A great deal of my early student years was spent downstairs at Komedia watching brave stand-ups trial their new sets. These comedy nights always welcomed such a wonderful assortment of styles, genres and levels of experience (I recall one new comic attempted to leave the stage prematurely after an anecdote about door frames sadly backfired). Supporter of new talent and resident host at Komedia was red-haired, self-proclaimed pessimist, Angela Barnes. She always kept the crowd refreshed and alert in between each act with her unequivocal wit. Tales of one-night-stands and what she referred to as Lidl’s ‘surprise aisle’ punctuated regular nights like Comic Boom and Krater Comedy Club.
Komedia celebrated its 25th birthday in May, making a deep impression on Brighton’s arts scene, and indeed on Angela. “The first gig I ever did was on that stage. It has a very special place in my heart, and it’s one of the best comedy clubs in the country. If you ask any comedian, they love coming to Komedia.”Although she grew up in Maidstone, Angela considers Komedia as her home club, where she first embarked on her stand-up career over a decade ago. After booking herself on a 12-week course with Jill Edwards (mentor to Jimmy Carr, Shappi Khorsandi and Romesh Ranganathan), Angela never looked back.
Since her accolade of BBC Radio 2’s New Comedy Award in 2011, Angela was invited to appear on television shows and radio comedy panels. “I love radio because I don’t have to brush my hair,” Angela laughs. “No one’s criticising what I’m wearing or calling me fat when I’m on the radio.” Although she emphasises her love of television comedy, radio shows remove certain pressures. “You’re literally just judged on what you say and not what you look like or what you’re wearing, which as a woman on telly is something you have to deal with.” Her penchant for radio comes from her childhood: “We used to listen to Radio 4 at home and The News Quiz, and I still have to pinch myself now that I’m part of that gang.”
Now regularly appearing on Mock the Week, Angela explains how the dynamics on the show have changed since the series became more inclusive. “I think all the episodes this year have had at least two women on, which makes a big difference. It changes the energy of the show, and I think for the better.” Despite being a regular guest on the panel show, Angela sometimes worries about taking the slot away from other females comedians: “I know I’ve got this opportunity, I just need to make sure it’s not taken away from anyone else. It just sucks that we have to think like that and the boys don’t, but it’s getting better and it is changing.”
Although she holds an impressive back catalogue of appearances within the comedy circuit, stand-up remains Angela’s favoured medium: “There’s nothing like live stand-up. It’s always fun to do different things and dip your toe in the water, but the bottom line is you do these shows to build up an audience for the live stand-up. That’s what gives me the biggest buzz.”
Critics often label her live act as self-deprecating, a famous trope of British humour. Her 2015 tour, Come As You Are, touched on her time growing up with low self-esteem based on her celebrated article published in The Guardian. Despite this topic, Angela has a way of drawing upon her past experiences to manage and celebrate imperfections. “We do embrace our flaws, we do laugh at ourselves here”, says Angela. However, she tells me the thematic focus for her latest show suggests perhaps the world really is as bad as self-deprecating comedians make out.
Her new tour, Rose-Tinted, revisits the tumultuous events of 2016: the Brexit vote, Trump’s win and the outpour of grief for the loss of David Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman (to name just a few). In light of these definitive cultural moments, Angela’s live show questions: is it as bad as we think it is, or is it just because everything is amplified through social media? Angela points out it is not a political show and will continue to inject her stand-up with personal experiences. It runs parallel with those cultural events to what happened in her own life during that period. “I try and put on my rose-tinted glasses and have a look at the positives. I’m not saying I find them, but I certainly have a look for them.”
Angela Barnes brings Rose-Tinted to Komedia on Weds 23 October.