How did you get started in comedy?
It was completely accidental. I was drifting from job to job, no life plan at all, and a friend did a spot at the Comedy Store. I went to see him and it was quite bad – people ignored him and he wasn’t funny – but I couldn’t get over the fact that he actually got on stage. I thought, “I can do that”. I was hooked from the first laugh. You have to be really bad for a few years, but that’s the only way to learn – to basically ruin people’s evenings for five or ten minutes while you practice at being a comedian.
Does the audience help you edit your work?
Completely. There are things that you think are funny but it’s not until you say a joke in front of people that you know. In my current show, I’m doing a lap dance – I say it’s for comedic effect, but I’m actually trying my best – and everyone just ends up laughing. I rehearsed that at home with a mic stand to see how I was going to do it and what I would say. The audience tell you who you are, at times. When I’m mean to people the audience seem to like it, so I do it more because I can get away with it.
How did you begin working with Graham Norton?
Travelling from London to a gig in Chester. We’d not met before and he just turned up and said, “Do you mind giving me a lift?” When he got a TV show, they needed a warm-up artist and they were all men. Graham asked if there were any females, so the producer got me in. I did the warm-up for the first series, but they had trouble finding the right kind of writers to do the jokes at the top. They were straight, male writers writing very John Inman-ey, old-fashioned gay jokes, so the producers said, “Why don’t we give Jo a try? She knows the show and your voice”. I worked there for eight or nine years after that.
You’ve done stand-up, written comedy and appeared on panel shows. Which do you prefer?
TV is different because you have to prepare and there’s certain things you can’t say. It’s a challenge – you have to hone the piece. The last time I did The John Bishop Show I thought, “How can I do these jokes and not come across as a toned-down version of myself?” Live stand-up is always best, because that’s when you can engage with people. You can say anything you want and change what you’re doing. It’s free-form and that’s the best feeling. I also do football shows – I’m very much into managers and their personalities. It’s like a huge soap opera.
What have been the best and worst gigs throughout your career?
Some are fun because they’re enormous and it feels incredible. But when I’m on tour in a small remote town where everyone knows everyone, and they’ve come to the show because you’re the only thing in town for a long time, you can spend thirty minutes talking about the town and the people in the audience. That’s huge fun. I worked in New York with Graham, and Chris Rock was a guest on the show. He’d been down to the Comedy Store in London when I’d been on, so when I walked past him on the stairs in New York he said, “Oh hey, I thought you were really funny.”
My worst... There was a woman running a gig with business people sitting at tables. She said, “We don’t have lights, we’ve got a radio mic, we don’t have a stage, but could you go round the tables? The magicians did that last week and it worked.” I won’t go round each table and tell them a joke. That’s more like an escort.
What’s it like performing in other countries?
There was a Comedy Store opening in Dubai, and stand-up was very new to them. It was a wonderful feeling, as they were hanging on every word. They thought it was hilarious when you made fun of people and picked up on the pomposity because they are usually deferential and careful. In Scandinavia, everyone on the bill was Swedish, and you can’t gauge the audience because you don’t know what’s being said. Although, the Swedish sense of humour seems very similar to the British – very dark. And more cynical than English people, if that’s possible.
What kind of jokes are you tired of seeing in comedy?
I don’t like when people try to fill the room with their shouty energy rather than having funny things to say. And I don’t like when they put the audience down in a bullying way. I like to find out about people and explore them, it should be a two-way interaction between you and them.
How tired are you about being asked about being a woman in comedy?
Incredibly tired, because I’ve been asked about it ever since I’ve started doing it. The BBC saying “We’re going to push a woman on every show” doesn’t help because they put a woman on, not a comedian – there’s a difference. And the fact that they made it one... why couldn’t you have two?
|People that never ask about the other person they’re talking to. And people who are really hard work – bring something to the table, have some funny stories ready when you go out for the night. Don’t be one of those people.|
|People who wait to see who is going to buy a round. I go the opposite way and pay for everything. If we’re gonna all sit there staring at the bill I’ll just bloody pay for it.|
People who mumble: sometimes you have to give up having a conversation with them because you just can’t understand what they’re saying.
People who aren’t prepared when they go through airport security. They’ll get there and be like, “Oh, do I have to take my belt off?” There should be two queues: one for people who know what they’re doing, and one for the amateur travellers.
People deliberately being unhelpful, like when you ask someone a question and they won’t look at you, even though it’s their job to answer. Then again, when I worked in retail I was rude, so I understand it.
|People thinking that it’s acceptable to be late. I’m always early because I factor in that something will go wrong. I don’t think there’s an excuse for being late – you just didn’t leave early enough.|
Jo Caulfield, Lakeside Arts Centre, Saturday 22 October, 7.30pm, £11 - £15