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I TALK TO Jenny Bede

"I do sometimes feel when I'm not there that I'm being forgotten about."

She's been away from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a year but now Jenny Bede is back with Jenny Bede: The Musical, a show which embraces her love of musicals.

No longer letting her musical theatre training get in the way of her comedy, I caught up with Jenny to find out exactly what that means for audiences and why she believes now more than ever, they're ready for it.

This is your third Fringe hour and a pattern is emerging where you do a show every other year. Is that on purpose?

To be honest, I feel like once I get everything out, I feel like I don't have much to say the next year. A lot of comics will say that's when you'll come up with the most creative material, but at the same time I think let the people who do have something say do a show and I'll wait. And financially, no matter how well you sell, Edinburgh is always a huge drain.

I've also been working on a lot of scripted stuff recently and I haven't found a way to be able to write scripts and an Edinburgh show at the same time.

That being said, I feel like there has been a step back in jobs in terms of my acting, which is fine, I'm not too bothered about it, but there are all these people at the Fringe that come up behind you, against you and in front of you every single year, so I do sometimes feel when I'm not there that I'm being forgotten about.

I'm already thinking that I'll probably do next year. Last year I went just to visit and I absolutely hated it because all I kept thinking was "Why am I not doing a show?" The good thing about taking off a year though is that I'm really excited about this year.

What can people expect from Jenny Bede: The Musical?

First thing to say is that it's not necessarily a full musical. It's kind of about doubling down on what you're good at. I spent a lot of time distancing myself from musical theatre because I wouldn't be taken seriously as a comic or an actor or anything else.

But it's having a bit of a resurgence so I'm life "Fuck it, this is what I think I'm best at and it's what I like doing the most. So let's do it!"

The premise is that I'm trying to write my own Hamilton and write my own part that way. So I've written somewhere between 35 and 44 musicals and I'm doing my favourite songs from some of them in the show.

Even at the beginning of the writing process, I set out to just have a really nice time this year. It hasn't been stressful putting the show together, it's been a total joy actually. I'm really hoping that comes across, but you never know.

You're right, musicals are having a resurgence at the moment. Why do you think that is?

I think sometimes it does go along with what's happening in the world. Most people's problems with musical is that it's so unrealistic that people would just jump into song and I think if you look at what a trash heap everything is politically, because the actual reality is so bleak people are like "Yeah, you know what, let's go with the unrealistic. Let's have something happier."

I feel like it's been a little bit like that with television as well, shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - whilst they sometimes do tackle quite dark issues, there's a positivity to those shows that sometimes audiences want. There are so many dramas on TV and I love dark comedy, don't get me wrong, but sometimes you just want to feel a bit more positive.

I do find that a lot more comedians sing during their sets now.

It's funny, I've spent the last five years telling myself that I'm not a proper comedian because I sing. For me, the reason I do it is because my background is in music. I studied musical theatre, I was in a girl band for a while - both of these things I talk about in my new show. So it was always the backdrop for everything I did.

If you think about how many hugely successful comedians there are, a very small proportion are musical comedians. It's not for everyone and I'm OK with that now. I used to think about taking the music out but now I think "Why would I take out the bit that I do best?"

Who are you hoping the audience will be for your show?

Well, it's interesting you ask that because I didn't want to call my show The Musical because I worried that it might put a lot of people off. It was called something else and then I changed it at the last minute and I'm still not sure it's the right choice.

I just want people to come who are open minded. But I also think it's for everyone because I'm not geeking out about musical theatre in it. There'll be some references of course, but it's not going to be a show you can't enjoy unless you know musicals.

What sort of themes do you tackle across the hour?

At the moment I'm talking about being in a girl band a lot...

Which you've never named...

Nope! You know what, I'm very lucky in that my time in a girl band was in 2001/2002 which was before YouTube so there's very little out there. Also, there was another band registered under the same name so actually when you Google it you get served this Indie band.

But I will be talking about it in the show because we unearthed a music video which is one of the worst things I've ever seen. My boyfriend watched it and could not look at me afterwards! That was when I was 19/20 and really bad at feminism.

What else do you talk about?

I talk about privilege a little bit and ghosts. I have a really ridiculous fear of ghosts and I know at 35 that's completely stupid. I can freak myself out so quickly and I think I've seen one. But I don't want to get into this because people will think I'm mad! But what I will say is that there's a trop of singing ghosts in musical theatre so I visit that a bit.

I got a puppy this year which has unfortunately made me 90% more basic than I already was. So I talk about him a bit. I've been very lucky in the last eight years to be consistently working and on the whole making enough money to support myself.

But I've been very very typecast. I have played about nine receptionists. And it's about walking that very fine line of acknowledging that I've been very lucky and ten years ago I'd have loved my career so I can't get spoilt about things - but, all my friends are a lot more successful than me, which is lovely, but sometimes highlights what you're not doing.

That's part of the reason why I moved more into writing. I won the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Award in 2017 which kick-started more scriptwriting which has been so rewarding. There are lots of brilliant scripts of course, but in so many of them you're basically a moving prop. You're like a girlfriend who rolls her eyes and I'm done with it.

And I think audiences are too.

It's such a "Ta-dah!" moment when Fleabag, Killing Eve, GameFace or Chewing Gum come along because it's something they're not used to. It's something they haven't seen before.

I remember going to see the female Ghostbusters film and having this mad high coming out of the cinema, realising that that's how men get to feel all the time. Seeing themselves fighting ghosts... which actually was quite scary for me! When you suddenly see yourself represented it opens this door of possibilities.

When men write for women, they'll go "Oh we've got this great part and need someone really funny to do it" and then you look at the part and she's maybe just a bit sassy, or a bit of a bitch. Or she'll say something a little bit snarky and that's not the same as a comedy character. That's not someone with comic flaws. It's just someone who says the occasional bitchy comment.

Don't get me wrong, there are actors out there who are much better at me that manage to do those parts and bring something to them, but on the whole it's a bit painting by numbers.

If you look at Hamilton, he wrote that because he's Porot Rican guy with maybe two parts he could play in musical theatre - one of them he couldn't dance well enough for and the other his voice wasn't operatic enough - so he wrote something himself and it's become so much bigger than that now.

So yes I want to write myself parts, but at the same time I'd also happily write these parts and give them to people who are better than me.

When did you start putting this year's show together?

I wrote my first song for this show in October and I'm working with a great director this year called Charlie Dinkin who's been a dream. She's a brilliant comedian herself but also has an incredible musical knowledge.

I'm thinking about taking an actual hour-long musical up there next year. I had my first musical theatre audition in 10 years recently and it was for SIX. I got a recall and when I got there were 50 women 10 years younger than me and I was the first one sent home. But don't worry, I'm fine! It made me laugh so much.

It's a great show, I love what they've done. And that started as an hour-long Edinburgh show so it feels like a good place to start a musical. Me and my ex (Abandoman) are writing a musical which we're hoping to get together by the end of the year which could have a life next Edinburgh.

How have the previews been going?

They've been really good on the whole but what's been tricky has been venues not being set up for music very well. I did have one preview a couple of weeks ago where the venue had a limiter on sound so as soon as I started singing over a track, the track cuts out. It was impossible. After the first 5 minutes I had to stop.

So because of that I've got fewer feasible previews which means I'm having to make them more meaningful. But it's good because it makes them more like a dress rehearsal.

What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh this year?

Living with Suzi (Ruffell) again is a big one! I'm not going to the Pleasance this year, I'm doing Just the Tonic which is a pay what you want model. I'm quite hopeful that I might lose less money than normal. It will feel a bit more like free Fringe Edinburgh, if I have a good first couple of shows I could do really well.

What I'm actually really happy about is that there are very few expectations of me. Because I wasn't there and I wasn't visible last year, no one's really thinking about me which gives me this opportunity to go back and show people what I'm doing now without many preconceived ideas.

Unfortunately, I think I was a bit misunderstood at the beginning of my career. People thought I was an impressionist which I wasn't. And I get that I probably did that to myself but parody is very different to impressionism but people don't always realise that.

I'm looking forward to being part of it again and singing every day. There's this idea that singing and group singing in particular is brilliant for mental health. It's uplifting and something that's been going on for centuries and centuries.

I'm weirdly optimistic and I don't think I've ever felt like this at this time of year before.

Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?

Suzi (Ruffell) and I are in development with a production company for a series which came from a drunken conversation we had when we lived together. We both moved in together after we both had long-term heartbreaks and I had a pregnancy scare.

And she was like "Oh just have it! We'll do it again." so after thinking it would be amazing we then realised that would be a terrible idea. So we decided to write a sitcom about it. We're in a world now where people are buying houses with friends and I think co-parenting is going to definitely become a thing. When you've got a stronger relationship with a best friend than you do with any man or woman in your life, I think it's feasible.

I'm about to be in the new TV adaptation of Four Weddings and A Funeral and I'm about to pitch a teen idea to Disney, with music in it. And this has been a focus for me, trying to find a TV project with music in it. I'm just trying to find a way to do that without making a budget Crazy Ex Girlfriend.

Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?

Ear worms and eye treats.

Jenny Bede: The Musical runs from 1st - 25th August (not 12th) at 5:05pm at Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Cask Room). Book tickets here.


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