more personal," he says.

"I just talk about what I find funny. You have to look at things in your own way. When I first did stand-up I was surprised people found the same things as funny as I do."

He's been gigging around the country as well as at the Hyena in Newcastle, following advice to get himself seen as much as he could in "open mic spots" which guarantee an audience if not a fee.

Another hopeful, Matthew Reed, from Fencehouses, views taking part in So You Think You're Funny as valuable experience for someone who only started doing stand-up seven months ago. "Comedy is 100 per cent what I'm aiming for. I want to get my stuff seen by whoever can do something about it," he says. "I just want to make a name for myself so I can be taken seriously, both me and my writing."

Reed, 21, writes with two friends, Michael Curran and Faron Smith. Doing stand-up was a way of getting material aired in public. The first gig at a Fencehouses pub went well enough to encourage him to do more.

"The crowd was older than I expected and when I saw them I thought, 'oh god, what have I got myself into?'. There was a professional on too, but I was getting people coming up to me saying they enjoyed me more than him. It was inspirational."

His act is based on his experiences working in B and S Superstore in Fencehouses. "It's all about the customers, like their nasty side. I feel a bit guilty because they are coming in wishing me good luck. But I don't mean it," he says. "The people I'm working for are really supportive. Three people are off in the shop when I'm in Edinburgh but they've given me three days off. Then I have to come back and work for the rest of the week."