ED2017 Caro Meets ED2017 Comedy ED2017 Interviews ED2017 Review Edition

Angela Barnes: Fortitude

By | Published on Thursday 8 June 2017

You may be aware of her from her appearances on TV and radio, or from her live work in Edinburgh and elsewhere, but if you aren’t, then it’s high time you got to know Angela Barnes, who helpfully returns to the Fringe this year with her new show ‘Fortitude’.
I was keen to find out more about that, and about her career in general, so made time for a quick chat.

CM: I’m inclined to think it would be best if we began at the beginning. What drew you to a career in comedy? What made you want to perform?
AB: I’m a late starter in comedy, was in my 30s when I did my first open spot. I’ve been comedy obsessed as long as I can remember, but mistakenly thought performing was for the cool kids. Well, it often is, but not in comedy, it’s the one place where being an outsider is celebrated. It took the sudden death of my comedy loving Dad to make me go “life’s too short, let’s give this a go” and now I’m just enjoying the ride.

CM: As you say, you weren’t always a comedian; until you were 33 you were working in health and social care. That must have been quite a transition. Is there anything about your former life that you miss?
AB: I do miss the people I worked with, both staff and clients. Some of the funniest people I know work in some of the most difficult settings. I think that it’s compassion that brings humour. You can’t be a compassionate person without wanting to make people smile, and most colleagues in health and social care weren’t there for the dollar.

There’s an element of gallows humour too of course, you have to get through the day, sometimes in quite bleak circumstances. I am not envious of people in that sector today, with cuts making so many services barely tenable, there are people working miracles on a daily basis in the NHS, social services, charity sector and across the public sector and I salute them.

CM: What did you expect from a life as an entertainer, and has it all turned out as you would have expected?
AB: I’m not really sure what I expected life as a jobbing comedian to be. It’s quite a bi-polar existence, with pretty extreme ups and downs. One minute I am sitting on a panel show, appearing alongside my heroes, who are now my friends, and I have to pinch myself. Then the next day, I am driving six hours to do a gig to uninterested drunk stags and hens who are enduring the comedy until the disco starts. I don’t think I realised the sheer amount of solitude that the job entails, in cars, in hotel rooms, locked in my spare room writing and trying to resist making another sandwich. But I am growing to like that element of it, so am hoping it won’t turn me into a bitter old misanthrope!

But please don’t think I’m moaning, I’m the luckiest. I love my job and I rarely have to get out of bed before 10am. I am literally in my bed right now.

CM: You’ve made appearances on quite a few TV and radio panel shows. Do you have a favourite? Are there shows you’d like to appear on but haven’t yet?
AB: I guess ‘The News Quiz’ means a lot to me. I grew up listening to it. I am a huge fan of the late Linda Smith, and to sit in a seat on that show that she once occupied is beyond my wildest dreams. I would love to do ‘Just A Minute’ on Radio 4, just to have Nicholas Parsons talk to me in that sweet patronising way he has, then I’d know I’d made it as a comic on the radio. I do have a passion for radio comedy, largely because I don’t have to brush my hair. I enjoy TV panel shows too, ‘Mock The Week’ is always fun. I’d really love to do ‘QI’, I’m a huge fan of the show, and the ‘No Such thing As A Fish’ podcast. I love useless trivia, I lap that stuff up. Please let me be on ‘QI’…

CM: How do those kind of appearances compare to the process of creating your own radio show, last year’s ‘You Can’t Take It With You’?
AB: I loved doing ‘You Can’t take It With You’. It was based on my 2014 Edinburgh show of the same name. To be able to create four episodes of something that I had creative control over was so exciting. It was a show about living and dying really, but it was a tribute to my Dad. We were very close, he was my best mate, and definitely a “character”. Losing him was the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life, and doing stand up was my reaction to that. He never got to see me perform comedy, that’s why it meant so much to me to have my first show be about him. And he’d be chuffed to bits to know that he was the subject of a radio comedy series, being the massive radio comedy nerd that he was.

CM: Do you have any other broadcast stuff in the pipeline?
AB: I will be hosting a new series of ‘Newsjack’ in the autumn, so, y’know, let’s hope this slow old news cycle picks up before then eh?

CM: Tell us about your new show ‘Fortitude’ – what themes do you cover in the show? Why did you want to talk about them?
AB: 2016 was a pretty remarkable year for so many reasons, and for me it was the year I turned forty. The show isn’t a mid-life crisis show, I promise, It’s a show about being a forty year old who was sold the idea that she doesn’t have to grow up if she doesn’t want to. I love being forty so far, but then I literally have no more responsibilities than I did when I was twenty, so why wouldn’t I? It’s about being part of the Peter Pan Generation, and what that really means. And there are jokes.

CM: Looking at my generation, I feel as though refusing to don the traditional mantle of age is becoming relatively common. Do you think “not getting middle-aged” is a trend that is here to stay?
AB: I think we all stopped being in a rush to grow up, and that is no bad thing. It’s about what you want out of your life. If settling down and having a family is what you want, that’s brilliant, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong to want to hitch hike around the world for the rest of your days either. Life is about making choices, and not feeling guilty for making the ones that are right for you. I think living is about being as happy as you can be while causing no harm to anybody else.

CM: I noticed that Trump is mentioned in your press release, but is there actually a political element to this show…?
AB: Only in as much as however much you might think you don’t “do” politics, the past twelve months has made them pretty impossible to ignore. I am fascinated by modern history and politics, and what is happening in the world today is quite gripping for a news geek. This show is quite a personal show, but it’s not completely introspective.

CM: What keeps you going back to Edinburgh? What do you love about it? Are there anything about it you don’t like?
AB: Edinburgh is like a comedy boot camp, there are times when you feel you just can’t go on, but mostly, you feel fit and exhilarated by it. You can’t do a run at the Edinburgh Fringe and not come out of it a better performer when you are doing several shows a day. The audiences are usually great, filled with comedy fans and people who just want to enjoy themselves, or, at the very least, are happy to be out of the rain. I love so many things about Edinburgh as a place too, not least that The Commie pool is my favourite swimming pool in the UK, and to get to swim in that every day for a month is bliss. I also love that for a month I don’t have to drive anywhere or get on a train.

CM: Which other acts will you make a point of seeing whilst you are there?
AB: So many, and I can’t possibly list them all. I think Lou Conran’s show is going to be something really special this year, so I am looking forward to seeing that. I always make a point of telling everyone to watch Mat Ewins’ shows and Tom Neenan’s shows. Two very different acts, but both doing something very unique and bloody funny. I will also make sure I catch Evelyn Mok, Matt Richardson, Sara Pascoe, Charlie Baker, Mark Steel and Hannah Gadsby.

CM: What plans do you have for after the Fringe?
AB: Straight back to gigging after the Fringe, getting ready for a new series of Newsjack and thinking about next year’s show…

CM: What plans do you have for the future? What unfulfilled ambitions would you like to dust off?
AB: I try not to make too many plans, I’m a strong believer in managed expectations! I already can’t believe my luck. I’d really love to do a little tour in the not too distant future. I would love to do more radio stuff and would love to try my hand at writing some narrative comedy, I feel like I’ve got a sitcom in me somewhere.

Angela Barnes performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2017.