Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.
Ria was born in England.
Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.
At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.
Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.
And now she’s a comedian.
She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.
Now read on…
JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…
RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.
JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.
RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.
It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.
JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.
RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250…
JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.
RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.
If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!
JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?
RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities.
I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it.
JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?
RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is.
I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…
JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?
RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!
It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.
JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?
RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.
JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?
RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.
JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…
JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…
RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate,
The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.
JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…
RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.
JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…
RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.
The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.
JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?
RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.
JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!
RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!