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Jo Brand Interview conducted Tuesday 4th November 2003

If you were to go out onto the high street and conduct a survey of the most famous stand-up comedians in the UK, I am sure Jo Brand would feature pretty highly on that list. Her style of humour doesn’t appeal to everyone, and she often receives unfair criticism from the press for her feminist attitudes, but there is no doubting that she has a huge fan base. Jo wasn’t always a stand-up comedian though, she started out as a nurse, but quickly jumped ship when the opportunity to entertain arose. The rest, as as they say, is history! She has recently appeared in some mainstream TV programmes such as Comic Relief Fame Academy, all of which have helped her to reach out to a very different audience. This month sees Jo’s debut DVD release, called Jo Brand - Barely Live, which is a recording of her latest show at the London's Adelphi Theatre on Sunday the 21st September. We recently caught up with Jo to ask her about the DVD and to find out what other projects she has planned for the future. Read on to find out more.



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DVDActive: This month sees the release of your first DVD, Barely Live, what can we expect from the show?

Jo Brand: Well hopefully some good laughs I would say, first and foremost. It’s about an hour and ten minutes I think. It’s a live stand-up show recorded in a theatre in London and so it’s not a break with tradition or anything and pretty much what stand-up’s do. And it’s all new stuff that’s not been on anything else before, like video or anything. So, I kind of rather was hoping that people thought it would have a nice mixture of different topics and it also takes in the fact that I’ve had two children recently. I made a supreme effort not to do that thing that parents do, which is to bore people without children to death by going on and on about how funny their children are, so there’s none of that hopefully.

DVDActive: The Barely Live DVD is your first venture into the world of DVD isn’t it?

Jo Brand: Yeah that’s absolutely right. I am a huge luddite so it wouldn’t have even occurred to me. Do you know what I mean? I have to say, it’s probably a really awful thing to say and my name would be mud on the DVD website but I haven’t actually got a DVD player myself yet.

DVDActive: Ok, well that was going to be one of our next questions.

Jo Brand: Oh right. Well yeah, I fully intend to, it’s not out of resistance to it. It’s just getting a bleedin’ chance to go out and buy one. With two small children, I haven’t had a wash since 2001 so the chance to go shopping is way down the list. It is something I do intend to get.

DVDActive: You've been in comedy for many years now. As the years have passed, have the sort of jokes you perform and your act changed?

Jo Brand: I have. Bit of a tired old warhorse. (laughs)

Jo Brand: I definitely perform differently. When I first started out I performed in a rather stilted monosyllabic rabbit in the headlight sort of way, and I think people thought that was a deliberate style but it was really... It was just because I was so nervous when I started out that it was the best way to deliver the lines really. To pretend it wasn’t me. Over the years I attempted to make my style a bit more relaxed ‘cause the initial style you couldn’t watch for more than ten minutes without wanting to kill me. Style I mean, we will come on to the material later because that makes a lot of people want to kill me as well. I deliberately try to do a lot of compering gigs where you introduce the acts and try to hold the show together just to make that out – be more relaxed and try to chat to the audience and that sort of thing. So, my style has hopefully changed over the years and it is more relaxed, and I do tend to smile and have more than one expression these days hopefully – which I didn’t at the beginning. Material and content wise. I find it difficult to judge myself, but people say that I have become a bit more socially acceptable over the years in terms of my material; which apparently at the beginning – though I never really intended it to be – was man hating and now is just a bit more cuddly. I don’t know really, it doesn’t feel like it has changed to me but I think to have to move with the times. Try out different areas and not get stuck in 1978.

DVDActive: Many consider you to be a pioneer of the alternative comedy scene, and you are one of the most successful female comedians in the UK, yet you seem to get a lot of negative comments from certain critics. How do you deal with negative opinions?

Jo Brand: By crying on my bed, drinking quite a lot and feeling tempted by drugs. Well, just not reading it to be perfectly honest with you. I know it’s a bit of a copout. People say you should read your criticism because it will make you a better person but it doesn’t. It just makes you a sad bitter old showbiz nightmare. (laughs) So I try not to read it and do self improvement.

DVDActive: What sort of audience does your stand-up routine attract? I've heard you are getting an older crowd these days?

Jo Brand: Well, it’s difficult to say. I think there’s a far more general audience now because I’ve done more populist stuff on telly. Where as at the beginning I was doing the clubs and I was doing Friday night’s Channel 4 with quite a lot of swearing in it. It tends to be students, people under thirty-five but ever since I forced my way on to Parky and stuff like that, and countdown, hopefully it’s widened a little bit hopefully.

DVDActive: Have you tried taking your stand-up internationally?

Jo Brand: I went to the Montréal comedy festival and that was alright but I don’t feel terribly tempted by international stand-up. I’ve done gigs in Holland as well and Australia.

DVDActive: Why are you not tempted to take your work abroad? Do you think it because of the language barriers?

Jo Brand: It’s me really. I just don’t like travelling very much. I can’t be arsed - (laughs) – to be honest. I will therefore never have a go at cracking America because I just don’t like America very much. So I prefer to work at home. I think also – having asked the question that you did – that comedy is quite a subtle thing – unless you have sledgehammer comedy that hits people between the eyes - which I know some of my stuff is - but other stuff isn’t and it appear to a British audience who can recognise the references and the nuances of British life really. I think that’s quite hard to change when you go abroad.

DVDActive: Has appearing on shows like Celebrity Fame Academy helped your career? Does it give you better recognition from groups that wouldn't normally appeal to your work?

Jo Brand: Yeah, I’m sure they have. I’m sure some cynical people would point to that as the main reason for doing it for a lot of people. It’s inevitable that if you do okay on something like that you don’t just annoy people, that it will make a difference because it seemed like such a lot of people so, yes I would have to say that it has done. But it wasn’t my main motivation for doing it hopefully.

DVDActive: You must have been really nervous before going on stage because without being rude, you were pretty rubbish at singing?

Jo Brand: I was really, because I thought it was extremely excruciating when I watched a tape of it, that my husband taped for me and I never watched it again after that.

DVDActive It could have been worse though, Ruby was pretty entertaining!

Jo Brand: (laughs) Poor old Ruby. (laughs) Well I was really pleasantly surprised. The thing I thought about doing it was it’s Comic Relief and you’ve got to be funny. So although I did try to sing properly it obviously has hilarious results when you can’t sing.  But I had this weird small girl’s voice in a big girl’s body which was obviously a bit odd. I did try when I wasn’t doing the singing to do as much comedy as I could because I thought with Comic Relief you are duty bound to anyway.

DVDActive: Who did you get on best with in the Academy? Do you still keep in touch with people from there?

Jo Brand: I do indeed. I keep in touch with Ruby who I’d never met before so that’s quite good fun. We did have a vague reunion about two months ago and Kwame, Ruby, Doon, me and Will turned up, and the others all had reasons not to make it like John was doing a play and I think Ulrika had some sort of drama going on in Sweden or something. I don’t know if we will ever try again because those sort of things are very hard to organise but yes, I’ve known Doon for years and John as well but I hadn’t met Will before, and he turned out to be a good laugh.

DVDActive: Did you watch this years Fame Academy?

Jo Brand: The Fame Academy? I have to confess I watched the last two weeks. You know, when it was getting down to the nitty-gritty. Again, with two small children it’s incredibly hard to commit yourself to anything because you’re just getting interested in it and someone comes along and goes I want Thomas The Tank Engine on, and screams the place down until you put it on. It’s got too much hard work slapping them and telling them to shut up.

DVDActive: So, you have just become a mother as well. How’s that going?

Jo Brand: Ah yes well, it’s great actually and I love it, and it’s really good fun, but it is hard work the first few years, God.

DVDActive: How do you balance parenthood with your busy lifestyle?

Jo Brand: I just feel I’m on a knife edge really and any moment I may plunge into complete disorganisation and alcoholism. (laughs) Clinging on by my fingertips. I wouldn’t say I was organised at all. I just have to prioritise. Is it more important for them to be organised, or to have their dinner, do you know what I mean? Not well at all.

DVDActive: Who are your favourite stand-up comedians and why?

Jo Brand: Oh god loads. Who do I like? I am a big fan of French and Saunders – not that that they are particularly stand-up I have to say, but I think they have been great for women and they are of themselves just incredibly funny whether they are male or female. I’ve always been a bit of a Billy Connolly fan I have to say, because he is the supreme protagonist stand-up if you like. He’s a perfect stand-up. A lot of us try to aspire to that and will never get anywhere near it, but it’s interesting to watch. Who else do I like? Ross Noble I think is amazing and a really nice bloke as well. I’m kind of glad, I met him, oh god, how long ago? Ten or twelve years ago when he first started out, and he must have been seventeen or something, and I’m really glad that he stuck at it and he’s done so well. Eddie Izzard I always liked. Oh John Hegley. It’s one thing that I loved about doing stand-up on the circuit was that you got to watch a comedy show as well.

DVDActive: You used to be a nurse didn’t you?

Jo Brand: I did.

DVDActive: What made you leave your job as a nurse to become a comedian?

Jo Brand: Well, if you were in there and someone said do you want to become a comedian? (laughs) Would you go, hmm, no I don’t think so, I think I’ll stick with nursing. It was basically just I had been nursing for ten years. I had always fancied a go at the comedy and when it started to go reasonably well and the opportunity arose for me to move into it full time, I just couldn’t turn it down. I just took the risk, and I just wanted to see if it would work and thankfully it did. Although, if I had to go back to nursing tomorrow it wouldn’t kill me. I’d be reasonably happy to do it.

DVDActive: Is it true that you used to perform under the name of The Sea Monster? Where did that name come from?

Jo Brand: Yes, I am afraid it is. The reason I used a name was because I was a nurse at the time, and I didn’t want my name in Timeout and people from working coming along and taking the piss. Basically I called myself Sea Monster because I used to do a gig called the Tunnel Club, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, down in Greenwich. It was famously the worst venue to do, where comics were regularly murdered by the audience. One of the guys that used to run it – for some reason I’ve no idea why he used to call me the Sea Monster and I was just looking around for a name and thought that’ll do. That lasted for a couple of years probably.

DVDActive: Do you have any other titles that you plans to release on DVD?

Jo Brand: I think it’s a case of seeing how this one goes. I mean if it does well then yes absolutely. I mean I think the thing with DVD – that you don’t get with video – is you don’t have hours of sitting there rewinding with a kind of buggered tape counter going oh Christ where is this bit. And also you get lots of extras on DVD like the directors cut of what he had for breakfast and that sort of thing. And I like all that sort of thing. I think that if you were a bit of a buff and a bit of an anorak – which I do have a tendency towards - it’s great to have all those extra bits on it.

DVDActive: Are there any additional extras on this DVD?

Jo Brand: It’s a video release as well so I have to be perfectly honest and go, probably not specifically for DVD, but there are extra bits on it that aren’t on anything else, so as exciting as that sounds... (laughs).

DVDActive: I hear you'll be hosting a pilot episode for a new chat show on the Paramount Comedy channel. Do you have any further news on that?

Jo Brand: Oh, that’s right. Yes I’ve done that already down at the Brighton Festival. What they did was to make a pilot and it may well go to series at the next festival but I don’t have any news on that. It’s already been on Paramount actually, but as it’s on Paramount it’ll probably be on several more times… hopefully. It’s just a chat show with Julian Clairy, Mark Steel and Tony Hawk – which is good fun actually.

DVDActive: What are your plans for the future?

Jo Brand: Well, what am I doing at the moment? I’ve just finished a novel. I am doing a pilot show for ITV, a sitcom which has been hanging around for years which hopefully will go somewhere. I’m writing new stand-up so I can tour again next year. I’m just very busy really and would quite like to have a holiday.


Well, there we have it. A very special thanks to Jo for taking time out of her busy schedule for the interview. If you find yourself in need of more Jo Brand information, you might be interested to read our early review of Jo’s debut DVD, Jo Brand – Barely Live. You can find that here. The disc has been available to own from the 24th November 2003 and should set you back around £19.99. We definitely recommend it!

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