Unless you’re a fan of British panel shows or caught Wednesday’s episode of Conan, you probably have no idea who comedian Katherine Ryan is. That’s all about to change. Her new stand-up special, In Trouble, is part of a plan initiated with British comic Jimmy Carr’s Funny Business last year, by which Netflix hopes to play to its increasingly global audience with more non-American comedy specials. As a result, American comedy fans now have the chance to enjoy the London-based Canadian performer’s brand of comedy, which is quite good.
Unlike Carr, however, Ryan’s style of stand-up may find a much stronger footing in the United States due to what she dubs her “monkey accent.” She sounds like an American, which her European fans treat as a novelty, but across the Atlantic that lack of novelty means Ryan must work even harder for her laughs. She does just that in In Trouble, channeling the likes of Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer and Ali Wong to make her listeners cackle about everything from her sister’s wedding to “Christmas dick.”
Congratulations on Conan.
Oh thank you. I was so nervous since I’ve never done anything in America before. I don’t know… I haven’t seen it yet, but I probably did okay.
Do you not watch or listen to yourself?
Definitely. I haven’t seen the special, and I didn’t see Conan. They sent me the link so I just tweeted it, but I haven’t clicked it yet. I feel like, I don’t know… I’m just not interested. I like to pretend I’m not actually up there doing stand-up. You can’t actually ever look at yourself from a third-party perspective. That’s really dangerous. Sure, watching yourself can be helpful if you can take notes to make yourself better that way, but I try not to do it as much as I can.
That’s interesting, especially since a lot of comics your age I’ve talked to make it a point to record themselves or watch previous sets to help improve them.
Well, I think it’s important to edit your set and make it the best that you can for your tour. But the way I do it, really, is I listen to the live audience responses while I’m on stage performing. So the Netflix special, In Trouble, I tweaked for nearly a year. There were bits people really didn’t laugh at, so unless I absolutely loved them — and I’ve kept bits in before that I loved even though they didn’t get as many laughs — I’d cut them. If people didn’t laugh, then that’s when you know you need to cut it out. You don’t have to watch it. Especially because you have such talented women, and men, dressing you and doing your makeup. If I watched myself on TV, I’d be really disappointed with the way I wake up in the morning. That’s who I really am.
You said doing Conan was the first time you’ve ever appeared on American television.
Yeah. It was so weird because I landed from London, and over there I have this “monkey accent” and they think I’m funny for it. Whenever I’m buying groceries, even, I just sound silly to them. We sound very silly to them — sorry to let you know. Well I needed to warm up for Conan, I needed some practice, so I went to the Comedy Store and did stand-up there. And it was kind of scary because all of a sudden I didn’t have this magic accent anymore. I sounded like everybody else, but everyone was so lovely! I love American audiences even though I have no experience with them. It is quite daunting, but it was great. I never imagined I would be a comedian, let alone performing comedy in America — let alone on TV in America.
And yet you regularly do the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. Not only is that a tough place to try your wares, but it’s also in Scotland, where I imagine the audiences are far more boisterous than here in the United States.
Oh my gosh, Edinburgh is amazing. I’m an Irish citizen — my dad is from Ireland, and my mom is of Irish descent although she was born in Canada. Yet I really identify with Scottish people, as a Canadian, since we both have neighbors who like starting wars. Scottish people love a drink during the day, and they’re extremely funny. So when a Scottish audience heckles me, I love it because it makes the show. I chat with them. I really encourage heckling in Scotland. But they’re also totally unfazed by celebrity, so that’s kind of fun to see too.
You’ll have these Americans who think they’re the bee’s knees, for the lack of a better term, and they come to Edinburgh and some of them are great. Michelle Wolf comes over and they love her. She’s so talented. Michael Che, too. Hannibal Buress even did a special about his time in Edinburgh. We love American comedians, but there are one or two of them who come over with a little bit of an attitude and Scottish audiences will just take that right away. We don’t get American TV. We don’t know who you are — and even if we do, we don’t care. The audiences are really funny and down to earth, so you could be the man in the chip shop or Obama and they wouldn’t care.
I talked to Buress last year about his Netflix special, Comedy Camisado, and the Edinburgh documentary. He pretty much said the same thing about the Scottish audiences — about how unphased they were. He loved it.
He totally followed through. I was there in the tiny, sweat room where he filmed some of that special. I love Hannibal. I think he is so fearless, and he definitely won over the Scottish audience with ease.
Along with Jimmy Carr and Gad Elmaleh’s specials, In Trouble marks another non-American addition to Netflix’s growing stand-up slate. On the one hand, they’re trying to amp up their offerings for a growing global audience. On the other hand, Netflix is introducing you to Americans who might not have heard of you. Unless, like me, you’re a big fan of panel shows like Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats.
Wow! I think that’s exceptional, because in my experience people generally do not watch that stuff. People don’t know about Mock the Week. So I’ve had to explain my history, and my position to American audiences. I didn’t even realize you guys were getting that stuff, but I didn’t know. Granted my dad watched Coronation Street [a long-running British soap opera], but I think the lovely thing about working in Britain is they’re so not thirsty. They don’t really care. They don’t watch shows like Have I Got News For You, and it’s lovely to live in an environment that basically treats it like a secret. Real comedy fans know British panel shows, they know British comedy, but the general public does not.
You caught a lot of flak for it at the time, and you address it specifically in In Trouble, but I always thought your cosmetics testing joke from Mock the Week was on point. Shocking, yes, but spot on.
As someone who’s had to overcome a lot of obstacles, I try as much as I can to be an advocate and to be an intersectional. When I was saying that Filipino thing, it’s revealed in my special the reason I said it — I could have said “Vietnamese” or “Bangladeshi” — because my sister happened to be on holiday there with her now husband. I was being an advocate, I was saying child labor still exists despite the fact we can so easily forget it does due to where we live in the Western world. You know, where people can love their iPhones without caring too much about who made them. I was trying to do the right the thing, and this is why the special is called In Trouble. I’m always trying to be good, be liked and do the right thing. But for some reason, I always seem to put my foot in it every single time. I don’t think I’m alone in that. There are lots of people in the world who get it wrong.
Of course! Especially since it’s so easy to unintentionally poke the internet rage machine these days.
It was totally clickbait. You know, Internet trolling and the like — but I still hate the fact that I hurt and offended people. I genuinely mean this since I now have Filipino nieces and nephews, who are just the cutest, and have had the opportunity to learn more about Filipino culture. Though I’m glad you knew what was going on.
Considering who America’s president is, I don’t think you have to worry too much about offending anyone for the moment.
Perfect! [Laughs.] And while I’m in your country, I just want to make it clear that I support him and pledge allegiance to him. He is a very handsome man with huge hands and beautiful hair. His marriage is one of complete transparency, and I love having a visa. I love my visa and I love America.
I’m hoping to ignore it all while on vacation.
Where are you going?
Texas. I’m based in Boston and haven’t visited family in a while, so I’m heading down there.
Well good luck ignoring everything in a red state! Speaking of Boston, have you ever hear of a British show called Top Gear? Matt LeBlanc hosts it now, and when I was on he told me he went to high school with Louis CK there.
Conan O’Brien’s from the area, too. A lot of great comedians and actors, like Leonard Nimoy, were born and raised in and around Boston. It’s kind of weird. Speaking of Louis, I’m seeing him perform tonight.
You know what you should do? This is what I do in Edinburgh. Whenever I go into a show, I never have an alcoholic drink. I always bring in a coffee or a cup of tea, that way I can be completely focused on whoever is performing and what they’re saying. That way I won’t forget a word of what they say, and I can actually enjoy myself and the memory of having attended a show.
Katherine Ryan: In Trouble is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.