Comedian Jo Brand's bedpan humour

By Scott Kara

Comedian Jo Brand tells Scott Kara how she developed her dark take on the world.

British writer-comedian Jo Brand. Photo / Supplied
British writer-comedian Jo Brand. Photo / Supplied

Jo Brand sounds bored. But you have to realise, it's not your company she's tired of, it's just the way she talks. The British comedian and actress - who, by the way, admits she's a terrible actress, saying, "My acting skills are so limited I pretty much just play a version of myself." - has a famous drone, and it has much to do with what makes her so funny.

"I can't help it, it's just the way it comes out. When I first started doing stand-up I got a review that said I should read the football results because my voice is so boring," she laughs.

However, despite its lack of dynamic, her dry voice can be many things, from relaxing and hilarious to cutting and, especially back in her early comedy days in the 80s, when she got the nickname "Sea Monster", her gently biting comments had the power to rip the head off any - preferably male - heckler she came across.

"I think it's my very disturbed adolescent years," she offers as to why she has a deliciously venomous streak. Because when 55-year-old Brand was in her teens she rebelled against her strict parents, met a bad egg of a guy, and shacked up with him.

"He had convictions, he was a drug dealer, he was extremely posh as well, and my parents were extremely left-wing and it came to a head and they said, 'It's him or us'."

Brand was thrown out of home aged 16 and moved in with her man. "Of course, as things always are in these sorts of relationships, I turned up to meet him at the pub one day and he was snogging someone else in the corner. I had given up my entire life, my potential university career, and my family. It was a grim few years."

But this experience, as well as "hardening my heart a little bit" also gave her an oddly unique and devilishly dark take on the world.

"Personally I love dark, self-deprecating humour, even though I love Eddie Izzard who does surreal fluffy stuff."

Along with Izzard, and her mate Bill Bailey, she has been among the top British stand-ups for many years.

She still gigs, and the day TimeOut talks to her she's a little weary after getting back from a show in Dorset - 250km away from her home in London - at 3am. "So I'm slightly walking round like a zombie," she says.

Stand-up is still her first love, she reckons. "Because there is nothing quite as good fun, when it goes well, as a stand-up gig. Just being there, being able to see people, and talk to them."

She can't stand the fussiness and bureaucracy of TV even though she's recently finished a third series of Getting On UKTV, Thursday, 8.30pm), a minimal and deadpan satire set in the geriatric ward of a hospital.

"Reaction to a TV show is a difficult thing to gauge, you know, because they assess it on viewing figures and the number of complaints which is all a bit indirect for me.

"I like people to react straight away."

Getting On was co-created by Brand and her actress friends Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine. The trio also co-write the show and star in it, with Brand as likeable and cheeky nurse Kim (Brand was a psychiatric nurse before she got into comedy), Scanlan as Den the dim yet harmless ward sister, and Pepperdine as tactless (and sometimes racist) Dr Pippa Moore.

It's a simple show - mundane even - and as well as taking wry potshots at the state of Britain's National Health Service it's also a funny and light-hearted take on the drudgery of life in an old persons' ward.

She says it was daring to set it in a hospital considering the number of medical dramas on TV screens - but Getting On is unlike anything else in the genre.

"We wanted a place where you would find a) three grumpy, middle-aged menopausal women, and b) much older women. Ultimately though, with comedy like this, it doesn't matter where it's set. And as a student nurse I worked on a ward for the elderly and I experienced the kind of drudgery and world weariness that nurses have when they work in that sort of environment.

"But I think you find too, that most nurses have an incredibly dark sense of humour, and it's not at the expense of the people they are looking after. When I was a nurse we laughed all the time, but we never took the piss out of the people we were looking after, it's more to do with the situations that arise."

The three of them all bring something different to the show with their unique writing styles but because of her stand-up roots Brand says she was a hindrance at first. "I was always the one who would try and walk past in the background and do one-liners. It didn't really work. And I've been so massively slagged off for my acting ability, shameful reviews for my attempts in the past, so I had to tell [Getting On director] Peter Capaldi that if I was really awful to please tell me and get someone else."

As Kim, who, despite her devilish cheek is by far the most lovely of the trio ("Well, thank you I like to think I'm the nicest one"), Brand is brilliant and she still manages to "crowbar" a few one-liners into the script, which livens up the deliberately lackadaisical pace.

"It's hardly Imelda Marcos," she mutters under her breath when Dr Moore accuses her of hoarding shoes under her desk.

And Brand admits Kim is very similar to what she is like in real life.

"I'm quite an adolescent sort of person and I can't quite believe when I look in the mirror that I'm as old as I am. And also I'm the middle child of two brothers so I spent my life being kicked, beaten up and teased by my brothers and so I learned to compete really. So that's where that devilish side comes out. And I like playing jokes on people, quite a lot, actually."

Who: Jo Brand, comedian and actress
What: Getting On, starts Thursday, December 6, 8.30pm, UKTV

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 25 Jul 2014 08:39:24 Processing Time: 556ms