Katherine Ryan interview
With Katherine Ryan’s new touring show, Glam Role Model, her audiences can be assured that they will encounter a comedian who enjoys healthy debate.
With many stand-ups, you feel that they’ve arrived on stage armed with all the solutions to every problem in the world and with no chance that they’ll be deflected from their chosen course of opinion. The UK-based, Canada-born comic and actress is just a different breed altogether.
“I’m not preachy in any way. I don’t even pretend to have all the answers and I make a lot of mistakes myself,” she insists, refreshingly, before getting into the meat of her show, the cultural status of the glamour model in this country.
“Back home we didn’t have glamour models; we had porno magazines and then we had mainstream actresses and presenters. Here, that line is so blurred and glamour models are put in such positions where they are sold as personalities but their entire personality is just about getting naked or being drunk in the Big Brother house.”
As someone who worked as an 18-year-old in the Toronto branch of Hooters (a restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses), Ryan recognises that there are different career paths out there for everyone.
“I was a product of the society that said women are for decoration and I do think girls should be able to do whatever they want.
“Yet, across the world there are girls who just can’t; some can’t even go to school in Nigeria without being abducted. Here, you actually have a choice to put your tits away. And, well, maybe you should.”
As well as tackling the public’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for the minutest information on celebs such as Harry Styles and Cheryl Cole, Glam Role Model has her discussing motherhood (Ryan has a five-year old daughter or “flatmate”), the real difference between Miley and Beyoncé, and some frank material about sex and body politics.
Ryan’s career choices finally took her to the UK, a wide open land of opportunity for comedians.
She gained a reputation on the circuit for someone whose onstage persona was one of a wide-eyed innocence being broken apart by a spiky edge, a style that can be traced back to her early public appearances in pageants.
“Even in the talent round, I’d do this weird thing that nobody understood or I’d always want to sing a man’s song or do a funny sketch. I always had this different way of presenting information, I guess.”
Her stage success (she has three Edinburgh Fringe shows under her belt now) has led to other opportunities with TV roles in Channel 4 university comedy, Campus, and Matt LeBlanc’s BBC vehicle, Episodes, while those who saw it are unlikely to ever forget her take on Nicki Minaj which got her into the final of Let’s Dance For Comic Relief.
She has also become a regular presence on all those game shows which are criticised for rarely featuring women, and Ryan seems pretty content with her level of celebrity.
“Mathematically it would seem harder to get success because everybody has the opportunity and access now, and so fame actually becomes less likely. Not too long ago it was just Coronation Street and Hollyoaks on TV and three channels and a few people were famous. Fame doesn’t really work out for many people; it’s nicer to just think that we are all contributing.”
This relentless pursuit of celebrityhood which arrived with the explosion of reality TV and the new kind of talent show carries its own inevitable dark side, a side effect to fame which Ryan has been determined to protect herself from.
“People don’t realise that putting yourself out there, whether it’s as the most popular girl at school or the weirdo (and I have been both), makes you very vulnerable and more likely that people will attack you in some way.
“I’m so lucky because I actually take comfort in people not liking me; I think it’s lovely that we all like different things? When people come after me on Twitter, it’s fine: why would I expect everyone to like me? I do think it’s a bit weird that you would go out of your way to tell me how much you don’t like me, though.”
It’s not just ordinary people hiding behind an anonymous user name who can go on the attack. Ryan has been in the UK long enough to have lived through one or two media storms when comedians have said things deemed offensive by journalists looking for something to fill their next column.
While some comics may have taken a step back and a deep breath before writing their next potentially contentious gag, Ryan sticks to a sound philosophy.
“If you can sleep at night and stand by everything you said, I don’t think you should have to censor yourself because of something that’s going on in the media. More and more in my comedy career, I do celebrity stuff or talk about the news and I don’t think I’d say anything that I wouldn’t say to his or her face. A lot of the times when you’re talking about an event or a celebrity, you’re not being cheap in terms of a person; you’re talking about a greater theme.”
What of her tour poster, where she is glammed up and enjoying a can (or three) of what looks like an especially strong brand of lager. This looks like Ryan talking about the greater theme of rampant alcohol abuse in this country, particularly among young women.
“I don’t understand people saying ‘oh I was so sick, I missed my entire weekend’. Well, why are you going to do that again?
“Canadians think that they drink: there’s a culture of hockey, hunting, beer beer beer! But over here, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen in my life and it’s really not cute.
“Specifically it’s something I’ve noticed with young girls. You see what is presented in the media; these girls have beautiful hair but it’s fake and beautiful lips but they’re fake; eyelashes: fake; nails: fake, tans: fake.
“They’re putting all this stuff on the outside and on the inside they’re drinking a lot and eating fried chicken after school on the bus. I just have a different view towards wellness, and your life is so much happier if you look after yourself.
“But, you know, I’m not a nun. I love when things like the Olympics come round and you see someone like Jessica Ennis and you think “yes, now that’s a role model’.”
Wellness and travelling around a national tour don’t seem to necessarily go hand in hand. Katherine Ryan, though, clearly has her head screwed on right.
“I love to be on tour and see all the different towns and cities; it’s the ones that are super far away where I’ll get homesick,” she says before discussing why she will be having a variety of support acts for Glam Role Model.
“I think it’s actually a bit rude to do it all on your own; there are very few people I’d like to see for two hours with an interval. If I did that I’d be afraid that a load of people would leave at the interval. I just think it’s obnoxious, plus why not give a person that you admire some space and an opportunity?”
Ryan has worked hard to grab her chances, and it’s merely part of her generous nature to offer up those opportunities to others when she can.
Katherine Ryan: Glam Role Model tours the UK from Tuesday 28 April. For dates and tickets, see katherineryan.co.uk.