Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stuff About Being A Comedian

I did this interview last month for a local Harrowgate paper. I was doing a gig there, the radio show was starting and I was trying to sell my CD. (Still am)
Anyway, there's a couple of jokes in the interview and a couple of thoughts on being a stand-up comedian. (BTW the bit about being "well-known" - I think they were confussing me with someone else!)

I saw you at Rawhide Comedy Club in Liverpool a few weeks ago and you were great. Do you find stand-up less nerve-wracking now you're well-known, or is there more pressure on you now than when you were starting out?

The biggest difference nowadays is I'm sober.

My first gig was a New Act competition. Before the show I was so nervous I had a beer, then another one. Then another one. I ended up so drunk I don't even remember being on stage. But I won the competition. That makes me sound like a natural but I wasn't. I was just slightly less dreadful than the other new acts on the bill that night.

If I was to stop and think about it I would probably be nervous but my over-riding emotion when performing comedy is "excitement". I want to do this! I'm excited to tell the audience what's happening and what's on my mind.

…where I live, at one end of the street there's a Tesco supermarket and at the other end of the street there's a Sainsbury's supermarket. And because I use both of them I've ended up getting a Loyalty Card for both of them.
So, I was in Sainsbury's last week, the woman at the till asked for my loyalty card, and I give her my Tesco loyalty card by mistake.
Not a word of a lie, she looked at the Tesco card – she then looked at her own badge as if to go, "What a minute – maybe I do work in Tescos!"

When something like that happens I can't wait to tell an audience.

Sue Perkins once said she found it depressing that there weren't many other female comics on the stand-up circuit. Do you think that's the case? Is it still a daunting environment for women?

Attitudes are changing everywhere. Once upon a time there were very few female journalists, or female judges or female bus drivers.

For me the big change has been in the male comedians. Men have, until very recently, been unwilling to show their weakness and be the butt of their own joke. They hid behind jokes attacking other people, "Two Irishmen walking into a bar…" or "A Scotsman is granted three wishes by a genie…"

Whereas women have always been honest and funny about themselves. They're happy to tell stories about bad dating experiences or a disastrous night out.

So the truth is: Male comedy has finally caught up with female comedy.

The job itself, the actual physical side of it, can be very tiring. You spend a lot of time travelling alone (not every woman wants to be driving up and down the M1 at two in the morning), standing in smoky rooms and having to wash the smoke out of your hair EVERY night, turning up in strange towns and having no idea where to get a healthy meal, not having weekends out with friends, the down side goes on and on.

What about funny women on TV? Are there enough of them? And do you think that, while panel shows often have male stand-ups as guests, the female guests are often TV presenters or 'personalities' rather than comics and writers?

I have no idea why so many TV producers seem to be scared of women and/or threatened by a woman being funnier than them. Television really is the last 'Boy's Club'. The attitude smacks of: get the funny boys first, and then a pretty girl for a bit of fluffy colour.

I'm getting fed up with switching on TV and seeing the ridiculous combination of pretty young female presenter next to out-of-shape knackered old man. Who's running the BBC? Hugh Hefner?

We've had Fearne Cotton and Terry Wogan, Melanie Sykes and Des O'Connor, Eammon Holmes and that thin Scottish girl with the slight speech impediment. Every time I see Tess Daly and Bruce Forsyth, I think, "She doesn't look like his co-presenter, she looks like his nurse."

Practically every woman in the media is being sold in a sexual way. Even newsreaders. Have you seen that Natasha Kaplinski? How much makeup is she wearing? I'm surprised she can lift her head off the desk.

Thank God for Catherine Tate.

On your website your material ranges from A Flock of Seagulls to the congestion charge (and I totally agree about Coldplay). What inspires you in your writing? Is it important for the audience to identify with the content of your act?

I don't know any comedians who write with the audience in mind. We're not bright enough to be that contrived.

I write to make myself laugh first.

Everything I write comes from my own life and my own experiences.

So I like talking about my Irish parents and my Scottish husband. And if something, or someone, has pissed me off during the day I'll try and get that off my chest. One reviewer called me a "celebration of anger". I think that sums me up.

For example I'm fed up plugging in and charging up electrical appliances. There's my electric toothbrush, my mobile phone, my husbands shaver, the house telephone, my ipod, dustbuster… By the time I turn off the light at night, my bedroom looks like the main runway approach at Heathrow airport.

And Kiera Knightly. I'm obsessed with her. Did you know Kiera Knightly got $6 million for Pirates of the Caribbean? Then again I suppose they saved a few quid on the catering. And costumes – if she needs a figure-hugging dress they just have to cut the end of a sock.

And why do they serve popcorn in the cinema? Surely there must be other more suitable foods? I know when I came out of 'Finding Nemo' I could have murdered some sushi. And after 'Brokeback Mountain' my husband said he really fancied some sausages and a donut.

Do you panic at the thought of a blank page or does your writing flow quite freely?

Like every comedian/comedy writer/writer – I hate writing and will do everything I can to put it off. (I've avoided these questions for the best part of a week.)

What I prefer to do is speak/ramble/rant into a Dictaphone and then type up the bits that make me laugh. Then I start working them into jokes (Put the punchline at the end, is the set-up clear? can I lose any words? Can I find a stronger word in the thesaurus? Etc)

Even then, a joke can take months to write and re-write. I'm still trying to work out which version of this joke is the funniest:

1) I'm going to a Fancy Dress party with my friend Alison.
We're going as Paris Hilton and Abi Titmuss.
She's getting a lobotomy and I'm getting my vagina widened.

2) I'm going to a Fancy Dress party with my friend Alison.
We're going as Paris Hilton and Abi Titmuss.
I'm getting a lobotomy and she's getting her vagina widened.

Is it funnier when Alison is getting her vagina widened? Or as the comedian should it be me? Or will that weaken me to the audience?

Do you take on a persona on stage?

Its not really a 'persona' – it's more taking a real part of you and heightened it. I make friends laugh when I'm talking about the things that annoy me so that's the 'me' that I take on stage.

That's the hardest bit for a comedian when they start out – finding the 'real' part of you that is funny. The theory is: it takes 5 or 6 years to become a comedian. And those years are all spent finding out who you are on stage.

Is it true that you got into comedy stepping up to the mic for a drunken bet at a London comedy club?

100% true. See first question.

You got your break writing for Graham Norton. How did that come about and how much pressure was there to come up with topical material in such a quick turnaround?

We started out on the circuit around the same time and ended up getting booked for a lot of the same gigs. We just hit it off during the long car journeys and when he got his first series he asked me to work on the show. I've been there ever since. Which just goes to prove all my old teachers wrong – "Being a fag hag IS a good career choice!"

There's never been any pressure because I'm writing for a very funny person. And covering subjects or celebrities I'm genuinely interested/fascinated with.

And I've always liked writing topical jokes…

Monday is National Secretaries Day. Secretaries and receptionists up and down the land will be celebrating by filing their nails, flicking through OK magazine and bitching about that 'tarty looking one' in accounts.

Fans of Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars were grieving last night after the official announcement that nobody cares what they're talking about.

Do you think that, with the rise of small regional comedy clubs - sometimes in semi-rural venues such as village halls - it's now easier for new comics to get started? Do these clubs also make live comedy more accessible to regional audiences?


Why did you want to get into comedy and who were/are your influences/favourite comics?

I went to see a friend do a 5-minute spot at the Comedy Store and even though he died on his arse I was hooked. I wanted to be the one standing onstage and having everyone laugh. Some people might think that's a very selfish attitude but for me it's the complete opposite: I want people to have a good time, and if that's at my expense - so be it.

Dave Allen, Billy Connolly and Joan Rivers are the Holy Trinity.

My parents are Irish so watching The Dave Allen Show was a family ritual. Billy Connolly has influenced every British comic, whether they realise it or not. He's the ultimate storyteller. And Joan Rivers is a living master-class in celebrity bitchiness.

It wouldn't be fair to talk about who I like out of the current crop of comedians because they're all friends of mine and they don't have new radio shows to promote and they don't have CD's to sell and they're not playing the Harrogate Theatre so they can get stuffed and get their publicity somewhere else.

You've written for acts like Anne Robinson and Ant and Dec. When you're writing for other performers, do they have any input into the material? Is it harder to write for someone else?

The one thing I've learnt is: you can write what you think is the best, funniest joke in the world, but if the person you've written it for doesn't like it, there's no way you can persuade them to say it on camera.

I wrote this joke – "I was playing strip poker last night. I won two pairs of trousers and a top hat" – for someone (no names) and they turned it down.
I was so sure it was funny I put it into my own set – and it bombed!
"No names" was right.

The third series of your radio show, It's That Jo Caulfield Again, starts this week. Why does radio remain such a popular medium for comedy, and a breeding ground for new talent?

The jokes have to FUNNY because there's nothing to hid behind. Simple as that.

On TV you can get extra laughs with a facial expression or body language. Or you can 'tart up' a bad joke with props and elaborate stage sets.

Or a funny wig. There's nothing saves a bad joke like a funny wig.

A new survey in the Radio Times reveals that 9 out of every 10 female viewers fall asleep in front of the television set.
Interestingly enough they all claim the last thing they remember hearing was "Hello, my name is Jeremy Clarkson, welcome to Top Gear…."

Do you have any plans to do any more acting, either comic or straight? Why do comics generally make such successful actors - is it to do with timing & maybe an ear for accents?

I've done bits and pieces. Some bits in sitcoms. Small scenes in a film. I was even in the Channel 5 soap Family Affairs for a while. I've no idea who I was meant to be. I think I was someone's sister. Someone even recognised me in the street and asked for my autograph. For a couple of minutes I didn't have a clue what they were talking about.

How do you spend your time when you're not writing or performing?

Eating – going out for dinner with my husband. He makes me laugh.
Drinking – go to a weekly pub quiz with my friends. They make me laugh.
Scotland – I love driving around the countryside.
Reading - I usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at the same time.
Watching - I'm addicted to The Wire – best TV series in years.
And I've recently re-discovered my love for music – I got an iPod last year and I've filled it up with Jimi Hendrix and Blondie and Scissor Sisters and Green Day and Lou Reed and rap.

If you like comedy go see JO CAULFIELD. Or listen to her radio show! Or buy her CD!
It's That Jo Caulfield Again (11.30pm, Radio 4)
Harrogate Theatre (8pm) Monday
Jo Caulfield CD (available from