Andrew Pulver sizes up Jo Brand, Britain’s finest female stand-up, who now has her own Channel 4 series.
Friday night may be comedy night on TV, but recently the prirnetirne schedules have been dominated by imports - Roseanne. Home Improvement. Cheers, whatever. Now Brits are striking back and reclaiming the airwaves. Blackadder got a repeat a couple of months back. Fantasy Football League exudes a laddish wit (opposite The Word) and lack Dee‘s live sets from Bohemia sparkled brieﬂy after the news. The mid- evening slot, now Dee‘s series has ended, has been handed to Jo Brand — undoubtedly Britain’s finest female comic — for a six-week run ofa show entitled, with her customary sardonic glee. Through The Cakehale.
Brand has a reputation for a polemical style, and willingness to do ideological battle with her two favourite -isms — sexism and sizeism. After five minutes of her act, you‘ll realise it‘s a reputation that‘s entirely justiﬁed, but such is her astute sense of the ridiculous and laser-like accuracy of observation that even the most die-hard lager lout is likely to end up tittering. ‘I‘m not just winding people up for the sake ofit.‘ she muses. ‘I like to cover things that people can identify with. i don‘t make a deliberate attempt to alienate men: it’sjust that if women have to sit and listen to male comics‘ stories about fighting in the playground, then they should have the good grace to listen to us talking about parity-liners or whatever.‘
It seems weird, in these cosmopolitan times, that women comics still have a hard time gaining
Jo Brand gets into character acceptance; and Brand, for all her lugubrious drawl. faced a typically uphill struggle after packing in her job as a psychiatric nurse in 1987. ‘l didn’t start comedy until i was nearly 30. by which time i was old enough to take the knocks. l’d always wanted to have a bash at it — since i was a kid, really — and it was just a question of plucking up the courage. it was terrible the first time: i lasted about two minutes and was booed off. i was doing a lot of esoteric stuff about Freud. and i don’t think anybody knew what i was talking about. let alone found it funny.’
Since those inauspicious beginnings, Brand has found her identity as a radical comic with an accessible. down—to-eanh style, layered over with the driest of irony. She's the sort of person who takes
pride in the mundanity of her life, but who can wring
laughs out of its very ordinariness.
‘My material is about day-to-day experiences, that most people can relate to. l was, for example, a big fan of early Billy Connolly stuff, but l’ve gone off him recently — he‘s got too comfortable, and lost the hard edge he had. It's a danger for anybody who makes a lot of money: you find yourself talking about hotels, or aeroplanes, because that’s what your life is. i think everybody should worry about losing touch with that’s going on.‘
It’s important to avoid painting Brand as some kind of ultra-serious, point-scoring separatist, because the important thing about her is her obviously sensible approach to the issues she raises. in her attack on cliche and stereotype. she‘s as far as anyone could imagine from the grotesque man-hater of sexist demonology. ‘1 think men are great —it’s just certain aspects of men’s behaviour that i don’t like, and nor do a lot of other women. 1 don’t see why i shouldn’t be able to tease them about it’.
What Brand does do, though, is use herself and her body in her act as a source and inspiration for comedy. "Nobody seems able to ignore it,’ she explains, ‘so i’ve made an effort to be upfront about it.’ Dawn French. another big woman with a witty style, posed naked to make a point, but while Brand thought it was ‘great'. she says she‘s unlikely to do the same. 'l‘m less in the business of pushing this idea that big women are fantastically beautiful — what I'd like to see is that people who aren’t especially attractive are just left alone to get on with their lives. Anyway, different times have a different attitudes to the female form: we‘ve done a Rubens sketch [with Helena Bonham-Carter as a put-upon skinny] because big women were popular 500 years ago. What 1 object to is that people think it's alright to pass comment as you walk past, on your size or your sexual attractiveness to them.’
it’s this element of personal involvement that links Brand with other post-alternative comics. and. as ever, it’s something that frequently spills over into offstage life. ‘1 usually say something like, “i deliberately keep my weight up so a tosser like you won’t fancy me.” it does get you down, though, because it's so relentless . . . much as i hate to narrow it down again, it’s not other women is it?’
Jo Brand: Through The Cake/tale begins on Channel 4 on Friday 8 April at 10.30pm.
:— Boxmg clever
Scottish Television’s relationship with local arts programmes has been a tricky one in the past. ID has established itself In a regular slot, breezy, brisk and lnforrnatlve without getting too wordy, but more
Don’t look Down is shaping up as a kind of maturer big sister to fill. Presented by Janice Forsyth in a Glasgow studio with amiable pretensions towards being a flow York loft, its remit is to add some critical overview to the topics occupying the Scottish cultural foreground.
‘llB previews events,’ O’Rourke explains, “Don’t Look [town will have more of a review aspect to it. IB is
complement rather than a rival to BBC Scotland arts coverage. What Don’t Look Down will not be is a brash, attention-grabbing upstart. ‘l don’t believe in controversy for the sake of it, although we won’t be afraid to express opinions.’
The first show features a discussion of John Logie Baird, music from Michelle Shocked, and Annie lloss discussing Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.
demanding programmes like the like a tapas bar of what's going on in Other items will respond to what’s channel’s art chief nonnle O'nourlte’e the arts, Don’t look Down will offer going on In the week before sporadically excellent Out There lllme some more substantial fare.’ broadcast. ‘Vle want to be aware of have often been consigned to the alter O’Rourke is keen not only to pull in the news but not a slave to it,’ says midnight ghetto. the IB viewers looking for a spot of O’Rourke, adding one of those cute ‘Some of these programmes went out hm shading behind the events highlighted soundbhes he’s fond of. ‘IB is about so late, even the people in them °° PM W by that show, but also to attract a celebration, Don’t look Down is about weren't staying up to “tell; he should go out at a reasonable hour, broader audience. As a believer in cerebratlon.’ (tom Lappin) marks, explaining hie determination even if it means displacing the different remits for different stations Don’t look Down begins on Scottish 0| that tile new show, nen't Leek um, networked South Bank Show. he sees the programme as a Sunday 10 April at 10.40pm.
so The List 8—21 April 1994