Bethany Black describes herself as “a comedy geek from a young age.” “In the UK in the late ’70s we had a comedy revolution, from the old school ‘working men’s club’ comedy that had been popular in the 1970′s with fat northern men with frilly shirts telling racist, sexist and homophobic jokes we had the birth of alternative comedy,” Bethany said. “It was really influential so growing up comedy was all around me.”
Which explains Bethany’s dark comedy tendencies. “When I started doing stand-up I think my biggest influence was Richard Pryor and my friend the excellent comedian Michael J Dolan who gave me the best piece of advice: ‘Find the thing you normally would be ashamed to tell your closest friend and talk about that, that’s where the art lives.’”
In regards to being a “confessional” comic, Bethany said, “I’ve just got one of those lives. From my experience, talking about being trans, people still have a way to go in terms of understanding trans issues by and large they’re not going, ‘You’re an abomination against God and I want to vomit in your crotch!’ So, y’know, progress. Also if you look at the UK’s most successful female comedians at the moment, the queer women are actually the majority with several gay women being considered national treasures. “
As one of those national treasures, Bethany is most proud of her impact with her fans. “I think my two proudest moments in comedy were getting emails from people who saw my two Edinburgh Fringe Shows. I could retire happy after those.”
As for what’s next for Bethany? Writing. “I’m in the process of writing a sitcom with my girlfriend loosely based on how we met, because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to watch a sitcom about a Swedish nurse who ends up with a Goth transsexual?”
Zoe Lyons has been working the comedy circuit since 2003. Before that, little known fact, she appeared on the television show Survivor in its first season. But that’s for another day. After creating a huge comedy buzz winning the Funny Women Awards in 2004, her debut solo show, Fight or Flight, was nominated for the best newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She was also featured in The Independent’s tenth annual Pink List”for 2009, detailing the 101 most influential lesbian and gay people in Britain.
Describing herself as “a clown,” Lyons’ comedy is physical, boisterous and wildly charismatic. “I lark about and I am overly physical on stage,” she said. “It is a kind of over exaggerated version of myself. My comedy falls into the observational category.”
As one of the most energetic comedians coming out of the UK, her modesty is when it comes to her craft. “I spend my professional life as a stand up on the UK circuit. I run a monthly night in Brighton that gets a loyal gay following but other than that I am not really focused on the queer scene as such. The thing is the circuit has for a long time been heavily populated with straight white (largely middleclass) guys. Lots of groups are underrepresented in comedy. If you stick at it and you are any good your gender or sexuality should in no way hold you back. There are definitely more female comics coming through now than when I first started over ten years ago.”
Next up, Zoe will be taking a show to the Udderbelly on the Southbank in June and then going back to Edinburgh for the festival again in August. “Who knows?” she said. “It might be the last Edinburgh Festival of a United Britain.”
Photo by Andy Hollingworth
“I have always loved comedy,” Suzi Ruffell proclaims. “I remember watching Victoria Wood doing the ‘Ballad of Freda and Barry’ on the TV when I was younger and whilst I didn’t understand all the innuendoes and subtle jokes, I still thought it was the best thing I had ever seen. French and Saunders were a massive influence as well. Also watching Live from The Comedy Store with my dad, I can’t even remember the comedians on it but I remember thinking, that’s so clever. So many people laughing at the same thought, what a brilliant job! If I am having a bad day I remind myself of that!”
As an optimistic observational storyteller, Suzi considers herself “too honest,’ but we as comedy fans know there is no such thing! Nor can there ever be too many female comics. “There are more women on the comedy circuit than ever before,” she said. “I think its constantly growing and its an exciting time to be a female comic. I don’t think the audience really cares about your sexuality, you just have to be funny.”
As for what’s next, Suzi said, “I am currently writing my new show Social Chameleon which will be at the Edinburgh Festival for the whole of August. I’m on the road at the moment supporting Josh Widdicombe.” She’ll also perform on Live From The Comedy Store later in the year.
“I would love to do more radio and telly and sitcom stuff but who knows,” she said. “The great thing in this job is you never know what’s round the corner!”