While from the outside, it can look like a brawl for attention and a competition to find a comeback-insult powerful enough to castrate, on the inside, the world of comedy seems to be treating Jenny Bede pretty well. First and foremost, she’s made an enviable amount of friends on the circuit and it’s not all that hard to see why: effortlessly funny onstage, and easy to get on with offstage, she’d be hard to dislike. That’s quite fortunate, because she remarks that ‘no-one could get through Edinburgh without a lot of friends’ admitting that there are times when a Fringe Festival run can seem startlingly ‘groundhog day’ in repetition and routine; having a fall-back cohort of fellow-performers to rely on can help break the cycle.
Sharing an hour with Jesse Cave, Jenny made her first trip to Edinburgh Fringe 2 years ago. She recalls that, ‘We barely told anyone we were going, we just went on our own terms and it was lovely because there was absolutely no pressure.’ Now back for the third time, and bringing scores of original musical comedy with her, ‘This is basically the opposite of that. I’ve had some lovely articles saying lovely things’, such as being picked out as a rising star by The Guardian. While that does offer a boost of confidence, she knows that there’s added expectation and the thought of being alone on stage for a total of 25 days does seem quite ‘scary’.
But by this point in time, the comedian has built up a pretty impressive career history. She wrote material for and presented Mad On Chelsea: the bafta-winning 4OD spin-off from North London’s crowning jewel of reality TV. Another highlight includes making her own BBC pilot AAA, in the style of the youtube parody videos that made her name. She’s still producing these, and will be releasing her latest – a parody of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood – shortly, having roped in a number of her comedian friends. However she’s used to matching the lighter side of her career with the seemingly incongruous vocation of brain surgery. Having only left the assistant job officially last year, she reminisces that, ‘it made me feel quite useful. You know, I think there’s a certain narcissism to performing, I was sort of offsetting myself… [in working] where nothing’s about you, you’re just there for the patients.’ She says that ‘even though it was depressing as hell […] there’s nothing like brain surgery to put things into perspective!’ Stepping back turns out to be a valuable necessity because, ironically, making a living telling jokes, ‘can sometimes feel like the most serious thing in the world’, particularly as, ‘no matter how much time you give yourself, you always feel like you’re running out’.
Then there are the comments. Opinions fly in from all directions and when I ask the minimum requirement for taking on comedy, Jenny assures me that ‘You have to have a very very thick skin and a very big shit-shield – just don’t take anything personally, don’t read the internet either, the internet is the worst thing in the world’. With the potentially limitless reserve of online hecklers, you can understand why a comedian might not want to spend time hovering over the refresh button.
Nonetheless, with characteristic humility, she develops this answer when considering the importance of reviews, ‘if you take on the good ones, if you buy into them, then you have to give the 1 star reviews as much respect’. Her plan for this year, is to divert focus from what people are saying around her, and to place it onto the audience and herself: if they’re happy, and she’s enjoying herself, then there won’t be much more to ask for. In a way, this philosophy of head-down perseverance seems to match the title of her show, Don’t Look at Me, though she clarifies that the title has little bearing on what she’ll be talking about. In essence the show is about: ‘life from my point of view as a woman and a music fan’, explored through the medium of her own songs which deal with everything from hip-hop to feminism.
The gender divide is certainly at the front of her mind, ‘it’s a shame that we’ve become a bit of a token, just another box to tick… you now have to have one woman on every panel show and I think that’s fucking ridiculous.’ I put my foot in it slightly, when I ask her if she’s noticing a rising number of well-supported ‘comediennes’ on the scene. She replies, ‘Well I would still call them comedians, because I hate the fact that we have to have a dainty female version!’ stressing that ‘some of the best comedians in our country at the moment are women; Katherine Ryan has been the first person to sell out her Edinburgh show.’
Jenny is also aware that the abundance of slightly stale panel shows on TV restricts perceptions and taste, when ‘there’s so much more on offer’, listing some of her favourites such as Jamali Maddix and Maria Bamford. ‘You’ve got a lot of younger comedians who are really saying something… talking about mental health and race and homophobia, and for me, that’s a lot more appealing’, suggesting that her own show might just have a similar dimension. But of course, Jenny Bede doesn’t say something of importance, she sings it, and by the sound of it, she’ll be worth listening to.
Jenny Bede will be performing at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3.30pm from the 7th – 30th August.