Fern Brady is a Scottish stand-up comedian living in London. Described as “A great comic sensibility, with moments of sparkling verve“ by The Guardian and “Fearsome originality and a torrent of arresting and disturbing imagery” by Scotland on Sunday. I interviewed her recently, here is that interview…
That’s actually the only preview I’ve done so far, then The Stand let me try the new stuff out at the Red Raw nights. I was really dreading it but then I ended up enjoying it a lot. It was all for my Fringe show cause initially I was being pushed to do 40 minutes instead of an hour but I think that’s very cynical and people just do that so they can get nominated for an award. So now I’m doing an hour. I keep picturing myself months from now – I’ll come across this interview, after my show has been decried as one of the shittest shows ever; people might even go see it just to see how shit it is. I’ll cry at how naïve I was and regret not paying some Londoner £10,000 to perform in MY old student union bar in MY town renamed the Pleasant Balloon or some wank.
I really dislike the way the Fringe is now in terms of how much money comics throw at it, especially when they can’t afford it. That’s why I’m so happy The Stand let me do my show with them, they don’t charge you anything.
You sneak in a lot of observations about the media’s overreaction into very silly routines. For example, your old routine about foxes not understanding the law (video below). And you also have a routine about Susan Boyle’s appearance being constantly brought up in the media. How do you start writing those kind of routines? Do you think of the point you want to make? Or do you start with a silly idea?
I was a trainee journalist when I got into stand up so I just noticed a lot of pointless news stories. I still see them all the time but I don’t do material on it much. I saw one the other day that was about how gusty London was. Then it had pictures of London women with their hair being blown everywhere. I just stared at it for ages and ages trying to work out why anyone would print that.
You’re doing a new show at the Ed Fringe this year. Do you know what it’s going to be about yet?
It’s called People Are Idiots and it’s my first solo show. I was gonna do a pun on my name but I wanted something that’d cover the broad themes of the show. Plus who even has written their full show at this point?! I’ll probably regret the title when no one comes to the show and I’m crying in a café in Edinburgh. Initially I told The Stand it was gonna be me demonstrating that I’m a psychopath for an hour but to be honest, I need to just keep previewing it then I’ll know what it’s about. I know I’ll be very stressed during the Fringe so I’m trying to be as laid back as possible about it just now. I’m not even getting new photos taken but I’ve got an amazing comedian and artist who used to be Alisdair Gray’s assistant doing mad drawings for my poster.
What’s your favourite joke of yours that never gets much of a laugh?
I couldn’t call this a joke cause it wasn’t getting any laughs so I dropped it after two attempts but I still find this story funny but it doesn’t cast me in the best light. I just finished making a pilot for BBC3 last month and during casting I went from not wanting to be in it at all to deciding I wanted to play an anger management therapist in it. When the producer said they’d already got someone – and it turned out to be the amazing Sarah Hadland of Miranda/That Mitchell & Webb Look fame so very possibly a better choice! I responded by getting very, very angry and shouting a lot in a threatening way. I then had to retell the story to my anger management counsellor and she laughed as it was so ridiculous. Then I tried to tell it onstage and even very nice audiences just looked at me like I was a dick. I feel embarrassed just thinking about it now.
What was it like being on Comedy Central UK’s “The Alternative Comedy Experience”?
That was the first telly thing I’d ever done so I was shitting myself. It was mad how it happened as well. I was working a zero hours contract as a support worker in this hostel for ex convicts and signing on the dole the rest of the time. I hadn’t told any of my colleagues that I did comedy as I knew they’d take the piss out of me for it. Then I was due to go teach the weekly computer class to some burglars when I got an email from Tommy Sheppard (owner of The Stand) and he’d just put me forward for the programme without telling me. So I started freaking out at my desk and I had to say to my manager “Hey, so I never mentioned this before but I’ve been a comedian for 3 years and I can’t do nightshift this weekend cause I have to go film a TV programme.” And he just went “Aye, okay” without looking up from his spreadsheet. Then I basically immediately signed with my agent while standing in the courtyard of the hostel and while I was trying to chat to him about doing the Stewart Lee thing, one of the heroin addicts was screaming and swearing in the background. It was a really lovely day.
When it came to filming the programme Josie Long and Kevin Eldon were so kind to me as I was terrified. It’s terrible when you meet comedy heroes and they’re horrible bastards so I was glad that didn’t happen. The gig was fantastic but in the end they only used a tiny little bit of my set, maybe because my other material wasn’t as surreal, though it could be some other reason. Now I’ve done a couple of telly things though, I realise the reason that programme was very different to others was that they just let you do your set and left you to do your thing. That’s so unusual! Normally you have to give them a precise script of your set and for panel shows they go through everything you’re gonna say which makes you more stressed than you need to be and takes away any spontaneity which in turn detracts from how funny the end product is. I wish producers would just trust comedians to be funny but often they micromanage everything and that’s totally incompatible with the environment comedians normally work in.
Question from stand-up comedian Eleanor Tiernan: “Have you ever taken drugs before a performance?”
I don’t want to make gigs harder for myself. I love Eleanor Tiernan so wish I had a cooler answer to this.
Your routine about someone wanting to be your sex slave is very funny. Did you think it was real when initially asked?
It was real! Why would you think it’s not real?! I’ve done material about trolling people online in the past, except I pretended it was because I was drunk and I couldn’t just say “I love trolling dating sites.” I think in comedy I give an impression of being a big drinker but it’s just cause people use drinking as a way of explaining why they do weird stuff. I just do weird stuff on my own. So the sex slave thing: what happened was me and my boyfriend fell out and blanked each other for a full weekend in our tiny little flat. This was when I realised I’ve been in a relationship so long I don’t know what these new dating apps are. So I downloaded Blendr and it was so grim. Straightaway this guy asked to worship my feet. He hadn’t even seen them! How can you ask that when you’ve not seen them?
I’ve heard say you don’t really enjoy living in London due to people always asking you about being Scottish and doing impressions of you. But you need to live there for work, which I’ve heard other comedians say too. Is London the only solution for stand-ups?
Oh, actually when I do that bit I’m referring to when I lived in the North of England where I had to discuss my Scottishness every day. It’s very tedious as I always thought national identity was really daft so it’s very bizarre to move somewhere and it suddenly becomes THE defining thing about you. Because London is a city of immigrants and there’s a ton of Scots here, they tend to not mention it as much. I love the gigs here, I just don’t love the insanely high rent.
I don’t have to live here, I could just put up with the travel back and forth but my agent talked me into it. If I get rich though I’d definitely move to Glasgow as I love it there. But no, you don’t have to live in London for comedy. I started in Manchester and my old flatmates and pals are now really taking off and getting their own TV shows and awards without leaving Manchester, in Geins Family Giftshop and Funz and Gamez, respectively. That’s really exciting to see cause Northern English comics get overlooked just as often as Scottish ones. Plus I still think of myself as a Mancunian comic cause that was the circuit I started on!
I’ve heard you talk about unauthorised hugs from strangers. Have you found a solution for this yet?
It’s unauthorised hugs from pervy male comedians! I’m an affectionate person in context but I’ve never worked in any other industry where you have to hug folk you barely know willy-nilly. I think one solution would be not to complain about it cause now some of the pricks are doing it deliberately to wind me up. The only solution that works is to tell them no and offer a firm handshake. But when I do this it often immediately backfires as some really attractive male comic appears next to the smelly one and goes “Oh, but you don’t like hugs, Fern, I forgot.” Just for clarification, I will always hug Brett Goldstein, Darren Connell, Pierre Novellie, Kwame Asante, Rob Rouse, Pat Cahill, Ally Houston, Mae Martin, Jonno from Sheeps. Male and female comedians alike want to hug Brett Goldstein.
Why are goats so cute?
I think the question should be “Why are goats so of the moment right now?” Goats have always been cute but they’ve never been as fashionable as they are right now. Goats are the new cats in terms of popular internet culture. This pleases me a lot. For ages I’d been buying goats’ milk and yoghurt because the goat pictures on the packet amused me greatly, even though it just tastes like bad liquid cheese.
I’ve read one of your favourite venues in the world is The Stand Glasgow, it’s mine too. And it seems a lot of comedians really like that venue. What do you think makes it such a popular place to perform stand-up comedy?
I think now it might have changed back to The Stand Edinburgh as that is technically my home club. But both are great! Don’t tell the The Stand Glasgow I said that. The reason comics like it is cause the staff are lovely, they ban hens and stags and they’re strict getting the audience to behave themselves. They also have a really great red wine called Baussac and they give me a good discount on it.
Question from stand-up comedian Julia Sutherland: “Is it possible to be a comedian and NOT be a narcissistic psychopath?”
I think it helps but I wouldn’t want to be one. I think everyone in comedy is on a spectrum of personality disorders. There are some comics who are genuinely more frightening than the ex cons I worked with in my old job, they have very glazed eyes and you can’t have a real conversation with them. Then at the other end there are people that are so normal and lovely you can’t believe they do stand up, usually folk who’ve been going since before stand up was something ambitious sociopaths went into, e.g. Rob Rouse, George Egg, Alex Boardman. The other 80% fall somewhere in between.
You’ve appeared on Channel 4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats. Do you enjoy doing TV panel shows as a change from your stand-up?
I’m the last person out of my peers I’d expect to see on a panel show as I’d never watched them or took an interest but my agent was really keen to put me forward for them as soon as I signed with him. So I got the audition for 8 out of 10 and felt incredibly gawky and out of place amongst the cool London comics and I decided to say the stupidest responses I could think of just to get a rise out of the producers and sabotage myself. This backfired and the producers loved it and put me on the show, which was weirdly good for getting more gigs and audiences at the Fringe. After that I had tryouts for Buzzcocks and some other ones that went surprisingly well but I’m not famous enough to be allowed on them. I think once I get plastic surgery and lose 20lbs I’ll be sailing. But in answer to your question, yes, I enjoy panel show auditions a lot but I find I enjoy them the most if I feel like I’m getting to ad lib and muck about a lot, rather than having scripted lines fed to me.
You recently appeared on fellow stand-up comedian Julia Sutherland’s BBC Radio show “Funny Kind of Family”. Can you tell me a bit about that?
That was good – I still haven’t listened to it, actually. I did that and a similar set about my parents on Radio 4 Extra and I was very pleased I did them because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do clean radio comedy that I didn’t hate or find insipid.