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Peculiar – Comic Jo Burke disappeared for 3 years, found true love and a show

The last time performer/writer Jo Burke appeared in this blog was in September 2015. There is a reason for that gap of over three years.


Three years absent and three books published

JOHN: So you have three children’s books here which you wrote. There is Standing on Custard

JO: That’s the first one. It’s a book of funny verse – for up to 10 year olds – and it’s really good for small ones because it’s rhyming. Then A Squirrel’s Tail is a whole story rather than verse. A really lovely story about inclusivity and diversity about a squirrel born without his tail. And then Molly, Chip and The Chair is for slightly older children: when they’re moving on to reading adult-style books.

JOHN: Why’s it called Standing on Custard?

JO: The book has lots of useful facts. So one interesting fact is that you can actually stand on custard.

JOHN: Eh?

JO: You get two tins of Ambrosia, you put them on the floor and you stand on them. (LAUGHS) No… It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid. You have to make it with cornflour and lots of it. What a non-Newtonian fluid does is, instead of like most fluids and liquids, it becomes harder the more pressure, the more weight you put on it.

JOHN: The books are beautifully illustrated.

JO: My talented husband Philip Price.

JOHN: You gave up comedy for three years.

JO: I didn’t intend to. My last show – the last time we had a chat – was 2015 and that was my I Scream show and I’d written a book about that as well. It was about online dating. 

“Most successful show… I was quite annoyed”

That was my most successful show so far and it was me as me. Before that, I had been doing character-based comedy. I was delighted that the one with me as me was the most successful. But also quite annoyed, because I had trained for many many years to be an actress. And the show I did as me was the most successful. 

I think I just felt like I’d plateaued a bit: that I didn’t have much else to say. I had sort of fallen… not out of love with it because it was fantastic… but I felt that, if I were to come back with something else, it would have to be as good and I didn’t want to rush into the next thing. I had kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh Fringe thing. I had done about six Edinburghs in a row by that point. Six shows up to 2015 and, in two of those years, I did two shows each year, which was ridiculous.

Initially, I thought I might take a year off. But, I got back to London from Edinburgh in the September and, in the October I met the man who is now my husband. It was ironic that whole I Scream book and show had been about my disastrous love life. Then, lo and behold…!

JOHN: So you were only doing comedy to cover gaps in your acting.

JO: I had always done acting and ads and whatever and, up until that point as well, I also had a  mortgage-paying job which most performers have – a horrible office job three days a week which was not playing to any of my strengths and just to pay the bills. I had started to feel quite unhappy there and I thought: You know what? It’s time to move on. So I did. 

What I needed then was a revenue stream. So I thought: Actually, now I’ve met Phil, who is an artist… I had already written this book years and years ago for a friend’s daughter. And I said to Phil: “Do you think you’d be interested in doing the artwork for this book?” 

So that was our first project. We have released a book a year, basically; we are just finishing off a new one.

JOHN: You said you needed a revenue stream – to make money – so you started writing books… That is not a way to make money!

JO: The books are really popular in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, America. I sell them online and at a stall in Greenwich Market and I sell hundreds of them a month and we sell prints and artwork as well. I do a maximum of about three days there and it’s great because I can work it round castings – I just shot a commercial for IKEA in Italy for four days.

JOHN: And next Saturday (6th April), you are back on stage at the Museum of Comedy in London with a new show called Peculiar. Is it you as yourself or is it character comedy?

JO: It’s me again.

Jo Burke no longer screaming; just as creative

JOHN: A follow-up to I Scream?

JO: No, that’s why to have the space of three years between the two shows was good. I don’t really feel like that person I was any more. Straight after I Scream, I met Phil. I feel so far removed from that (previous) person and all of that angst and heartache and stuff. Everything changed. It was like a cathartic thing. I released the I Scream book and did that show then, all-of-a-sudden, the love of my life walked in the door.

JOHN: Is happiness good creatively, though? I heard Charles Aznavour interviewed and he was asked why he sang sad songs. He said they were more interesting because, when people are happy, there’s not a lot you can say. People are happy in the same way but, when people are sad, they are sad for all sorts of different. specific reasons.

JO: Yeah. Also happy people can be a bit annoying to be around sometimes. I spent a huge chunk of my life being single and being around happy couples and I know the annoyance of it. (LAUGHS) Nobody’s interested in you if you’re happy and I don’t really write when I’m happy. I have always written when I’m annoyed. When you are happy, it’s quite dull creatively, I think.

JOHN: So when you got happy it must have screwed-up your creativity for the last three years?

JO: No. I never stopped writing. I made notes all the time in those three years and I did the children’s books. The children’s books are a gentler… they’re still funny, but it’s a gentler humour and a different audience. But I still always had dark, evil thoughts that I would set aside for future shows.

So when I decided to do this new show, Peculiar, I started looking back through all my notes and maybe I had written the equivalent of a show a year anyway, so Peculiar is really the best of all of that.

“It’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd”

JOHN: What’s the elevator pitch for Peculiar? Is it angry?

JO: No, but it’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd from nail varnishes to medication to marriage to eBay.

JOHN: So observational comedy.

JO: Yes, but not really. It’s… Jo Burke calls out the absurdity surrounding our every day life. She shoots down the lazy marketing we are perpetually bombarded with, ridiculous products and Amazon reviews plus a fair few things in between.

JOHN: Last time we talked, you wanted to do a show about working class life.

JO: Well, that’s always a bugbear of mine. I’m always slightly peeved at the fact there are fewer and fewer working class voices. There are sketches I’ve written just for bizarre funny’s sake, but a good 90% of what I do is with a reason, a message behind it. 

JOHN: To get your message out? But you’re not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

JO: Part of the reason I’m doing Peculiar at the Brighton Fringe in May but I am not doing Edinburgh is that I priced it all out and I would love to go to Edinburgh – I absolutely love it – but, you know, I am still paying for the seven years I did before!

Why would I go to the Edinburgh Fringe? Because I love it. But that is not a good enough reason. It has not been a stepping stone for me so far and I can’t really afford to keep trying. I’m taking another tack now. I’m not really doing stand-up spots on other people’s gigs. It’s time-consuming and means travelling all around and I prefer doing my own shows. 

I did consider doing a children’s show in Edinburgh. Standing on Custard would make an amazing children’s show but… Well, it’s all very well signing books and making children laugh but it’s a whole different ball game when you can make a whole room of adults laugh.

JOHN: The lure of the applause?

JO: I was missing the feel-good. Also, because everything is so politically dark and horrible at the moment, I think if you have a skill – to make kids or adults laugh – now is definitely the time to be doing it.

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The Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club – “London’s best ‘new material’ night”?

In London, there are loads of free ‘new material’ comedy nights. This often means inexperienced comedians turn up with half-written, half-baked half-ideas and the evenings can sometimes be more endurance test than entertainment.

One exception is the (in my experience) consistently good and – amazingly – free Monday Club show, held in The Museum of Comedy on – well – on Mondays.

The Museum of Comedy is a random collection of comedy memorabilia and a well-designed performance space in a crypt under St George’s Church in Bloomsbury.

It (The Museum of Comedy not the church) is owned by the Leicester Square Theatre and this coming Monday is the 1st anniversary of The Monday Club.  

So yesterday I chatted to David Hardcastle, who (with Tony Dunn & Patch Hyde) organises The Monday Club and runs comedy competitions for the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy.


David Hardcastle and (top) Tommy Cooper

JOHN: The majority of new material nights in London are – well – not very good but you always maintain a high quality. Genuinely.

DAVID: I hope so. It’s mostly invitation only – some people get in touch, but they have to be of a certain level. Because a lot or some of the acts know each other, there’s a sort of support group AND competitive element in it: they HAVE to write something new for it, otherwise people will know they’ve been lazy. 

JOHN: What is your actual title at the Theatre and Museum?

DAVID: Artist Development. 

JOHN: And comedy competition supremo…

DAVID: Well, originally, at Leicester Square, we just ran the one competition and now it’s the Leicester Square Theatre AND the Museum of Comedy AND the Great Yorkshire Fringe – and there are four competitions within them, so I’ve sort-of invented my own job.

One of the reasons for The Monday Club is we used to have people coming in through competitions but then we had nothing else to give them; no way of supporting them by giving them stage time unless they came back and rented the space to do a preview. So it’s hopefully a way of keeping those people in the loop and involved in the venue.

JOHN: You have a New Comedian of the Year competition, but you no longer have an Old Comedian of the Year competition.

DAVID: Now it’s called the Not So New Comedian of the Year.

JOHN: And the title was changed because…?

DAVID: A lot of people refused to enter a competition that had the word ‘Old’ in it. It is for comics over 35 years old and people argued 35 is not old enough to call anyone old!

JOHN: I say just give it to Lynn Ruth Miller every year: she’s 85!

DAVID: Well, she MCs it every year now.

JOHN: You sometimes MC at The Monday Club yourself, but not always.

DAVID: I quite enjoy it when I do it, but I never particularly want to do it.

JOHN: You’re not frustrated by putting acts on but you’re not one of them?

DAVID: You perform comedy and you reach a stage where you are sort-of competent but, if you’re not aged 23, it’s very hard to get further than that.

My full-time job is comedy admin, so I don’t have the time to perform as well, really. And I’m too lazy to perform. I’ve not written a joke in four years.

JOHN: Before comedy, you were doing what…?

David’s poster for US comic Doug Stanhope

DAVID: Graphic design, which I still do. I still do the design work for here and Leicester Square Theatre.

JOHN: Graphic designers and stand-up comics surely have a different mind-set?

DAVID: I think, if it’s a creative thing, that’s… Well, weirdly, there are a lot of comics from an art and design background. They start popping up online at this time of year saying Do you want poster designs for your Edinburgh Fringe show? 

I did fine art originally, at Bradford College of Art.

JOHN: You are from Bradford.

DAVID: Yes. Then I did an MA at Camberwell in London. There is no money in doing fine art, but you can make a living doing graphics. So I started doing that by accident.

JOHN: You used to run a night called Get Happy in Farringdon.

DAVID: My girlfriend at the time and I had both done Logan Murray’s comedy course and running Get Happy was an easy way to get stage time.

JOHN: You did Logan Murray’s course because…?

DAVID: I think stand-up comedy is one of those things where you always fancy giving it a go.

JOHN: Not me.

DAVID: I had always fancied doing stand-up.

JOHN: So you started in…?

DAVID: Around 2007, I think.

JOHN: And now you are in theatre management and Artist Development… So do you get a hard-on by finding new talent? I will think of some better way of phrasing that when I transcribe this.

DAVID: I’m spunking my pants even as we speak.

JOHN: Perhaps I will leave it in, then, if that’s the phrase.

Behind The Scenes at the Museum… of Comedy

DAVID: I know what you mean, though. When I first started running my own comedy night, I actually found that there was more satisfaction in putting an entire night together that works than there was going up myself and performing. I just found there was something really nice about the fact that people would come into a pub and watch something for an hour and a half and go away happy.

JOHN: Because you had structured it well.

DAVID: Exactly. There are so many comedy nights that aren’t structured and are just a shambles and then they wonder why they don’t work.

JOHN: I think club owner Malcolm Hardee’s rule-of thumb was you end with the best act, start-off with the second best act and have a good solid act at the end of Part One. So what is your template structure?

DAVID: Don’t let people bang on too long and let the audience know what’s happening.

JOHN: The acts all get 5 minutes.

DAVID: Yeah. It’s all about keeping it in manageable chunks, I think. And proper lighting; proper sound.

JOHN: Have the nights got better over the course of the first year?

DAVID: Yes. Because we have started to get some regulars in the audience. People don’t come back every week but, if we ask at the start, usually at least half of them have been before, which means we now have an audience that knows what’s going on and are on-board with the concept. Which is nice. You start with a warm audience, so it’s better.

We want it to be relaxed for the audience AND the acts. One of the reasons we start at 7.00pm and finish by 9.00pm is it leaves time to have a chat afterwards.

Crypt-ic comedy under a Bloomsbury church

JOHN: The acts you have on are good solid acts but not ‘TV names’ or mega names. Are the Big Names too big to play The Monday Club?

DAVID: I think audiences generally are more aware of the concept of new material now. I think once you reach a certain level, you can do a whole hour of new material rather than rock up and do five minutes. The Big Names can do an hour and sell tickets to it. Michael McIntyre has been here at the Museum of Comedy doing new material. Alexei Sayle is on for a week with a new show.

JOHN: When they’re Big and more experienced, they can try out entire shows rather than five minute chunks, which is the Monday Club format.

DAVID: Yes. But Josh Widdicombe has done a Monday Club. Rachel Parris did one.

JOHN: Next Monday is going to be a special show to celebrate your 1st anniversary?

DAVID: Yes, we are going to have on exactly the same people we were going to have on before we realised it was our birthday.

JOHN: But with added free cake, I heard.

DAVID: Oh yes. We’re having cake.

JOHN: Then I’ll be here.

DAVID: We have started describing it as “London’s best new material night” purely on the grounds it is difficult to prove any different.

JOHN: I like your way of thinking.

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Agent/manager Hollie Ebdon’s Strip Light, big shout-out & Comedy Project

Angelic agent/manager Hollie Ebdon

Angelic Hollie Ebdon has a Comedy Project

So, last night was the first Strip Light show at London’s Museum of Comedy.

“It’s monthly?” I asked Hollie Ebdon of Ebdon Management.

“Yes. Tamara Cowan, who runs the Musical Comedy Awards, and I decided to set up a production arm together – Strip Light Productions. And the Strip Light show is a monthly night at the Museum of Comedy every first Thursday until August, when we go up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“It’s a stage production company?”

“Yes. Live production company. We are interested in developing acts that could tour. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market for acts that maybe aren’t quite so straight stand-uppy and for people who want to do more interesting concept nights and make them into something bigger.”

“And, separate from that,” I said, “you’re involved in The Comedy Project.”

“Yes. Starting on Monday and every Monday for a month there are Comedy Project shows at the Soho Theatre. It’s a separate thing. It’s not part of Strip Light or Ebdon Management. The Comedy Project has been going longer even than I have been working. It was started by actress/comedy writer Rosalind Adler in the late 1990s and has continuously pushed through loads of great new comedy writing.”

“So just the same thing year after year?” I asked.

The Comedy Project 2017

Not the same annual thing: it has evolved

“No. It’s sort of evolved. There was a time when judges came in to give feedback, but the acts were kind of uncomfortable with that.”

“It was a competition?” I asked.

“No. But I think it maybe felt a bit confrontational getting feedback in a room with an audience.”

“So you run it with Rosalind Adler?”

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing it together.”

“And the idea of the Comedy Project,” I asked, “is two new scripts – one by an experienced writer and another by a less experienced writer?”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Hollie told me. “It’s a balancing thing. It’s the mixture of the scripts and how they sit together. We don’t want to put anything too similar on together. We want acts that will complement each other tonally. So something surreal might sit next to something that could be a big BBC1 sitcom.”

“The object,” I asked, “is to find a TV sitcom?”

“The object,” said Hollie, “is to get the scripts seen by industry people who might take an option on one of them… to present the writers to commissioners – so they can learn who they are before they are pitched to them. And for the acts to be able to hear their scripts performed. They get so much feedback and they can really see what’s working.”

“They are all your clients?” I asked.

“No. Only three are my clients. We do a big shout-out to other agents and lots of other comedy writers.”

Hollie Ebdon acts

Ready to cross-pollinate

“Why are you,” I asked, “a presumably hard-headed agent, touting the work of other agents’ clients? – You can’t make any money out of them.”

“You gotta share the love,” Hollie explained.

“But,” I said, “if Fred Bloggs, a writer or actor from another agency gets a break from this, you get nowt.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. My writers and performers will cross-pollinate with other agencies’ writers and performers. It’s a community and a great thing to be able to do. I’m always going to support new writing, whoever it is.”

“You could always nick someone else’s clients,” I suggested.

“I think my eyes are good enough to pick out the best talent without having to take it off anybody else. I have a little bit of a spine left, despite being an agent, so I try my best.”

“It takes time,” I suggested, “to make money.”

“Nobody starts as a money-maker. You do have to put the time in. Things don’t happen overnight.”

“How did you become an agent?”

“The agency has been going just over 2 years. I used to work in TV production as a runner and was going up to co-ordinator level, but then I got the hump because I wanted to be a producer and I didn’t feel I was being pushed in that direction.”

“You go for the quirky end of the market,” I suggested.

“Not on purpose. I don’t feel like that. And I don’t like the word quirky. They’re just different; more interesting; unique voices.”

Ed Aczel

Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ed Aczel – What?

“Anyone who wins the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award is quirky.” I suggested. “You have Ed Aczel.”

“But he’s so inspiring,” said Hollie. “Everybody I ever put him in front of says: I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, but I want him. He gets cast in great films, Call The Midwife, whatever.”

“Are your parents in showbiz?” I asked.

“My dad’s a plumber.”

“He has loads of money, then,” I laughed. “There’s more money in plumbing than most showbiz.”

“He only recently retrained in his 50s,” said Hollie. “Before that, he used to work in a print finishers in Hackney where, essentially, you cut up flyers. He’s happy now. Everyone needs a plumber.”

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iScream – Jo Burke on stage and page

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Creative life can be very confusing.

This Saturday, Jo Burke is performing her Edinburgh Fringe show iScream at the Museum of Comedy in London.

And her book iScream is on sale.

“Is the show based on the book?” I asked. “Or is the book based on the show?”

“The show is not based on the book at all.” Jo told me. “It’s just got excerpts, because it’s based on my life in general. The book is just about my dating experiences. When I started writing iScream, it wasn’t called iScream – neither the book nor the show. It kind of all came about by accident.”

“Is there going to be a sequel?” I asked. “To either the book or the show?”

“I was thinking of doing another show solely based on the book, because people seem to like the book bits in the show.”

“You could call it Burke’s Lore,” I suggested, “though no-one remembers the Burke’s Law TV series.”

“Or Burke’s Peerage,” suggested Jo.

“With you peering into something?”

“Mmmm…”

“And a second book?” I asked.

“I bought 100 ISBN barcodes.”

“One down. Just 99 to go,” I said. “So a sequel to the iScream dating book?”

Jo Burke is delighted with her book

Jo Burke: 99 possible books but not a sequel

“Not unless the public demand one!” Jo laughed. “I don’t think so. It was a very personal book. I think I’ve already over-shared in that one, frankly.”

“Over-shared?” I asked.

“There’s quite a lot of personal information in there.”

“So which page is the filth on?” I asked.

“It’s not filth! It’s quite deep and thoughtful and challenging. I think it’s a 21st century Bridget Jones. But she was fiction and posh. And Jo Burke is fact and poor – which is an entirely different point of view that’s hardly ever heard nowadays – a poor working class voice. And it’s not as fluffy as Bridget Jones. It’s got some depth to it that Bridget Jones definitely doesn’t have at all.”

“I saw you being grabbed by someone in the street in Edinburgh,” I said, “wanting you to sign the book. Who was he?”

“No idea. He looked like James Corden, but wasn’t. I had just finished my show and gone for a drink with my accountant and – this is how well my accountant knows me – I offered to buy him a drink and he said: No, no. I should buy you one… You know you’re in trouble when your accountant won’t let you buy a drink.

“I was signing a lot of books after my shows and most people wanted me to put their name in it – To Whoever… but this one guy went: Oh no, don’t personalise it – It’ll be worth more on eBay. I thought he was joking and he really wasn’t.

“My room was packed every day. I don’t know where they came from. On the first Sunday, I was expecting to come out to a room of four people and it was packed, with people standing. It threw me. you don’t expect that in Edinburgh. Not me.”

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke & Nathan Cassidy before not meeting James Corden

I reminded her: “When the bloke in the street in Edinburgh wanted you to sign his copy of the book, it was by a DeLorean car that Nathan Cassidy was using to plug his Back To The Future shows. Perhaps the bloke had come back from the future to get your autograph, knowing you are going to be very, very famous in a few years time.”

Jo shrugged. “I just think the image really works.”

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

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Susan Harrison & Gemma Arrowsmith: not necessarily aiming for Radio 4 series

Mina The Horse with delusions of unicorndom

Mina The Horse with delusions of unicorn-ness

I last blogged about Susan Harrison in 2013 and first saw her perform at Pull The Other One – as Mina The Horse. Yup. a horse. Not an act I am likely to forget. She also runs Cabarera! themed comedy nights. The next one has a 1970s theme and is on 24th March.

“You must have done most decades?” I asked her last week.

“We’re revisiting some,” she told me. “We did a pre-historic one and one act came on as a prehistoric rock. He took ages to get to the stage.”

When we chatted, she was with Gemma Arrowsmith. They are previewing their separate new Edinburgh Fringe shows as part of a double bill at the trendy Proud Archivist in London this Tuesday. The two met at Free Fringe venue Le Monde in Edinburgh in 2012.

Gemma Arrowsmith (left) and Susan Harrison

Gemma (left) and Susan at The Actors Centre in London

“This year,” Gemma told me, “I’m operating my own sound in Edinburgh; my techie will just do lights. I saw Ivan Brackenbury – Tom Binns – do everything himself and I think it was seeing that which inspired me to do it myself.”

Susan chipped in: “I saw Michael Brunström do that recently. He was being Mary Quant for Cabarera! and he was operating the sound of whales noises because it was Mary Quant who went whaling, obviously.”

“Obviously,” I said. “Can we recap? Whaling? He was being Mary Quant?”

“It was for the 1960s night,” explained Gemma, then asked Susan: “Who were you that night?”

“I can’t remember,” said Susan.

“That sounds like a very realistic 1960s night,” I suggested.

“Andy Warhol,” said Gemma.

“Yes, Andy Warhol,” said Susan.

“What did you do with your hair?” I asked Susan.

“I emerged from a soup can,” said Susan.

“I still want to know what you did with your hair,” I told her.

“A wig,” she replied.

“But you have an awful lot of hair,” I said, enviously.

“Well,” explained Susan, “if you’re a character actress and you have long hair, you get used to wig caps.”

“I suppose,” I said, “once you’ve played a horse with unicorn aspirations, you can play anything… You’re both actresses, really.”

“I think we’re both obsessed with comedy,” said Susan, “and have been since we were little.”

“Recently,” said Gemma, “I had to get rid of my enormous comedy collection to the Museum of Comedy. It was getting out of hand. Absolutely ridiculous. I started collecting comedy when I was 10 and, by the time I was 12, I had 500 VHS tapes. So you can imagine what it was like by 32… VHSs, books, scripts, book tie-ins. Getting things signed as well. Going to see Ben Elton, Jack Dee, Hale and Pace. I saw Hale and Pace at the Wolverhampton Civic when I was about 13. They were amazing.”

“I think,” said Susan, “they’re much-maligned because they were on ITV, not BBC.”

“That could be true,” I said. “So what are your shows?”

Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe

Gemma exposes Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe

“Mine is Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe,” said Gemma. “I call it a rogues’ gallery of quacks, charlatans and con artists. So homeopathy comes in for a few blows.”

“That’s a bit harsh,” I said.

“No it’s not,” said Gemma.

“I’m guessing,” I said, “that you have traditional medicine people in your family…”

“No,” said Gemma, “I just have a hatred of nonsense. I was in a double-act with a guy called Steve Mould for a long time. We did a trilogy of shows in Edinburgh and Steve got me interested in science. I did a video for a charity called Sense About Science and their Ask For Evidence campaign, which means, if anyone makes a bold claim, you should ask for evidence.”

“I go down the Fortean Times route,” I said, “where you just accept anything, unless…”

“Oh God!” said Gemma. “Fortean Times!” Then she asked Susan: “Have you ever read the Fortean Times?”

“No,” Susan replied.

We live in Fortean Times

Should we disbelieve or believe unprovens?

“It’s this magazine,” Gemma explained, “of nonsense. Aliens and stuff like that.”

“It’s not a parody?” asked Susan.

“No,” said Gemma, “it’s on the level, though sometimes I think Is it? because it’s so ridiculous.”

“Their philosophy,” I explained, “is Don’t disbelieve anything, unless you can disprove it.”

“Surely,” argued Gemma, “Don’t believe anything until you can prove it should be how you look at things?”

“But,” I said. “if you don’t disbelieve anything, there’s some tremendous fun to be had. I think they mostly don’t believe most of it. They used to have annual UnConventions. Do you remember the supposed alien autopsy film? The newspapers had been talking to doctors for months to prove it was a fake.  Fortean Times flew over two movie special effects men from Hollywood who immediately explained how it had been faked.”

Susan Harrison as Jennie Benton: Wordsmith

Susan as Jennie Benton: Wordsmith

“My show,” said Susan, “is called Jennie Benton: Wordsmith and it’s about a character I’ve done on the circuit and in sketch shows for years.”

“Does the horse appear?” I asked.

“Unfortunately not,” Susan replied.

“She could appear as a pot of glue,” I suggested.

“That’s harsh,” said Gemma.

“There is a line about glue in it,” said Susan, “but it’s not about her. This show is all about two 15-year-olds who are really into spoken word and hip-hop. At the moment, the other act is Richard Soames from the Beta Males. Basically, he’s in love with her and she’s in love with her teacher and it’s all about unrequited love.”

“And the object of appearing at Edinburgh,” I asked, “is to get commissioned by BBC Radio 4?”

“I don’t think those are the aims any more,” Susan told me. “I think the thing with my stuff and podcasting and YouTube is, because you’re making it yourself, you know it’s going to get made – as opposed to sending a script off on a wing and a prayer and getting so far and then it’s Oh, the producer has left and it’s not happening any more. That just happens so many times.

Susan Harrison’s Back Row image

The Susan Harrison hipster Back Row podcast reviewer

“We do a podcast where we play two reviewers. It’s called Susan Harrison’s Back Row and it’s a bit like BBC Radio’s Front Row. So we are these two hideous reviewers who are… I’m a real hipster reviewer and Gemma’s character is more of a broadsheet reviewer.”

“Everything,” explained Gemma, “is very super-beneath us.”

Susan added: “We started reviewing proper things – books, exhibitions and things like that – but recently we’ve reviewed Christmas crackers…”

“…and,” added Gemma, “our experience of New Year and Hallowe’en costumes.”

“The thing I hate most,” said Susan, “is pretentiousness, so it’s really fun to lampoon that. It’s these characters’ nonchalance that’s annoying.”

“So no Radio 4 aims?” I asked.

“The point is to create,” said Susan. “It’s just a matter of making something, doing something. I wouldn’t see it as a realistic option to have to be on the radio, because there are so many reasons why people get on there and so much of it is a fluke. There’s no point that being your goal. Your goal should just be to make what you want to make and just keep getting out there and performing.”

Gemma does Sketches In My Flat on YouTube

Gemma creates Sketches In My Flat

“That’s certainly,” Gemma agreed, “why I started doing my YouTube channel Sketches In My Flat. I got home after doing the Edinburgh show in 2012 and decided, purely for fun, to record a few of the sketches in my living room with a budget of zero.

“One of the sketches got re-Tweeted by a few people – Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins – and overnight it was seen by 10,000 people – It was seen by ten times the number of people who had seen my Edinburgh show across the whole month.

“That was on a budget of zero and it makes you think when you know how much you spent on your Edinburgh show. So I decided I would take at least a year out just doing videos on YouTube. I started off doing some of the sketches from the show and then I started making new sketches specifically for YouTube. One of my un-written rules is I don’t spent any money whatsoever on it. Except wigs.

“I did a year of doing a lot of YouTube and then a year of doing… well, it’s put out as a podcast, but it’s like an audio series. And I’ve really enjoyed not going to Edinburgh.”

“So why are you going back this August?” I asked. “Someone once described performing at the Fringe as like standing in a cold shower, tearing-up £50 notes.”

Somewhere under the rainbow - madness in Edinburgh

Edinburgh, where there may be gold at the end of the rainbow

“Well, it’s a trade show for comedians,” said Gemma, “but I heard someone recently also describe it as a dog show for comedians.

“I like what Holly Burn said: that basically you just throw a load of shit at a wall. That’s what Edinburgh is – Everybody throwing shit at a wall and hoping that something sticks. Both of us have had a break from Edinburgh and I feel like getting all the shit and throwing it all out there and seeing what comes of it.”

“That’s a show I would like to see,” I said.

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