Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics, founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity which, in Kenya, gives small grants and advice to impoverished individuals, mostly women, to start self-sustaining small businesses which may help them get out of poverty. The charity’s slogan is A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.
It survives solely on donations and on money raised at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London. The shop is also the venue for the free, monthly, open-to-all meetings of the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.
Mama Biashara, in search of more funds for its charity work, is holding a special event in a fortnight (Saturday 7th April, from 2.00pm). I talked to Copstick about it at the shop.
JOHN: So Mama Biashara’s philosophy is…?
COPSTICK: Well, an awful lot of charities are about infrastructure and about ‘things’ – an office or a school or a this or a that. I have always thought you should invest in people and then people can build the things.
JOHN: And neither you nor the volunteers in London nor the volunteers in Kenya get paid any money from the charity.
COPSTICK: No. They’re volunteers. That’s why I am looking for someone to help build a shed in my back garden in London. I am going to Airbnb my flat and move into a shed in my garden, to try and keep afloat financially.
JOHN: So what’s this Saturday thing in a fortnight?
COPSTICK: You know what it is, for ’twas at the Grouchy Club that this idea was born.
JOHN: What idea would that be?
COPSTICK: To be fair, John, I only have a vague recollection, because quite a lot of Jura had been drunk – a delicious single malt whisky brought to the table by the even more delicious Martha McBrier.
Maybe 75% of the money we spend in Kenya is made here in the Mama Biashara emporium of loveliness in Shepherds Bush. However, of late, the emporium of loveliness has not been attracting as many people as it should.
COPSTICK: For the last year-and-a-half because the Morrisons supermarket opposite closed, which decimated the footfall. We are now starting to get it back because a Lidl has opened opposite.
At this month’s Grouchy Club, the lovely Samantha Pressdee brought some gorgeous Neal’s Yard stuff and she came up with the idea of a sort of pamper day in aid of Mama Biashara and Martha McBrier revealed herself to be a tarot card reader.
JOHN: As is Samantha…
COPSTICK: Indeed so. She has a done it at the Grouchy Club. And here at Mama Biashara, we have a lovely lady who comes in once or twice a week who sells and uses medicinal grade aromatherapy oil. In fact, the morning after the Grouchy Club at which this plan was hatched I came in, unsurprisingly, with a fairly highly-developed hangover.
I said to her: Headache.
She said: Try peppermint oil.
I said: I don’t like peppermint. I’m a big spearmint fan. But don’t like peppermint.
She put a tiny little drop of medicinal grade essential peppermint oil, grown in Washington State, on the back of my hand and said: Lick that.
As you lick it, you have to breathe in. And, well, it is like somebody has taken the top off your head. Suddenly everything becomes clear, your tubes are clear, your chest feels clear… Hangover… gone! Extraordinary.
So she is going to be coming along on the Saturday afternoon. And there will be people doing foot massage and whatnot. I am going to try and get some live drumming music and it may well be that we have a comedy show in the evening.
JOHN: So people will come into Mama Biashara for free and can look around the shop as normal…
COPSTICK: Yes. It’s sort of an open day. And there will be these added extras they can pay to have – the pampering and tarot reading and foot massage and so on. You can come in and have a tarot reading to see what the future holds. For example: Will your show be a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe?
JOHN: And the money raised goes to the Mama Biashara charity.
JOHN: This will be in the back bit of the Mama Biashara shop.
COPSTICK: Yes. In the bit where we hold the Grouchy Club and occasionally do comedy shows. When Ngambi McGrath lost the long-time venue for her Heavenly Comedy nights recently, she moved it here until she found a new venue and it was absolutely rammed – I was running around trying to find extra seats.
JOHN: Mama Biashara is a good place if what you are road-testing a show…
COPSTICK: Yes. It’s intimate. There’s no microphone, no proper performance lights but, if what you want to do is get your content tightened, then this is a great place for workshopping. One of the guys who was doing 10 minutes at Heavenly Comedy runs a comedy course and asked if he could do it here which would have been fine except I’m in the throes of a volunteer crisis so I don’t have the manpower or womanpower to keep the shop open on a Tuesday until 8.30pm, except the second Tuesday of every month which is the Grouchy Club.
JOHN: Any other shows coming up here?
COPSTICK: I also offered the space to Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project.
He came to see me because he has this Challenge thing going – a topic for an hour-long comedy show. And this topic was initially: Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which was going to be put on at Farr’s School of Dancing in East London. But there were objections from… I don’t know what we should call them. The Ladies of the Left? The Sisters? They objected to the… I suppose to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea.
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