Jo Caulfield: Drunk on life (from NORTHWEST magazine)
East Finchley’s Jo Caulfield was a waitress before abruptly switching career paths and joining the stand-up circuit. Asked where she waited tables, she quips: “I worked in Hell… If Hell serves barbecue sauce and fries with everything! The true answer is every restaurant I ever worked in is now closed down. Read into that what you may.”
The food industry’s loss was entertainment’s gain. She swears she’d never considered stand-up before drunkenly entering an open mike competition at The Comedy Café in Old Street years ago. With no material prepared in advance and nearly drowning in her own Dutch courage, she nevertheless won and was booked for a 10-minute slot the following week.
“I never saw comedy as a career plan,” she insists. “When I went to the Comedy Café I had no idea you could make a living out of comedy. I just wanted to know if I could make people laugh. And show off.”
Once she’d had a taste of working on stage, Jo was advised that regular compering would help her to improve as a comic. She used her waitressing tips to buy a cheap microphone and a small amplifier, then opened her own comedy club in the basement bar of The White Horse in Hampstead. Through hosting the club The Hampstead Clinic every week for five years, Jo honed her ability to banter with the audience and improvise on their comments.
It seems to have worked. Just ask the critics – The Guardian called her “one of the funniest female comics in the country”, while the Evening Standard claimed Jo is “definitely the rising star of women’s comedy”. The Observer weighed in, insisting she’s “an inspiration to would-be female comics”, and The Scotsman said she’s in possession of “a wit so sharp it could slice through steel”.
Jo is frequently in TV studios, appearing on programmes such as Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. She’s also been one of the most highly sought after warm-up artists in television, working live studio audiences into laughing fits before the cameras roll on shows like Have I Got News For You, Room 101, Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression, Bremner, Bird and Fortune and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
She worked on all five series of the BAFTA-award-winning show So Graham Norton as studio warm-up, consultant and writer (“We share a common interest in boys, alcohol and spreading vicious rumours,” she says of her relationship with the camp Irishman), and she’s also written material for Joan Rivers, Anne Robinson, Denise Van Outen, Ruby Wax and Ant and Dec. This summer she’s returning to the Edinburgh Festival, where her acerbic, wit-filled shows are legendary sell-outs that cover the huge range of subjects that vex her. “Apart from the banking crisis and thieving politicians, I’ll be tackling my favourite subjects: dating, relationships, my drunken friends, their ugly children and my husband.”
Her husband, whom she met at a club in North London, frequently appears as the butt of jokes. “He makes me laugh more than anyone else,” she explains, “although not always intentionally. Sometimes I think being married is like being a scientist; the house is my laboratory, and I’m studying him. I’ll be watching him thinking, ‘What the f**k is he going to do next?’… Yesterday he sellotaped the TV remote to the Radio Times. Good idea, but that’s not normal, is it?”
This is a typical exchange with Jo: quick, sharp and sweetly painful. “I don’t deliberately set out to criticise. I won’t do anything mean,” she says. What she will do is highlight the absurdity and frustrations of everyday situations, and her observations are instantly resonant with audiences. She describes her “small but perfectly formed” fan base as “people who want to laugh and drink and celebrate the disappointments of modern life”.
When she first set down her order pad and grabbed the microphone, it was Budvar that fuelled her efforts, so I assume it’s still her lucky drink today. Not so, she says. “I like a nice cold glass of vodka and Red Bull. But without the Red Bull.” Why am I not surprised? It’s a drink as feisty, clear and refreshing as the comedienne herself.
Jo Caulfield's new Radio 4 comedy series Jo Caulfield Won’t Shut Up airs from November 10th at 6.30pm