"For people who aren't very well versed in gender fluidity or toxic masculinity, I hope my show gives them a fun route in."
I first saw Chloe Petts perform as a finalist in Leicester Square Theatre's New Comedian of the Year in 2017 and have been anticipating her debut hour ever since.
In 2018, she was part of the Pleasance Comedy Reserve which meant that she was able to share the bill at the Pleasance Dome with three other up-and-coming comedians. In 2019 she split an hour with comedian Sam Lake and in 2020 she was due to take her debut hour Transience to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Good things come to those who wait and whilst this might be Chloe's debut hour in Edinburgh, it's a show she's already performed a number of times up and down the country and comes off the back of supporting Ed Gamble on his latest tour.
In Transience, Chloe promises to use her trademark cerebral “laddishness” to examine her desperate attempts at living in the moment, the darts and her (strictly non-romantic) love for men who watch it.
Away from the Fringe, Chloe has appeared in a number of television shows including Hypothetical, Richard Osman's House of Games and Pointless Celebrities.
As Chloe is one of my 9 exciting newcomers to see at this year's festival, I caught up with her to discuss, amongst other things, her route into comedy, what people can expect from her debut hour and how working with Ed Gamble has made her a sillier comedian.
How did you first get into comedy and what made you want to become a stand-up?
I wasn't a comedy obsessive as a teenager in the way a lot of comedians now, were. I was a big French & Saunders fan, a big Vicar of Dibley fan, but it was never "I love comedy". I just liked the gentle and inclusive stuff that was on the TV.
At school I'd do a lot of assemblies and I'd always be in funny plays and I remember a teacher going to me "You should do stand-up comedy" and I was like "A-ha, I've never thought of that. Maybe I should do stand-up comedy." - but never thought of it in any substantial way.
Then I went to uni where I was in the drama society and did lots of plays. I realised that I wasn't really playing characters, I was just doing a different version of myself for every role and would play it for laughs.
Whatever it was. It might have been Romeo & Juliet and I'd think "I'll get them laughing". Obviously, there is a lot of comedy in Romeo & Juliet but probably not in the scene I was in where they discovered the body of Romeo.
Leaving uni, I had to make the decision of whether or not to do an MA, to try and be an actor and I thought that sounded like a lot of work, that is reliant on other people. So I thought, I'll do the much easier thing of trying to be a stand-up comedian. Which subsequently turned out to be very hard.
Two weeks after my exams ended, I went to an open mic and about a year before, I decided that I wanted to do stand-up comedy. So literally everyone that I bumped into, I'd tell them that I was going to do stand-up comedy. So when I bumped into them again and they'd ask "Have you done stand-up?" I was like "No." and the feeling of sham became so intense, that I had to go and do my first open mic.
I then did loads of open mics and progressed quite the traditional way. I did Pleasance Reserve, split bills at the Fringe, entered the competitions and got an agent.
And are you happy with where you're at right now?
I'm so pleased with where I'm at. The fact that I'm making a living from stand-up comedy and have done for the past year, is... I don't know... I constantly will have moments where I'm cleaning the kitchen or something and I'll just stop and think "Wow. This is so cool."
I really hope obviously, that things keep progressing and I keep getting to do more and appear on more shows, but the fact I'm not shit at it anymore - I've written an hour of comedy which I'm really pleased with and I make a living out of it.
What made you decide to do Edinburgh this year then?
2020 was meant to be the big debut year so it's quite funny really, I should be on my third one. I remember being really nervous about it in January 2020, when it hit me that Edinburgh was nearer than I thought it was going to be.
Now, I feel vastly prepared for it. Sometimes you go to Edinburgh thinking it's this big make-or-break thing. I need to nail it otherwise my career is going to be off the rails and it's going to be awful. And now I'm just like, Edinburgh is a great thing to showcase your work. It's also a place that's meant to be fun and help you learn and grow, It's not the end of a marathon, it's the beginning of one.
I feel supremely excited to be back and I'm so glad I'm going into it, not subsumed by exam nerves. I've got a show that I'm happy with. All my mates are gonna be there. It's going to be amazing!
There are many comedians, yourself included, who get opportunities that usually come after an Edinburgh run. Why did you still want to do Edinburgh this year?
It's still a really good place to go and showcase your work because essentially, everyone will be there. It's kind of worrying really. Do we go there because that's what we do and no one's questioned the narrative?
It's really fun, it is a good place to be seen and I do think as well, that yes, I have got a lot of stuff before my Edinburgh debut, but I only got that because of the pandemic essentially. People have been kind enough to progress me through, without the strength of that first hour.
I do still think there's stuff that I won't get until I can show that I can do comedy across an hour.
What can people expect when they come to watch the show?
It's silly. I wanted to keep it silly because I'm dealing with.... well, people see them as heavy things, but I don't see them as heavy, because it's just aspects of my identity which I don't see as heavy at all. I see it as quite fun.
I think that's a cool perspective to have, where people think things in the cultural conversation around masculinity and gender fluidity because they're embroiled in this culture war, people think they're a heavy thing, embroiled with trauma. Whereas what I'm trying to do is show the silly side of it, the playful side of it, the funny side of it.
For people who aren't very well versed in gender fluidity or toxic masculinity, I hope my show gives them a fun route in. And I hope no one feels patronised, talked down to or lectured. But also, if you get people on side by being silly and playful and having a good time, being inclusive and creating this atmosphere of us all being in it together, it does earn me the ability at the end to do a bit more of a hard-hitting message.
I just want to introduce people to my life and my experience and hopefully, that can help them to look at a different side and consider a different thing.
How did you settle on Transience as the title?
I say in the show that the reason I chose Transience is that I had to name it at the beginning of the first lockdown and I thought I would get a lot more reading than I did. So I named it a very clever thing and it was going to be about the mutability of time and living in the moment, with a message about gender and appeal to reason on the transgender issue at the moment - transgender issue in quotation marks.
We very much don't have one as the left, it's the right that has the transgender issue... anyway, it was meant to be those two-pronged things but then I realised that was a shit idea so I decided to talk about the things that are interesting to me and that is about gender and a unique look at what it is to be a woman that is very masculine presenting.
Who are you hoping will come and watch your show?
I just hope anyone comes to see it. It's really nice, having toured it, that queer people will come and nod along to certain parts. I hope I can represent them on stage and say things that they wouldn't have necessarily heard before and make them comfortable in knowing that I would never say anything that would be incredibly upsetting to their identity.
I opened for Ed Gamble, so I get a lot of his lovely audience come along. Sweet little straight couples that are organised enough to in the interval go "We'll buy tickets for Chloe Petts". It's also really nice when queer kids bring their parents. Sometimes the parents will be like "I don't understand what the fuck is going on here" but they'll have a nice time too.
It would also be nice to have some older people, potentially some men, come and see it. I don't really have any interest in performing to the meatheads. Although if they want to come, hopefully, they'll enjoy it and learn something.
How are you feeling?
I should probably start feeling something, shouldn't I? I think, fine. But ask me that question again, two weeks into the run, and I'll probably run at you with a sharp object or something!
I'm in the middle of moving house at the moment so I think that's the thing that's taken over and then the next thing that I'll think about is Edinburgh.
I do feel a little nervous about that, but I've toured the show in preview before, so I've done it lots of times and the good thing is, I'm always finding new stuff in it and whilst my show might be the same, the audiences are different and you're always really responsive to that.
It's a really good editing process, doing a show over and over because if there's a bit that you really don't want to do that night, cut it. Why keep an extra five minutes in your show just for the sake of hitting the hour. Just cut it and write something else or mess around and play with the audience.
I feel a little nervous and it could become a bit of a slog, but as long as I can keep those things in place to keep it fresh and keep it new, I'll still be excited. And I've allowed space in the show to speak to the audience.
There are routines that I really like and every time I think about Edinburgh, I just feel excited. I've got images of going for a lovely run in the morning, going into town, having lunch with my friends, doing a show, having a few drinks. It's going to be great.
You just mentioned earlier about opening for Ed Gamble. He's no stranger to the Edinburgh Fringe, has he offered you any advice at all?
Probably the inverse of advice. He's told me exactly how not to handle it. This year, he's coming up for 10 days, staying in a lovely hotel. He's reached that level now where he's one of the dons of the Edinburgh Fringe.
What I've learnt from Ed, is he would probably refer to me as an issues-based comedian whereas he's very much a silly, playful comedian where it's routine after routine after routine, engineered to get rolling laughs out of people. I would guess insubstantial, and I don't mean that as a criticism, I mean that as he's really good at walking into any room and saying what is funny about the people that are there and large swathes of British society.
I obviously want to do that has a message to it and what he taught me is to never choose message over funny. If a routine where I want to say something isn't working, I'll either put more jokes in it - and if the jokes don't work, I'll drop it. Because funny is the most important thing.
I think I've got a lot sillier and a lot more playful since working with Ed. Putting stupid bits in the middle of routines where I'm talking about something more substantial has hopefully elevated the show and elevated my comedy.
Who are you looking forward to seeing?
Ania Magliano. She's amazing. She's so funny and so likeable. Really smart, really diligent, really dedicated. I'm really excited to see her because she's one of my best mates. I think she's going to have a great Fringe and we've gone through this progress together. I'm excited to see all of the hard work that she's put in, all of the worry that she's had, and all of the stress that she's felt, just pay off.
Sean McLoughlin. I think he's the best. I think he's the best in the biz. After watching him do an hour I come out going "Yeah, that's what I want to do. I want to be that good." I find him so inspiring. You've just laughed at these incredibly formulated routines, as part of this incredibly formulated overarching show with an amazing payoff. And as well as that, he's had the most funny breakdown you've ever seen on stage. He'll have responded to everything in the room. He's just perfect.
I'd say those are my two big ones.
You’re also taking The LOL Word up to Edinburgh, what is The LOL Word and what can audiences expect from that show?
The LOL Word is a group that I co-founded with Shelf, Jodie Mitchell and Chloe Green in 2017. We put on mixed bill lineups of exclusively woman and nonbinary comics, doing a monthly show at the Soho Theatre and various other shows around the UK.
You can expect a raucous and joyous evening of queer comedy that never holds its punches but never aims those punches down.
You've done a few bits on telly including Richard Osman's House of Games, Hypothetical, Pointless Celebrities and The Stand-Up Sketch Show, where do you see that side of your career going?
It's a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables outside of my control. My priority has always been to focus on the bit that I can focus on, which is the live stuff. Write the jokes. Get better at writing jokes. Perform so that you can keep getting better and better.
I'm really excited that now I've got my show ready, I've already got ideas for my next one. I'm excited to get back in September, have a couple of weeks off and then get back to writing. That would be what's in my control. Going back out on tour with Ed. Doing another of my tours in Spring.
But, I'd be disingenuous to say I'm not excited about the possibilities of what could come after Edinburgh. What I hope happens, is I have a really good one, lots of TV offers come in, I get to do panels, I get to do more things like Pointless Celebrities - but, to be honest, I hope that happens. I'll be buzzing if it does. But if it didn't, I'm still pretty happy. I've got lots of great stuff going on.
I'm more than happy with just ticking over with the live stuff and taking what I can in the TV area. You watch Frank Skinner, you watch Zoe Lyons, you watch all these people and you go, you are fucking killer. I wanna be able to go into most rooms in the UK and annihilate. And you don't get that without just doing it, doing it, doing it.
The LOL Word
Monkey Barrel Comedy, Monkey Barrel 1 (4-6, 11-13, 18-20 & 25-27 August, 11.55pm)