Bethany Black is one of comedies “new breed”, making her mark on the scene after a steady succession of successes. She’s not only featured in magazines like Bizarre and Diva but has written for the Guardian as well and has shared stages with the likes of Omid Djalili, Alan Carr, Rhona Cameron, plus written for comedians as diverse as Brendon Burns and Jimmy Cricket. Yes, she’s quite a talented lady.
She has been performing stand-up since 2005, and before that says she found herself getting fired from every day job she ever had, she still holds the record for being fired from fourteen temp jobs in under a year, and her former recruitment consultants still twitch when someone mentions her name…
She lives in Manchester with her partner and is about to head down to London for this weekend’s Comedy Crawl where she’ll play on Saturday night (30th April) at Belushi’s.
1. How did you get into comedy?
I got into comedy in a strange way, I thought there were only 4 places where people did Stand-up and that was The Comedy Store, Camden Jongleurs, Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and The Edinburgh Fringe. I also thought that the process went: phone up one of those places and ask for a gig. Get a gig there that weekend. A week later be putting together your own TV show for Channel 4. and because that was how I thought it all worked and the comedians I saw on TV were all in their 30s and were all really funny all the time I thought that’s what you had to be. My opportunity to give stand-up a go came when a friend offered me the chance to MC between the acts at a rock club in Preston called “Club Fuzzy” which I did for a few months and then discovered that there was stand-up being performed all over the country in little dingy rooms above pubs. So my first proper gig was at Manchester’s XS Malarkey which is the nicest gig in England on that week with a massive audience who were all comedy literate and up for a good time it was brilliant, and then every gig I did for a year afterwards in a dingy room in front of 5 people 4 of whom were acts was a massive dissapointment.
2. Comedy influences ?
My influences have been people like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, Denis Leary, Peter Cook, Russell Brand, Jimmy Cricket, and every single person who was part of the Alternative comedy boom of the early 1980′s. I’ve always been a comedy geek, since I was little I loved every single bit of comedy I could get my hands on. Some of my earliest memories are of hiding behind the lounge door after my bed time watching The Young Ones, or Blackadder or Saturday Live and I would memorise whole scripts. I started off telling jokes in the playground by telling jokes I’d seen Jimmy Cricket do on TV, and then when I was in my early teens it was about the time that Bill Hicks was doing UK shows and getting on Channel 4 and I loved watching his stuff, Dennis Leary too, but then when I started doing stand-up it was comics who really shared something of themselves that I loved, I love Richard Pryor he’s probably my biggest influence. Russell Brand I also rate as one of the best stand-up comedians working today, once you get past the image and really look at the material he’s doing exactly what I think the best comedy is, taking that thing about yourself that you do and you know is stupid and that you’d normally never tell another human being about, and sharing it with a room full of strangers.
3. There’s a big scene in London but what about elsewhere in the UK?
I think if you’re in London it can seem like there’s nothing to leave London for, but if you’re from outside London as I am and you live outside London and work all over the UK you see that there’s comedy scenes everywhere these days. Manchester’s got quite a big and vibrant comedy scene, where it’s small enough that newer acts don’t get eaten up by the open mic circuit as tends to happen in London, but big enough to help sustain and nurture new talent.
4. As a female comedian, do you feel it’s harder or is that something you don’t bother with?
I think it is harder for female comedians, but I also think that female comedians don’t like to talk about it because every time we do it gives the media another excuse to open up the “are women funny?” debate which is tired, the answer is yes women are funny, and they can be as funny as men and funnier, it’s just that when an audience sees a male comic die there are enough of them for it not to appear statistically significant. If you’re a woman and you die on stage there’s more of a tendency for people to extrapolate from that one incident that no woman has ever been funny ever. The converse is also true however, and if you’re a good act right from the start then you’ll find that you stand out and are remembered and can progress very quickly. Over time I’ve had promoters tell me that they couldn’t book me as a last minute replacement because the person who pulled out wasn’t a woman, I’ve been told by a different promoter that I lived too close to the gig and that he’d want me as a last minute replacement if another lesbian comic pulled out last minute. I’ve even had one promoter say, and I quote “My line-ups have been a bit cock heavy apparently so I thought I could get you on as the token tits for the evening.” It was like being booked by Gene Hunt! There appears to still be a level of 1970′s sexism at play in the comedy industry with certain people, however to focus on those is to distort what on the whole is a very supportive and fun industry. There’s loads of promoters and acts who don’t think that gender is an issue and as scary as it looks from the outside the industry generally is very supportive of women comics.
5. What’s the worst thing that’s ever been heckled at you?
Heckling happens fairly rarely, and because of the nature of what I do my average heckler is usually a shy woman who’d never speak in front of a crowd who’s got sucked along with what I’m doing and thinks we’re having a conversation and accidentally speaks in the gap between jokes. That said, I do also go to some fairly dark places on stage so I’ve had some absolute horrors, getting called a “fat fucking lesbian!” was fairly horrible, the handful of times I’ve had audience members threaten to rape me after a gig have been horrible too, A few months back 20 cops raided the venue where I was about to go on stage and when I did finally get on stage a local drug dealer wandered in and started threatening me, and there’s nothing you can do with that, it’s his pub. I once had a Polish guy ruin a gig I was hosting where I was just about to bring on the first act by shouting out and engaging me in conversation before shouting loudly “I have cancer, I will die soon.” And that sort of thing takes the atmosphere out of a room like you wouldn’t believe. But my personal favourite bad heckle I ever got was someone who shouted out “You’re a cunt… and you’re not funny!” I think the “and” is the worst bit of that, that I’ve upset him so much that he’s got a two part heckle lined up, as if he’s thought, “this is preposterous I’m getting a whole list of grievances here, I’d better air them before she adds too many and I can’t remember them any more!” He’s thought it through, and the two things are separate of each other.
6. What other festivals are you playing this year?
This year I’m playing Download and The Brighton Fringe and a couple of Biker Rallies so far I may pop up at a few more, I’ll have to see
7. How is it playing festivals compared to “normal” gigs?
They can be a different beast entirely, sometimes they’re lovely because at festivals there’s also music and the people who’ve come to see you are chilling out and taking time out from seeing the bands so there can be a more considered response, sometimes though they can be tough and can get quite rowdy, but I’m good with rowdy.
8. Comedy seems like an ever changing, competitive game – what is it you want to get out of it?
I’m getting everything I ever wanted out of it. I get to make a good living doing the only two things I’ve ever been any good at: Showing off and telling stories. Comedy is an art, therefore there is no end product, just a constant reinvention. I didn’t get in to comedy to become an actor or a TV presenter or to get out of doing comedy, I got in to it because I love making people laugh and I love learning how to do it and I love trying to present things that people don’t normally think about, big ideas that may be scary to them, in a way that stops them from being scary. You get out what you put in, and I love what I do.
9. Aside from other comedians, what else influences your stand-up?
Outside of comedy my influences are people like Johnny Cash, Johnny Rotten, Nick Cave, Poly Styrene, Tony Benn, Michael Moore, my mum and dad, Carl Sagan, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, The Manic Street Preachers, Ai Wei Wei, My partner the wonderful Rosanne Robertson, David Lynch, John Waters, Dr Bob and Bill W, Malcolm Gladwell, Newton, Einstein, Plato, Ghandi, and Rocky Balboa. All people who either help me to see the world in a certain way that makes it less scary and easier for me to manage living in, or are people who who are just themselves almost in spite of the world. People who stand up and say “this is me and you can accept me or not but whether you do or don’t won’t change who I am or how I behave.”
10. Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Comedy Crawl this weekend?
I’m looking forward to seeing Nat Luurtsema as I think I was there at her first gig and I don’t believe I’ve seen her live since and I’ve seen bits and pieces and know that she’s awesome these days. I’m also looking forward to seeing Phil Nichol because Phil’s always brilliant live, and also Paul Foot who I love watching and love watching the audience especially those who’ve not seen him before just to see their faces as they go from incredulity to confusion to either loving him and not being able to stop laughing or just not getting it. It’s wonderful to see and Paul is just so inventive and a wonderful wonderful man.
11. For those who haven’t seen you before – what can we expect from Bethany Black?
Basically I show off for a bit and tell some stories, it’ll take you on a bit of a rollercoaster ride and you’ll find yourself laughing at some stuff you never thought you would. It’ll be a little bit dirty and a little bit silly and a little bit political (not in a Ben Elton way) and you’ll leave with a TV theme you’d forgotten about rattling round your head for a few days afterwards.
12. Who would you like to share a bill with, choose one of each – past, present and future (new up and coming talent)?