The award-winning comedian is touring the UK with a stand-up show covering her time as a fundamentalist teenage Christian and a self-confessed “obnoxious dick”
Interview: Cheryl Caira
Return to live
In 2014, I wrote a book [Brenda Monk is Funny] about a woman who becomes a stand-up comedian, and I had an idea for a stand-up show. I took I Was a Teenage Christian to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, and it was the first time I’d really been alone on stage for a while. I’d started to find doing sketches live quite difficult – it’s a bit hit-and-miss and I felt a bit locked into it. With stand-up, I really enjoyed being spontaneous and free to talk as myself.
My Christianity reached insane levels. It lasted for seven years of my life and it took over everything. I was going to church four times a week. I was in the band. I was on the prayer team. I performed an exorcism when I was 15. I wanted to be a prison chaplain. It almost feels like a different person, and I wanted to tell the story. There’s the usual stuff about what it’s like to be a teenager, but through this slightly crazed prism of born-again Christianity.
At one point or another, I managed to convince most of my friends – and a teacher – to come down to church. There were a few teachers who felt my church was highly suspect and a bit culty, so they banned the church from coming to the school in the end. I was obviously mocked at school. This will date me a bit, but I was generally just called ‘Christian Spice’ because it was around the time of the Spice Girls. I was undaunted.
There are some people who want a nice, neat resolution at the end of the show, but there just isn’t one. There were lots of factors involved in my self-conversion. I liked showing off. It gives you a sense of purpose. Teenagers want to be listened to and my church had a youth group that made you feel important. As a teenager you’re feeling mortal for the first time, and here comes religion to tell you that you’re going to live forever and you’ve been chosen. What teenager doesn’t want to hear that?
Performing Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ dance for Sport Relief
Eyes of God
One night when I did the show at Soho Theatre in London, the entire front row were Christian youth workers. They’d already sent me a message saying they were coming and they laughed along, but it was still slightly intimidating. There was also quite a senior preacher from my old church who got in touch and asked if he could send me his book. I thought it would be something quite subtle. When it arrived, it was just called: ‘The Prodigal.’
It’s never a nice feeling if the audience isn’t with you, but I’ve never been one that’s been destroyed by a gig not being great. Once you acknowledge it isn’t your greatest night in stand-up ever, the audience tends to relax and you can do something a bit different and get the gig back on track. I’m still learning that side of stand-up. You’re always on your toes.
Talk of the Fringe
I was surprised at how different the Fringe felt last year. I wouldn’t say it was either wholly good or wholly bad, but on the plus side, organisations like the Free Fringe have definitely been a great thing. The Free Fringe felt buzzy and full of fresh, creative energy. On the other hand, the bigger venues provide the big-name comics that often initially bring people to the city, so hopefully those people will then experiment with smaller shows. For me, you can’t beat the romance and history of the Pleasance Courtyard – I pretty much hang out there all the time.
All The Single Ladies
The requests have fallen off a lot in recent years, much to my gratitude. But there was a time where I would be at a wedding and the bride would get a gleam in their eye and come over and drunkenly go, ‘I just want you to do one thing for me.’ And they’d put it on, and it was excruciating. Guests would form a circle and I would just have to stand in the middle and perform what I could remember of the ‘Single Ladies’ routine. I took to just hiding in the toilets eventually.
Katy Brand performs I Was a Teenage Christian on 19th May at Livingston’s Howden Park Centre and 21st May at The Stand in Glasgow.