Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe marked Katy Brand’s return to the stage after six years and in many ways her debut as herself. This year she’s back with another show, I Could’ve Been An Astronaut.
I Was A Teenage Christian was (sort of) the first time that Katy Brand didn’t play a character on stage and was completely herself. Whilst that might have been a daunting experience for her, the show was very well received and following a successful Fringe and follow up tour she’s back with the second show in what she hopes will be a trilogy.
Here’s what Katy Brand had to say about this year’s show and being herself on stage…
What was last year’s return to the Fringe like for you?
Overall it was great. It was a really interesting experience because I had never done stand-up as myself really very much, only a handful of times spread over many many years and I’ve never really been quite sure of myself. So I felt like I was learning on the job last year.
I’d done a few previews and was just trying to get my head around who I am on stage as myself. At my first preview last year I walked on stage and didn’t know whether to take the mic out of the stand or leave it in the stand. I didn’t know if I was a mic in or mic out stand-up.
It was quite a full on experience but the response was really really good, people wanted to come and see it and by the end of the month I was just beginning to feel like I knew what I was doing.
It was a very personal show last year and having not really been yourself on stage before, what was that like?
On some level it probably had more of an effect on me than I realised at the time because I was concentrating on doing a good show. So it was only layer that I wondered whether this had more of an effect on me than I realised.
But then I did a tour and I did the show in London and I got really comfortable with presenting myself and talking about myself on stage. Actually, the memories of my time as a teenage christian almost feel like I’m talking about a different person.
So when I’d say on stage “I was such a dick” people would go, “Oh don’t be like that about yourself” but I really was a dick and it feels so long ago that it doesn’t feel raw. People say I was very brave but somehow it didn’t feel brave to me. It just felt like some interesting funny stories to tell.
I was surprised that people were as surprised as they were in a way because you know yourself so you choose what you want to present but I realised that in a lot of interviews that I’d done when I was doing sketches I tended to avoid talking about myself so people didn’t actually know that much about me. Which stupidly I hadn’t quite clocked before I started.
But people were really nice about it and I was genuinely delighted by the response. I didn’t book a tour until I knew how Edinburgh would go so that felt like a real encouragement when my promoter said “I think we can tour this.”
I’ve created something that has a life now and I’ve got an outlet for live comedy which I didn’t really have before because I didn’t want to do characters and sketches anymore.
When did you make the decision to return to the Fringe this year?
I think I knew going in to Edinburgh last year, that unless this is a total disaster, this is a beginning of something. I thought pretty early on that this was the new way for me in terms of live comedy so I’d already had the idea for this year’s show last year.
What is this year’s show all about?
It’s called I Could’ve Been An Astronaut and I wouldn’t say it’s a follow-up, but I would like to do three in a row; I Was A Teenage Christian, I Could’ve Been An Astronaut and then next year something called I Am A… something. I haven’t quite figured out what that is yet!
It’s about what I could have been if my life had been a bit different. And it’s about everybody. What could anyone have been if a few things were different in your life. So the thing for me is that I was never confident with Maths. I always thought I was terrible at Maths, it was part of my persona that I was terrible at Maths. And a lot of that was because I wasn’t taught Maths very well when I was little.
Alongside that, my hobby is space. I love space and astronomy but I don’t understand any of it because I’m so bad at Maths. But if I had been taught better and wasn’t so down on myself about it, maybe I could have been an astronaut.
So it’s about examining all the assumptions that I made about myself and the difference that might have had on my life. Then explaining some of the stuff I love about space, the philosophical and scientific aspects of it.
Luckily, because I don’t understand it and I’m no expert, Professor Brian Cox has done a couple of little videos for me explaining the more complicated aspects of space which is very nice of him, so there’ll be a little bit of that in there.
Then looking at what you might be in a parallel universe. Is there a version of me out there that is an astronaut and could I ever communicate with that person? In the more general sense it’s about what’s made you who you are now and could you change that?
That’s the end of the show. I’m going to try and change my attitude about Maths and challenge every assumption I’ve ever made about it. I’ve basically enrolled to do A-Level Maths which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever ever hear myself say!
Who are you hoping will come and watch the show?
Anyone who liked last year’s mainly. It was such a new direction for me and I think for anyone who came to see that show in Edinburgh last year and enjoyed it and anyone who came to see it on tour, that’s me. That’s what I really enjoy doing.
I like telling stories. I like being quite conversational and chatty, talking about interesting things, things that interest me. So anyone that came to that show and responded well to me being like that on stage I’d really hope that they come and see this. I would love to build a group of people who like what I’m doing live and to make shows for them that I like and they like.
And then just anyone who’s interested in space and anyone who’s radically trying to rewire their brain at the age of 38… which is what I’m going to try and do!
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
Because last year was such an intense experience for me and I was still getting used to even being in the city and at the festival and on stage again. I hadn’t been on the stage for six years and that was quite a shock for me. It took me quite a while to get back into it.
Whereas now, I’ve done that. I’ve done the tour and I feel much more comfortable with all of that. Every single day was a learning experience last year whereas this year, I will hopefully feel more relaxed and confident. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
Do you already feel more relaxed going into it this year than you did last year?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I was rather stressed last year. I mean I was looking forward to it and I knew it was the right thing to do but I was quite nervous and a bit uptight. I wondered how I would react, let alone how the audience would react!
Anyone in particular that you’re looking forward to seeing whilst you’re up there?
Absolutely. Last year, a lot of people had taken a year off. Because they do. They do a few years in a row then take some time off to do other shows or whatever.
So I’m really excited to see other people’s stuff like Sara Pascoe who’s coming back, Ingrid Oliver who’s a really old friend of mine. She’s coming back for the first time in a long time. There are a few people coming back for the first time in a while so I’m looking forward to seeing them.
Oh and I loved Colin Hoult’s show last year so he’s back again, so I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
I’m really happy doing the live stuff. It’s really amazing to say that you’re going to do a show about this and your promoter and venue goes “OK. Fine.” If you’ve worked in TV or films or radio for a really long time, that still slightly blows my mind. That I don’t have to get it all signed off.
But, I’d really like to write a film script. So I’ve set some time aside in the autumn to sit down and get cracking on that. And see if anyone likes it. It’s been a year of full-on live performance. Probably more than I’d done in quite a while so I wouldn’t mind having a couple of months of just sitting down and writing.
I’d also really like to get going on the sequel to the novel that I wrote a couple of years ago, Brenda Monk Is Funny, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Brenda mOnk is a stand-up so I want to write Brenda Monk Is Famous, so she becomes a famous stand-up and all the stuff that comes with that.
Finally, how would you sum up this year’s show in just five words?
Mathematical. Philosophical. Astronomical. Not topical.
Katy Brand: I Could’ve Been An Astronaut runs Saturday 5th August to Saturday 26th August at 6:20pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Above). Previews 2nd-4th August. No show Monday 14th August. Book tickets here.
Images: © Karla Gowlett