Comedian Catherine Bohart, star of 8 out of 10 Cats and The Mash Report, talks to us about ways to keep smiling despite the news, how to make your run at Edinburgh Fringe a success, and her favourite restaurants in Brighton.
BB: Tell us about your new show, Lemon.
CB: The show is largely about love, sex, relationships and people’s perceptions of queer women. It was born from a reaction to something that happened at my first show, Immaculate, which was about growing up as the bisexual daughter of a Catholic deacon. A woman came to that show and left very annoyed, declaring that I was disgusting for talking about my sex life on stage. It’s actually not what I did in that show, but I think it’s fascinating about how people react to queer people talking about their queerness, and so I wanted to have a show that celebrated it. I also thought it was funny that anybody could go to a show at the Edinburgh Fringe and be surprised that they’re listening to a queer person.
BB: Is there anything you’d never want to talk about on stage, or do you consider it all to be fair game?
CB: There are things I think require more than one person’s perspective to have the kind of nuance they deserve – but those are very few and far between in my mind. There’s some elements in terms of trauma I don’t trust an audience with, and also I can’t make funny enough. I think it’s all fair game, but I only talk about things that I’m comfortable talking about after the show – people will ask questions! You never know how a show is going to be received, but you can inadvertently end up become a spokesperson for a matter if you’re not careful.
BB: You’ve talked about building trust with your audience and a key part of being a comedian is reading the room – how do you deal with managing your audience?
CB: That’s one of my favourite parts of the job. I think the main thing I have to do is be aware of the people who are enjoying it. As a comic it’s really easy to focus on the one person who is hating you, so reminding yourself of everyone around you who’s enjoying it is very important. I try not to over think it – often somebody is just listening and they just happen to have a particularly dour face.
BB: You’re well known for your work on The Mash Report – what’s your top tip to help people keep smiling even when the news cycle seems relentless?
CB: It seems so lame, but I studied history and I try to remind myself that things move in cycles and that as bad as the world can seem it will be good again. Also, instead of your enemies, focus on people you like and care about. People are who are good people to yourself and remind yourself that the world’s not all bad.
I like to think that when I’m most frustrated in the world that there’s got to be more people like me who are also frustrated. It’s comforting to know there has to be enough of us who think “this isn’t how the world should work”. I love that The Mash Report exists because we need more comedy that holds people in power to a higher standard and reminds them that they’re being observed. But of course it is hard so I would say that chocolate is also an option!
BB: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedians?
CB: Gig as much as possible. It’s said a lot but there’s nothing that will account for face time. Decide to get something out of a gig if it’s not paid. In your early career it can take a good while before you get paid, so decide what you want out of the gig as ‘payment’. For example, you can think “I want to try talking to an audience member tonight” or “I want to try creating a different energy.” Whatever it is focus on that. It can be a bit soulless to go to gigs and not get paid five nights a week and doing just five minutes where no one cares about what you’re saying, so you need to get something out of it for yourself. And there’ll be so many Megabuses. Megabuses for days!
Another thing is to experiment as much as possible. I know when you start out it’s really tempting to stick with your five [minutes] or 10 [minutes], but if you’re doing new acts and open mics then keep changing your set because it’s just so important to keep challenging yourself every night and not get stuck.
BB: You’ve performed at Edinburgh Fringe many times now – do you have any advice for not long surviving the Fringe but making it a success too?
CB: When you’re doing Edinburgh you need to set achievable goals that aren’t in the hands of someone else. It’s impossible to go to Edinburgh and not come out a better comic if you gig a lot. Because you’re doing the same show each day in Edinburgh you can give yourself personal goals for the show. For example, “I want to get in more audience interaction”, or “I want to try to do that bit differently”. That way you can get better at everything because you’re doing it every day.
In terms of general advice, don’t debut until you’re ready and try not to go there alone. The reality is that shows in good rooms with good PR can be seen by more people; whether or not that’s fair I wouldn’t like to say. You can’t be too ready to do a show at the Fringe but you can definitely be underprepared and it’s a lot to do alone. Oh, advice 101: go to the Fringe before you do the Fringe. My first Fringe I’d started comedy in the April and I went that August and I did 50 gigs, I flyered for two shows and I teched another show. So I got the sense of it as a comic doing gigs, as an audience member and I got a sense of it as a flyerer and a technician: it taught me so much. I’m strongly in favour of going and witnessing the horror before you agree to participate in it!
BB: You mentioned that when going to Edinburgh it’s important not to do it alone. Previously you’d done a show with Cally Beaton (Cat Call) and obviously you’ve worked with your partner Sarah Keyworth a lot. Is there anything you prefer about doing your own show over working with someone else?
CB: When it’s just you, you can make a mistake and it doesn’t affect anybody else. You can also do things further ahead and think “Ok I’ll remedy that” without having to telepathically try and communicate with someone about what you’re trying to do. It’s also easier to be sensitive to the alone. You can go “they’re not feeling this, I need to change something” and you’re in charge of that. There are some times I need to cut 10 minutes because something happened in the room and I started to talk to somebody, or something that worked in previews isn’t working now. You can be quite savage with your own work in a way that maybe you can’t do with other people and you’re not tempering for anybody else’s view, which can be a good thing. Doing stuff alone really makes you aware of what your voice is rather than what you are reacting to.
BB: Who makes you laugh?
CB: Sarah [Keyworth] always makes me laugh – she makes me laugh at home and on stage. She’s very funny and she is the silliest person I know. I’m really lucky that she is such a goofball. You’ll see her just looking seriously out a window and then you’ll turn back a minute later and she’ll have her bum out. I also think she’s a phenomenal stand up, she’s hilarious.
There are so many other great stand ups that make me laugh: Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan, Sophie Duker, Helen Bauer. Ivo Graham is excellent and Rose Matafeo; there are just so many great stand ups at the moment. Most times when I go to gigs I see a stand up when I think “fucking hell you’re good”. I know people talk about there being too many stand ups, but I think that the fact that there are so many means people have to be bloody brilliant to make a living.
BB: Do you have any favourite spots in Brighton?
CB: I love the Komedia – that big room is just glorious. Everyone wants to have a nice time and it’s an amazing room.
BB: What do you like to do when you’re down in Brighton?
CB: Eat! Eat everything, it’s all so delicious. Food for Friends is spectacular and Dough for breakfast. Just eat your way around town!
Catherine Bohart is currently touring her new show Lemon across the UK. You can catch her in at the Komedia in Brighton on 8th February.