Being Jo Brand

The stand-up comedienne on her idyllic childhood in the Weald, bell ringing, why she loves being on TV and why family is best...

In her early days of stand-up comedy Jo Brand almost created her very own cartoon caricature: those black leggings, clumpy Doc Martens, baggy cardis and mass of wild curly hair.  She became a popular comedienne best known for her bolshy delivery and her apparent ‘hatred’ of all things male. It was with slight apprehension I agree to interview her, ready for acerbic comments and cocky witticisms.  So it was with a blend of relief and shock that I discover she is not that angry caricature at all. She even seems a touch hurt when I share with her my previous apprehensions.“Oh dear,” she sighs, “I am not that scary. When I’m not working I am much more easygoing and I avoid confrontation. I still get nervous when I’m going on stage and get scared the audience are going to hate me.”This icon of comedy, normally seen outwitting the smartest of hecklers and throwing shocking one-liners to her audience, explains: “You see, you have to remember that being in comedy when I started was very harsh. It was competitive, it was aggressive and it was cut throat. Being in comedy as a woman was all that plus you had to be tougher than the men. I had to fight my corner.”Jo was nearly 30 when she first took to the stage. She felt that it was her chance to shout back at all the verbal abuse and taunting she had to endure through her early life. “I love doing stand-up!” she says, relishing those memories of shouting down the sarcastic comments hurled up at her. “I think that’s partly why I did it.  I was saying so, all you sexist blokes out there, I can shout back at you now. I am having my say!’  It seems we are speaking about not just a different decade, but a different woman entirely. In person, it’s her gentleness that seems to takes you by surprise and when I suggest it’s refreshing to see her more on TV she genuinely thanks me.“I do get the feeling people are happier to speak to me now. They think that I’ve calmed down a bit, but that could just be my age,” she says. “I’ve not changed really; I’m just doing different stuff now.”Last year Jo toured as Sergeant of Police in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. You can’t really get more different than that!  She says she agreed to do the show in a moment of weakness having had a couple of glasses of sherry.  “I was really nervous,” she admits, “but I quite liked it!” So did the critics and she won rave reviews. “That’s my problem, I like doing different things and I simply can’t say no to offers,” she admits.Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down is her newest book, out in paperback in April and the latest project she couldn’t resist. It is the second part of her life story and traces her journey to fame, how she managed to persuade “someone” to marry her and having children “at an age when she should have been in a bath chair on the seafront.” Was it easy to write?“No, it wasn’t easy, but not for emotional reasons. Writing is very hard and lonely, sitting in a quiet room with the gentle buzz of the computer reminding you that you haven’t written anything for another hour.   “It was a huge amount of work and I did find myself doing a word count every five minutes to see if I was nearly done. Writing requires tons of commitment time-wise and I just didn’t seem to have enough time to do it.”Jo has lived in Kent most of her life, mostly Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. She first came to the county when she was four and her parents moved house from London to St Mary’s Platt, near Sevenoaks.  “We lived on a fairly modern housing estate and I went to the local primary school, says Jo. “We were only there for about a year and don’t remember an awful lot about it.” Then the family moved to Benenden village in the Weald of Kent and things changed. “It was a time full of skipping off to Brownies, bell ringing at the local church and living in a converted oast house. We spent hours rummaging round the woods and playing in muddy fields. It was great as a child and it always seemed to be sunny.“We lived just outside the village down a long country lane. My two brothers and I spent our lives playing outside. I still remember the cottage very well and it was surrounded by farmland growing sprouts. I still recall the smell of it. I like sprouts, so that’s okay.”Jo attended the local village school down the lane and says: “I suppose you could say I had an idyllic childhood. I really loved it.”Jo’s best friend’s dad was the vicar, “so I was expected to go to church every Sunday with her. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, so I became a bell ringer. Technically I was in the church, but I didn’t have to sing the hymns!”Jo spent years as a psychiatric nurse after getting a degree in Social Sciences. She says: “I loved being a nurse. I had a great time and met some funny and weird and interesting people. However, Holby City it was not! We were not all glam with false eyelashes and rouged cheeks. It was mad, it was crazy and it was hard work, but I enjoyed it.” This proved useful inspiration for her TV sitcom Getting On which she wrote and starred in last year on BBC4. Her foray into acting and television is something she has enjoyed.“When offers come in, I can’t resist. When you are self employed you can’t really turn jobs down. You try really hard to squeeze it in. I hope it’s not annoying for everyone to see me so often, but I have quite enjoyed doing most of the television shows.”Jo’s extensive TV credits include Question Time, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Mock The Week and Countdown. I suggest having her on the panel of a typically male dominated show is a welcome relief for viewers.“I suppose it does change the dynamic when a woman is on a show like QI or Have I Got News For You, because it diffuses any male showing-off or aggression. I try and encourage women to do those shows but there are so few women brave enough.  Sandi Toksvig is always brilliant.”  Jo married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, in 1997 and they have two daughters Maisie and Eliza aged nine and eight. Jo says she is happiest with her family. She still has links in the county but now lives in the Dulwich area, a couple of miles from the Kent border.  She often heads into the Kent countryside and recently contributed to the exhibition Kentish Delights by giving their own unique interpretation of some of the objects on display. Two of her favourite places are Knole and Sevenoaks.  “I love my time off. I am good at doing nothing in particular and just doing family stuff. I like books, particularly a good junky novel. I loved One Day by David Nicholls.“I particularly enjoy browsing round bookshops. I read a few pages, and nine times out of 10 I leave without buying, but I can spend hours just looking.“Life is where your home is. I love being at home with the family. There’s a lovely buzz when it all goes well... which is sometimes.”  n

In her early days of stand-up comedy Jo Brand almost created her very own cartoon caricature: those black leggings, clumpy Doc Martens, baggy cardis and mass of wild curly hair.  

She became a popular comedienne best known for her bolshy delivery and her apparent ‘hatred’ of all things male. It was with slight apprehension I agree to interview her, ready for acerbic comments and cocky witticisms.  

So it was with a blend of relief and shock that I discover she is not that angry caricature at all. She even seems a touch hurt when I share with her my previous apprehensions.

“Oh dear,” she sighs, “I am not that scary. When I’m not working I am much more easygoing and I avoid confrontation. I still get nervous when I’m going on stage and get scared the audience are going to hate me.”

This icon of comedy, normally seen outwitting the smartest of hecklers and throwing shocking one-liners to her audience, explains: “You see, you have to remember that being in comedy when I started was very harsh. It was competitive, it was aggressive and it was cut throat. Being in comedy as a woman was all that plus you had to be tougher than the men. I had to fight my corner.”

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Jo was nearly 30 when she first took to the stage. She felt that it was her chance to shout back at all the verbal abuse and taunting she had to endure through her early life. 

“I love doing stand-up!” she says, relishing those memories of shouting down the sarcastic comments hurled up at her. “I think that’s partly why I did it.  I was saying so, all you sexist blokes out there, I can shout back at you now. I am having my say!’  

It seems we are speaking about not just a different decade, but a different woman entirely. In person, it’s her gentleness that seems to takes you by surprise and when I suggest it’s refreshing to see her more on TV she genuinely thanks me.

“I do get the feeling people are happier to speak to me now. They think that I’ve calmed down a bit, but that could just be my age,” she says. “I’ve not changed really; I’m just doing different stuff now.”

Last year Jo toured as Sergeant of Police in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. You can’t really get more different than that!  She says she agreed to do the show in a moment of weakness having had a couple of glasses of sherry.  

“I was really nervous,” she admits, “but I quite liked it!” So did the critics and she won rave reviews. “That’s my problem, I like doing different things and I simply can’t say no to offers,” she admits.

Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down is her newest book, out in paperback in April and the latest project she couldn’t resist. It is the second part of her life story and traces her journey to fame, how she managed to persuade “someone” to marry her and having children “at an age when she should have been in a bath chair on the seafront.” Was it easy to write?

“No, it wasn’t easy, but not for emotional reasons. Writing is very hard and lonely, sitting in a quiet room with the gentle buzz of the computer reminding you that you haven’t written anything for another hour.  

“It was a huge amount of work and I did find myself doing a word count every five minutes to see if I was nearly done. Writing requires tons of commitment time-wise and I just didn’t seem to have enough time to do it.”

Jo has lived in Kent most of her life, mostly Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. She first came to the county when she was four and her parents moved house from London to St Mary’s Platt, near Sevenoaks.  

“We lived on a fairly modern housing estate and I went to the local primary school, says Jo. “We were only there for about a year and don’t remember an awful lot about it.” 

Then the family moved to Benenden village in the Weald of Kent and things changed. “It was a time full of skipping off to Brownies, bell ringing at the local church and living in a converted oast house. 

We spent hours rummaging round the woods and playing in muddy fields. It was great as a child and it always seemed to be sunny.

“We lived just outside the village down a long country lane. My two brothers and I spent our lives playing outside. I still remember the cottage very well and it was surrounded by farmland growing sprouts. I still recall the smell of it. I like sprouts, so that’s okay.”

Jo attended the local village school down the lane and says: “I suppose you could say I had an idyllic childhood. I really loved it.”

Jo’s best friend’s dad was the vicar, “so I was expected to go to church every Sunday with her. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, so I became a bell ringer. Technically I was in the church, but I didn’t have to sing the hymns!”

Jo spent years as a psychiatric nurse after getting a degree in Social Sciences. She says: “I loved being a nurse. I had a great time and met some funny and weird and interesting people. However, Holby City it was not! We were not all glam with false eyelashes and rouged cheeks. It was mad, it was crazy and it was hard work, but I enjoyed it.” 

This proved useful inspiration for her TV sitcom Getting On which she wrote and starred in last year on BBC4. Her foray into acting and television is something she has enjoyed.

“When offers come in, I can’t resist. When you are self employed you can’t really turn jobs down. You try really hard to squeeze it in. I hope it’s not annoying for everyone to see me so often, but I have quite enjoyed doing most of the television shows.”

Jo’s extensive TV credits include Question Time, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Mock The Week and Countdown. 

I suggest having her on the panel of a typically male dominated show is a welcome relief for viewers.

“I suppose it does change the dynamic when a woman is on a show like QI or Have I Got News For You, because it diffuses any male showing-off or aggression. I try and encourage women to do those shows but there are so few women brave enough.  Sandi Toksvig is always brilliant.”  

Jo married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, in 1997 and they have two daughters Maisie and Eliza aged nine and eight. Jo says she is happiest with her family. She still has links in the county but now lives in the Dulwich area, a couple of miles from the Kent border.  

She often heads into the Kent countryside and recently contributed to the exhibition Kentish Delights by giving their own unique interpretation of some of the objects on display. Two of her favourite places are Knole and Sevenoaks.  

“I love my time off. I am good at doing nothing in particular and just doing family stuff. I like books, particularly a good junky novel. I loved One Day by David Nicholls.“I particularly enjoy browsing round bookshops. I read a few pages, and nine times out of 10 I leave without buying, but I can spend hours just looking.

“Life is where your home is. I love being at home with the family. There’s a lovely buzz when it all goes well... which is sometimes.”  

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