The acridly funny Katherine Ryan joins us during our series of events leading up to International Women's Day. Discover more about her ahead of her show Kathbum on Sat 5 Mar...
When Katherine Ryan takes her new show on the road, you can be sure of one thing: Kathbum will include the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Well, sort of.
“This show is pretty honest; I might take some liberties, but comedians do the opposite from politicians. Politicians will tell little truths that if you see them written down in a newspaper seem to be true, but the bigger picture is an entire lie. Comedians will tell tiny lies while the big picture is hopefully more truthful. I’ll change bits of stories and names so that a story about my dad is actually about my uncle and a story about that boyfriend is actually about this boyfriend.”
A huge hit at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, Kathbum is further confirmation that London-based Canadian Ryan is on a scintillatingly rich vein of form right now. The show features ruminations on our celebrity culture obsession (a topic she also explored in her last touring show, Glam Role Model), and more personal material about the recent wedding of her younger sister back in their hometown of Sarnia. Extra jeopardy for that event was provided by the fact that Katherine’s sister married a Filipino whose family remained less than enamoured by a satirical remark made by the comedian on Mock The Week in 2013 (the real target of her joke was the cosmetics industry).
“I’m a good person, that’s the thing; I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I never want to hurt anybody. So, if you’re a fan of the kind of comedy that satirises, you can see what I’m poking fun at. There’s no way that I’d be making cheap jokes about Filipino children but they just hear the words and that can be really frustrating. I made a speech at the wedding and I did mention that incident so it got a little tense in places, but everyone was fine. What I wasn’t expecting was that people had bits in their speech at my expense, but it was all really fun and the last thing I wanted was for my sister’s wedding to be ruined.”
Across the course of a lengthy tour, Ryan is always keen to include topical material. “It’s tough to do an identical set on and off for a whole year and an audience can tell when you’re just delivering lines, so I try to mix things up. The first section will be celebrity and news stuff with some local bits and that has to evolve because news keeps happening.”
As part of Ryan’s celebrity section, she’ll be discussing such figures as Taylor Swift, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Peter Andre and the late Joan Rivers. “A lot of my celebrity material is looking at the meta narrative and at what’s happening behind the scenes. With many reality TV stars, their weight is 100% engineered. They start to get a bit fat because they’re on TV shows where they’re paid to get drunk and fight, then the managers arrange for photos to be taken of their star on the beach wearing a pink bikini and eating a McDonald’s. And then their trainer helps them lose weight so they can flog the book and DVD and fashion line. It’s happened so many times with the girls on Geordie Shore and Big Brother. That’s what entertains me: you can put on this puppet show and people don’t seem to notice.”
Ryan has a cuttingly great line in Kathbum about Joan Rivers, but once again the joke is coming from a warm place. Some commentators have even suggested that Ryan may well be the new Rivers.
“As in, am I going to die under the knife?” she jokes. “I’ve always loved Joan Rivers; I used to stay up late on a Friday for my big treat and watch Letterman or Leno and I was into Joan, Bette Midler and all these great female comedians. I don’t agree with everything that Joan did or said, but it took a real tenacity to achieve what she did as a single mum. She grafted and grafted and was adored and respected by other comedians. She did a lot of great things in the industry and was confrontational but not just for the sake of it. If I could have all those things, that would be great.”
Rivers spent a substantial amount of her later career stalking the catwalks and red carpets in order to tear apart the fashion choices of the rich and famous. Ryan, too, is highly fashion-conscious and feels that looking good on stage is akin to keeping up her side of the live experience bargain. “I love fashion and I always wear a dress at a show. Fashion is an art and I like to support British designers. I’ve learned from my two previous tours that people will invest in a night out. It’s important to them and it’s important to me, so I’ll dress up. The comedians who are recognisable to people are cartoon versions of themselves and I think the public want to see the version of me that they see on the panel shows. There’s no way that you’d see Jimmy Carr in a tracksuit or you’d think that something was seriously up.”
As well as not turning up to very much in her running gear (though she does admit to occasionally doing the school run in her slippers), Ryan will just as rarely be seen in anything that doesn’t show off her comedic talents. There are the panel shows she’s appeared on as well as having acting roles of varying size in Channel 4’s Campus, as well as the BBC’s Episodes and Badults. But Ryan hopes that things are moving away from the funny man/female eye-candy duos who have been prevalent for far too long on British light entertainment shows. Her integral role in a show such as BBC Three’s Hair is one sign that things might be changing.
“The men are generally allowed to be really funny on these things and the women are almost exclusively dolly birds just standing there, often next to a 60-year-old man who’s funny. Mel and Sue in Bake Off have changed that and I think that there should be more of a female funny voice so I was happy to be asked to do Hair. I do think you’ll see more funny females presenting stuff. I’d love to see Sarah Millican presenting Bake Off.”
While Ryan is clearly looking forward to taking Kathbum across the country, she suggests that a break from touring is on the cards. This is partly due to being a mother to six-year-old Violet and also to get more writing done as she aims to get two sitcoms off the ground:
“One I’ve written is about Hooters and another one is about golf and being a single mum [she has experience of all three to draw upon]. Also, my face is beginning to annoy people, so I’m happy to work from home for a while and do some writing. I’d love to get a comedy series off the ground but I’d need to not be on tour to do that.”
For now, though, Katherine Ryan will be putting everything she’s got into Kathbum to make it a success and she sees the live circuit as a place to have full rein on getting her ideas across.
“Comedy is a conversation and you can’t do that on panel shows. You have to get out there and go on tour and it makes you better as a comic.”