Here Kitty Kittyby Yusuf Laher / 22.10.2009
Female comedians are a lot like six-foot Ninja Warrior contestants: rare and easy to spot. They’re up against it from the get-go. London comedian Simon Clayton was on before, and he wasn’t very funny at all. But still I sat there, passively consuming everything he had to say. When Australian comedian Kitty Flanagan came on, I sat up and paid attention. “Oh yeah, what’s she got to say?” I felt myself thinking. I didn’t like it (or mean it), but deep down, somewhere, it was there.
Women get a bad rap when it comes to stereotypes: bad drivers, heavy spenders, big time gossipers and… not funny. I guess comics like Kathy Griffin, Rosie O’Donnell, Roseanne Barr and Ruby Wax are to blame. Still, I often wonder why there are so many less female comedians (and musos) out there. Kitty had a pretty interesting answer, when I spoke to her at her secluded comedian sanctuary, atop the green hills of “Narnia” (according to American Egyptian comic Ahmed Ahmed). In reality, The Sibaya Lodge Hotel, Upper Umhlanga.
“What the fuck’s going on with Rhythm City? I know you’ve got 11 national languages, but do you have to use them all in one sentence?” – Kitty Flanagan
Oscillating from nutty to sincere, Kitty’s routine was funny. She sort of came on, took a while to warm up, and then had the audience in hysterics… until the end. “She bookends. She’s not funny, but at least she’s got structure,” said Kitty, somewhat self-consciously.
How long have you been doing stand up for?
Um… Professionally, 10 years. I spent about seven years in England. It’s really hard to make a living out of comedy in Australia, just doing stand up.
And how did you get started? What made you think, “Hey, I’m funny, I could do this?”
I got fired from my advertising job and I was working in a bar with open mic nights. I planned to just do it once, get it out of my system. But instead, it went well and I got it in my system.
Last night you used Rhythm City in your set. So how often are you coming up with new material?
Usually, when I’m staying somewhere, I’ll go around and see the place, but we’re trapped out here at the casino. I got out and about more in Jo’burg. I wasn’t joking last night, there really is only one driver. So I sat down at 6:30pm and watched Rhythm City.
And do you practice a new bit in front of the mirror, test run jokes on friends and family first or just wing it?
Last night, I was really just winging it. I really enjoyed myself. It felt like I had a good connection with the audience. Before I went on, I just had to ask Trevor (Noah) if Rhythm City was a favourite show out here. I didn’t wanna come on and trash one of your cultural favourites.
Besides the UK and South Africa, where else has comedy taken you?
I’ve been really lucky actually, I’ve worked all over: Japan, Europe, Paris, Germany, Switzerland, the Middle East, the Far East, Hong Kong, New Zealand…
Is language never a problem?
Well, besides Germany and Holland, the crowds are usually ex-pats. Dutch people don’t laugh, necessarily. Then, after the show, they’ll come up and shake your hand, saying “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.” Very polite the Dutch.
And if you’re watching TV all over the world, whose got the shittiest shows?
Gee, most countries have crap TV. There’s some pretty funny game shows in Ireland. After 10 minutes of chat, the host asks, “So Mary, would like to win a car?” That’s the extent of the questions. They just like a good chat the Irish. You come on for a chat and leave with a car.
What are some of your favourite TV shows?
30 Rock’s a favourite at the moment, easily… But don’t get me wrong, sitting around watching TV’s the last thing I want to be doing, we really are trapped out here.
Are casinos your regular port of call then?
No, thank God. I don’t have anything against them, but they do seem to be designed to keep you away from everything else.
According to your website, you’re also a writer, but unless you’re stealing your material from someone else, isn’t every comedian a writer?
Yes, but I write for TV and movies as well.
Have you ever thought about doing a Seinfeld then, and writing and starring in the Kitty Flanagan show?
Do you know, I haven’t. I’ve done TV shows, but never based around me.
Have you ever written a pilot episode that didn’t make it?
Yeah, heaps. I’ve still got one on the shelf for Channel 4. Then there’s one commissioned for the BBC. But at least in England you get decent money. And then after 18 months, the show reverts back to you.
How did you enjoy your first writer/director experience working on Dating Ray Fenwick?
I loved it. Now that’s what I wanna do. If you ever read “writer director,” what it should say, really, is, “control freak.”
Who are some of your all time favourite stand ups?
Ellen DeGeneres, her stand up is something else. Carl Barron, I’m good friends with him back home. He’s one of the biggest Australian comics. Trevor Noah’s a local favourite: fabulous insights into South Africa. Everything I know about South Africa, I’m learning from David (Kibuuka) and Trevor.
Do you get tired of people describing your comedy as perky?
Do they describe my comedy as perky? It must be the same bio being used everywhere.
How do you deal with bad reviews? Or have you never got one?
I’m sure there are plenty of them. I try really hard to not read any reviews. Very early on, about 10 years ago, I made the mistake of reading a bad review. I could still probably quote it verbatim.
What’s the biggest audience you’ve ever performed to?
As far as stand-up, it was a 3000-seater show with a bunch of other comics. And then I performed to 5000 people outside at a Midnight Oil show. That’s where I was booed off stage by 5000 angry Midnight Oil fans that had clearly come to see Midnight Oil, not some “perky” female comedian. Stupidly, I stayed on, thinking, “I’ll win them over with this next joke. This will be the one.” Eventually, Peter Garrett, the leadsinger, had to physically remove me. People only wanna hear about the shocking deaths.
What kind of people usually wait around to talk to you after a show?
Me? No one. It’s a different situation for women. A lot of people want to stand around and chat to male comics, but not me.
So is it harder, being a female comedian?
Well, it helps me get work. They always wanna put a female comedian on the bill.
Why do you think there are so few women comedians?
I don’t think women are thick skinned enough. After a bad gig, women walk off thinking, “They really hate me.” Men will walk off going, “What’s wrong with these people? They’re idiots.” I’ve seen a lot of male comedians that just aren’t funny, then something clicks and they finally get it. The dropout rate’s a lot higher with women. But that’s all straight out of the filing cabinet in my arse. There are no statistics or anything.
When was the last time you really laughed your arse off?
Hmm, I think it was at Australian comedian Fiona O’Loughlin. She’s really funny. I can’t say why without quoting her jokes, which I don’t think I should do. And the boys here are very entertaining offstage. David and Trevor are a non-stop two-man show. It’s hard to keep up. But they’re all really cool guys.