Athena Kugblenu has been up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a few years but this year marks her debut hour, KMT.
Athena’s debut appears to have arrived at the perfect time as she promises to find a new way to talk about politics, class, race and identity at a time both ends of the political spectrum couldn’t be any further apart.
Here’s what she had to say about her debut Edinburgh hour KMT..
So this is your debut hour the Fringe. Why this year?
Yes, it’s my debut hour. I’ve gone up to have a peek for the last couple of years. As for why now? Because it’s kind of time and my stuff is kind of topical so it has to come out now. I think I have interesting things to say and if I wait another year, it won’t be funny.
I always thought to myself that I’m not going to talk about things everyone’s talking about unless my voice is a bit different and unique.
That’s why I want to go up this year.
So what are you talking about then?
Oh the usual. I cover quite a lot of things. I talk about America, Brexit and the election that’s just happened. I also talk about general topics like immigration, racism and sexism. There’s bit on bikini waxing too.
And my heritage too because I’ve got a very diverse background and there are some nice stories that come out of that.
So it’s about a lot of things but within that are things that a lot of people have been talking about this year.
Do you find that your show is changing a lot because the world is moving so fast?
Yeah! I’ve had to change it up quite a bit but I like that too because it’s important to keep it fresh for people. I don’t think people want to go to Edinburgh and hear the same things they’ve been hearing on Mock The Week and all that.
A lot of people haven’t liked all the change, but I’ve quite enjoyed it because it’s an opportunity to make sure that when your show goes to Edinburgh it’s not only fresh for the audience but it’s fresh for you.
It’s quite a nice feeling putting out fresh material because you get bored of your stuff don’t you?
How have you found filling the Edinburgh hour?
I’ve actually got a few editing problems because I’m running over! Which is not a bad thing but I’m having to be very brutal.
That’s the great thing I think about the climate now. There’s so much happening and nothing stays the same which is why there’s lots of extra material.
Filling the hour is not the hardest part. Making it incredibly funny, keeping the best stuff and cutting the fat is the real challenge.
You’ve called the show KMT. Why that title?
It sums me up first of all. I actually use KMT, “Kiss my teeth”, a lot when I’m on WhatsApp or on Twitter because I tend to find myself annoyed and then I realise that actually, we’re all bloody annoyed aren’t we really?
Everyone at some point in the last 12 to 24 months has gotten what they wanted, but we’re still annoyed.
There’s got to be something in that and we probably have more in common than we think. It’s just that people are denying us our common ground because it doesn’t suit them.
So it’s called Kiss My Teeth because we can all agree that we’re kissing our teeth.
What are you hoping people will take away from the show?
I’d love people to start having better conversations about subjects that they tend to shy away from. I really enjoy that people are coming to see a show that is fundamentally about race and politics and some quite sensitive subjects, but they’re coming out thinking that was quite pleasant.
It’s about telling my story and my story is actually everyone’s story because my story doesn’t happen in isolation, I don’t live in a vacuum. I live on a planet with everyone so it can’t just be me.
I hope that people come out and they’re thirsty to either see more comedians like me, that talk about the things I talk about, and also maybe think more about their positions on things. We get sugared quite a lot so maybe people will leave my show and think about being more thoughtful about my opinions and where they come from.
Generally, I just want them to laugh for an hour.
How long have you been working on this show for?
Since sort of January time. So from the time I knew I wanted to come to Edinburgh I started of with just a ten-minute set that I had and was doing around December/January. So I’d bee writing it since the band over the last six months it’s just expanded.
How have the previews been going?
When people have shown up, quite nice. Quite encouraging and the thing about previews I think, is that you’re not giving people the final show. So they enjoyed something that’s 70-80% done.
I don’t think you ever quite know how it’s going to go. Then you’ll do a show where one bit is amazing and you’ll do your next show and that same bit is a bit flat.
How do you decide which bits stay in and which bits don’t?
There are bits that I’m going to keep if my show, even though they’re not like “Oh my God they’re hilarious”, because I feel like the context is important to understand the entire show.
How did you first get into comedy?
I started in 2012 and I think it’s the same origins for everyone else. They get told they’re quite funny and should do something creative so I thought I’d give it a crack.
Mainly because at the time a lot of very very famous comedians were on Britain’s Richest lists and I thought “Oh hello! I’ll have a bit of that pie.” Then very early on you realise that that’s another universe.
But I was encouraged by my friends and my peers to keep going and every year I set myself goals snd if I meet them I continue.
How have you found being a diverse woman in comedy?
There’s two sides. The comedy world is far more accepting than it gets credit for. But the comedy world is the sum of its parts. So there are certain parts of it that have proved to be quite challenging.
So for example, the reality is that a promoter books a woman of colour and that’s their quota for the bill. There are people on the circuit that I see once a year.
That’s offset by the fact that there are so few women of colour in comedy that there are enough spots to go round. So the promoters are behaving in this way which is grossly unfair for all of us, but there are so few of us that we still manage to get stage time around the country.
It’s happening, but at the same time the bar is a little higher for us generally speaking. And that’s not just our win the comedy world, generally speaking in your professional life you always get told you have to work harder.
In the end, that’s great for comedy because it makes you really strict. I’m going into a room and I know that straight off the bat people might be thinking “Oh my God, what has she got for us?” and I want my first laugh to be massive.
Whereas that’s not something that might be on the minds of another comedian who’s a white male or even white female.
You can use the idea of being an outsider to be more excellent. Even though that’s essentially unfair. Why can’t I be crap like everyone else?
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
I’m dying to do the tenth date of my show. Because after doing it nine times I feel like but the tenth time I’m hoping to feel an energy come through the show because it’s going to be so sharp and refined.
Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing when you’re up there?
Yeah, Dane Baptiste, Twayna Mayne, Bilal Zafar, Dana Alexander and Fern Brady. Their shows are looking good.
There are a couple of plays I want to see as well including one based on Nina Simone called Nina which is on at The Young Vic now but has sold out there and I’ve just learnt that it’s on in Edinburgh.
Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
Challenging. Hilarious. Unique political comedy.
Athena Kugblenu: KMT runs Saturday 5th August to Sunday 27th August at 5:50pm at the Underbelly Med Quad. Previews 2nd-4th August. No show Monday 14th August. Book tickets here.