It’s rare that I intentionally go to see a stand-up comedian on tour in town without some kind of notion of the flavour of their work. I don’t mean seeing previously unheralded acts supporting known comedians (who are, more often than not, excellent if the comedian they’re supporting has a lick of sense) or the pick-and-mix pleasures of a good multi-comic comedy night. I mean actually shelling out my tightly-guarded lucre to see an individual whose name and face are shining from the poster without having seen at least a glimpse of their act on the telly box.
Katy Brand occupied an odd spot in the Venn Diagram of my comedic cognisance. I was aware of her; had been for years. I’ve seen her on television on a number of occasions, not least as part of her on-going involvement in charitable works for both Comic and Sport Relief. However, I hadn’t seen her perform her own comedy in any context. She first broke through in 2007 on TV in “Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show”, but that was on ITV2 and I couldn’t be seen watching any of the lesser ITV shows, not a man in position. Since then her career has been a peripatetic résumé of panel shows, acting roles and writing, including her 2014 debut novel “Brenda Monk is Funny”. But none of this gave me any flavour of what to expect from her on stage.
But last night at the Art Centre I watched her in her Edinburgh show, “I was a Teenage Christian” I finally experienced her, in technicolor.
The subject of the show – unsurprisingly – was her years, between the ages of 13 and 20, as a member of a “a happy-clappy, charismatic, evangelical church” that she joined following a summer holiday with evangelical Christian friends in Cornwall. She embraced this religious awakening with youthful zeal – much to the bemusement of her parents, who were largely irreligious, and began attending church five times a week, preaching to non-plussed passers-by in shopping centres and largely baffling her contemporaries at school.
And all in the same blue jumper. Well, one of two jumpers, so she could wear one while the other was being washed. We were shown a series of photos of the young Katy and an azure pullover was a pretty constant feature. She described herself as dressing like “a nun in mufti.”
Reading up on her before seeing the show I discovered that this is actually Brand’s first stand-up show in the “standing on stage, talking; not in a costume, not being someone else” sense (her words). This is hugely surprising as she was winningly authentic and open on stage in front of a boisterous and vocal Swindon audience. It can’t be that easy to open up about your teenage years in front of an audience on a nightly basis, but it’s a tale told winningly and with all the keynotes of embarrassment that most of us can feel looking back at our younger selves.
Katy Brand read theology at university and, as is apparently often the case, lost her religion. Her faith was already teetering as she got older and began to see her church though more critical eyes, not least after the vicar envoked an evangelical Fatwa against the works of J K Rowling. But the show isn’t anti-religion. Brand still professes a fascination with religion, but she didn’t, and doesn’t, have any truck with any faith that slams its doors in the face of questions.
I’m delighted I’ve finally seen Katy Brand. The authentic Katy Brand. She’s refreshing, effervescent and very funny. She was worth the wait.