How did you get into stand-up comedy?
Short version: I got drunk, entered a comedy competition and won!
Long version: I went to see a friend do a 5 minute openspot at the Comedy Store. And even though he died on his arse I was hooked. The following day I went through Time Out Magazine, where all the comedy club were listed, and booked myself into a couple of open spots. I had no idea how to write jokes. I just scribbled down half a dozen things I’d said that made friends laugh.
My first gig was the Wednesday night New Act competition at The Comedy Cafe, Old St, London. Before the show I was so nervous I ended up getting drunk. I have no idea what I said onstage. I don’t even remember being on stage. But I won the competition. That makes me sound like I’m a natural. I wasn’t. I was dreadful – but I must have been slightly less dreadful than everyone else on the bill that night. Luckily I knew so little about comedy I was under the delusion I was quite good, so I kept going. The truth is I wasn’t even good enough to know how bad I was. That’s what happens in the beginning. At first your excitement and enthusiasm can win over an audience. It’s like any job; they let you off for a while because you’re new but eventually they get pissed off that you still don’t know what you’re doing.
A couple of months later another standup advised me that regular compering was one of the best ways to improve as a comic, so I saved my ‘waitressing tips’, bought a cheap microphone & a small amplifier and opened my own comedy club, The Hampstead Comedy Clinic, in the basement of The White Horse bar in North London. It was getting on stage at the Comedy Clinic every week, safe in the knowledge that no-one could sack me, that gave me the confidence to experiment and improvise. And ultimately improve.
Where are your favourite places to perform?
The Comedy Store in London is the best comedy club in the UK. It’s the ultimate venue and every comedian dreams about playing there.
The Bearcat in Twickenham and Headliners in Chiswick are two great examples of how to run a comedy club.
The Stand Comedy Clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow always have fantastic audiences.
Is it more difficult to be a female stand-up?
I’ve no idea. I’ve never tried being a male one. I couldn’t be bothered with having to watch ALL the Star Wars films to be able to write an act.
I often wonder what some white middle-class male comics would do without their hilariously original Chewbacca and Scooby Do routines?
Give up – I’d like to think.
You did a lot of work with Graham Norton. What is your connection to him?
Graham gave me my first break. We’d met on the comedy circuit and when he got his Channel 4 show he asked me in to do the studio warm-up.
During the first season they had trouble finding writers that suited Graham, I’d never written for anyone other than myself but they gave me a trial run as a writer. It just clicked and I wrote jokes for him for the next 6 years!
Graham was brilliant to work with (we liked the same things, boys and gossip) and brilliant to write for. I couldn’t believe I got paid to laugh all day, I think the only time we really concentrated was when were deciding what to order for lunch.
Grahams production company, So Television, made the first three series of my Radio 4 show, “It’s That Jo Caulfield Again”.
And we made a pilot together, My Lovely Audience, for BBC.
Who are your influences?
The first comedian who really made an impression on me was Dave Allen. My parents are Irish so watching The Dave Allen Show every week became a family custom. There was something about the way he would sit there with his drink and tell jokes in that great conversational style – it just connected with me.
Billy Connolly has influenced everyone. He’s the ultimate storyteller. He has that incredible warmth and the ability to make you really feel like he’s your mate. I’m a huge fan of Joan Rivers. Her “Can We Talk?” album is a master-class in celebrity bitchiness.
I always liked American sitcoms that starred *strong*, funny women. Shows like “Roseanne”, “Rhoda”, and much later, “The New Adventures Of Old Christine”.
Eddie Izzard was another comedian where it just clicked. He wasn’t telling ‘joke’ jokes, he was just being himself and saying funny things about his life. That was a big eye-opener.
I’m a massive Stand-Up Comedy fan. There’s 100’s of comedians I enjoy for different reasons: Stewart Lee, Ed Byrne, Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock, Todd Barry, Gavin Webster, Eleanor Tiernan… there’s far too many to list.
I like comedians who set out to make the audience laugh. Not flaunt their intelligence or lecture them. Comedians who are prepared to be the butt of their own jokes. Comedians who share their own inadequacies. I like that. I’ve got a lot of inadequacies to share.
What is your comedy about?
I’ve always loved Jack Dee’s ability to take everyday topics, like his family or rail travel or the supermarket, and make the audience laugh when they realise we all share exactly the same stupid experiences. That appeals to me.
And if something, or someone, has pissed me off during the day – I’ll try and get that off my chest.
One review called my shows a “celebration of anger”. I like that.
Other people have described my show as:
“Many of the points Jo Caulfield makes about the human condition would have sociologists stroking their beards in admiration, but her audiences tend to be laughing too much to notice. Like a sociology textbook, but with jokes”The Times
“Feisty but friendly, Caulfield takes no prisoners on her ruthless comedy rampage. Striding through all manner of topics, Caulfield destroys all in her path. Despite this clearly evident bitter streak, hearing Caulfield, one feels good about themselves and their life, able to see it from a somewhat funny, always irreverent, perspective”.”BBC.CO.UK
What would you do if you didn’t do comedy?
Probably go back to being a waitress.
I was a waitress for 10 years. But I was a real maverick, I took orders from no-one.
I had great fun when I was waitressing; I also cried a lot about the fact that I was waitressing. But I did like the power. Customers don’t realise that if you’re rude to a waitress they have the power to ruin your evening, and indelibly stain your clothes. It is also the perfect job for someone who likes listening to other people’s conversations.
Haven’t you ever noticed that when you’re arguing with the one you love – you get very attentive service?