Angst, relationships and Dave Allen inspire Jo Caulfield’s stand-up. JOANNE SAVAGE talks to the acerbic comedian ahead of her Belfast show
“I get angry about quite a lot of things,” says Jo Caulfield, laughing naughtily like someone gearing up for a good carp.
“Sometimes the things that annoy me are actually very irrational. Like a short woman in a supermarket expecting me to lift things off the top shelves; like why does it never work the other way round – why do short women never offer to lift things off the bottom shelf for me?”
The former writer for Graham Norton, Ruby Wax and Rory Bremner and erstwhile Radio 4 presenter, born in Wales but based in London, laughs before continuing: “And TV can annoy me, especially watching things like Location Location Location where you see some very young couple who have £800, 000 to spend on a property. The rest of the show you just want to swear at them!
“I think my comedy shows are quite therapeutic for the audience because they leave and feel that they’ve had a good rant too.” Granted, most of us will admit to enjoying a good rant and moan about all that’s wrong with the world from the big injustices and outrages – Syria, George Osbourne, mass corporate greed - down to petty grievances like overpriced groceries, tax returns, people with no manners and charges on plastic bags. ‘I get so much mileage out of what angers and irritates me,” agrees Jo.
The comedian, whose parents are from Northern Ireland (her father is from Belfast and her mother from Omagh), grew up watching Dave Allen and was particularly inspired by the way he could find comedy gold in the absurdities of relationships, religious dogma and his mother-in-law, picking apart hypocrisies and foibles.
“Dave Allen was a brilliant storyteller,” she explains, “and ahead of his time. And he would sit and have a drink and a fag and just chat and make being funny all seem so easy and so natural.”
Angst and Dave Allen drive her stand-up comedy then, as do her perturbation over other people’s relationships (“few things are more annoying than friends who are in love,” she quips on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, “my friend stares adoringly at her partner when he’s asleep whereas I pretend to have nightmares so I can accidentally punch my husband in the face”). Mischievous and ever so slightly bitchy, Caulfield typically covers subjects such as airtight alibis, friendliness as being overrated (sometimes it probably is), bad service and wrestling with self-scanners in Tesco.
The 49-year-old is one of a disappointingly small number of female stand-ups touring the UK at the moment, and in a week when panel show favourite Lee Mack explained this by saying women were less given to ‘being show-offs than men’, I ask her how she would account for the less than legion number of women in comedy, because there’s no way, of course, that women are less funny than men, right?
Caulfield is forthright, her voice full of assurance: “I think there are fewer women in stand-up because like loads of other professions, it reflects the world we live in – which is still basically run by white middle class men.
Look at panel shows on TV – they’re all full of white middle class men but that’s certainly not because they have a monopoly on humour.
“If there’s a difference to women’s comedy maybe it’s that we’re more into telling self-deprecating stories than telling boring old pub jokes.
“I think men are maybe more likely to grow up being spoilt by their mothers and feeling, for whatever reason, that they have more of a right to talk and to be heard.
“I like to think this is changing though and that we’re letting go of old gender roles.”
The acerbic stand-up divulges that she always experiences butterflies in her stomach before stepping on stage to do her routine, no matter that she can boast decades of experience in the business and a string of accolades including being voted Funniest Woman 2010 (LAFTA Awards) and being nominated as ‘Best Female Comedian 2002’ (Chortle).
She’s appeared on all the cool panel shows, Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You included, because Caulfield is prized for razor-sharp observations and scandalous one-liners. “I enjoy it once I’m up there, on stage” confides Jo, on the issue of performance anxiety: “Beforehand is tricky. I do this weird thing where I sort of shut down. “But you need those butterflies in the stomach so that your brain is fired and sharp and you can banter better with the audience.
“Stand-up remains my first love.
“There’s an excitement to it that’s difficult to replicate.”
Jo Caulfield, Black Box, Belfast, October 13. Visit blackboxbelfast.com.