To regular consumers of comedy on the UK circuit, Kate Smurthwaite is known for her series of topical, satirical stand up shows, ‘The News at Kate’. But that’s just part of the story. Martin Walker interrupted her busy tour of TV, radio and comedy venues to talk about what she’s been up to.
I loved being on Question Time. It's what I was born to do!
“My show, ‘The News At Kate’ was a generic title for me doing political comedy. I first used it in 2009 and really at any given moment in time there is a show called ‘The News At Kate’ about what's going on politically and the debates I've recently been involved in. Over the course of a year it becomes a new show. And within that sometimes an hour-long show crystallises and then gets a sub-title to distinguish it. ‘The News At Kate: My Professional Opinion’ was one show, and I now tour that as ‘My Professional Opinion’”.
A popular stand-up comic and satirist, she also seems to inhabit the role of feminist/lefty/humanist ‘go to woman’ for TV and radio.
“That's certainly true for some producers and great, I'm happy to have that role. I've only gotten there by writing articles on these subjects, being invited on to defend my views and then being invited back because I've done well. I'm not the only one though; there are some amazing feminists, lefties and atheists out there. And the news can often be biased, yes, by presenting a debate you can often give the impression that the issue is a 50-50 sort of thing when actually that may not be true. I try to overcome this by being right and winning all arguments!”
At least half of the country watching must have found themselves punching the air as she tore into Kenneth Clarke on BBC1’s Question Time.
“I loved being on Question Time. It's what I was born to do! It's recorded live so there's no editing and no escaping. So I got to pin Clarke and the Tories on climate change, the appalling way asylum seekers are treated in the UK, the tobacco lobby. I've always said I want to be the kind of comedian politicians are afraid of and that was one of those moments when I really got to live that. I'm afraid there's no behind the scenes gossip though, he left as soon as the show finished and I had dinner with the other guests and Dimbleby”.
Back to comedy, and Kate bemoans the lack of quality satire on TV and radio.
“I think we're lacking much real satire. You get the sort-of satire "lite" of shows like Stand Up For The Week that never really seem to do much more than scratch the surface of the real issues. Plus these days so much TV comedy does the huge drunk laugh-at-anything audience thing. It's the canned laughter of the 21st century, it's so annoying. It's like they think viewers need to be told what to laugh at. We need a lot more proper political comedy. And a lot more women on comedy shows”.
The BBC recently annouced an edict that there would be no more all male panel shows on its channels.
“Can I be the first to say that one-per-show might be an improvement but it's not the solution? How about 50%? You know, like the population? It might be hard to achieve short term - though not that hard, there are loads of brilliant female acts - but it should be our goal and it's a great goal and an achievable one. The sooner we set that as a target, the sooner we'll get there”.
If she were curating a stand up show for television, who would be her guests?
“Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, Jon Stewart, Bridget Christie, Janey Godley, Rob Newman, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas and Susan Calman. God only knows who we'd book in week two after that!”
Kate Smurthwaite is on tour. Check out the listings:
She is also appearing as part of the Brighton Comedy Festival: