Onion At The Fringe: Katy Brand

© The Spectator

© The Spectator

It’s that time of year again. The Edinburgh Fringe starts next week, and with a host of TVO favourites descending upon the city during the month of August, we’ll be bringing you an overview of the shows you simply have to see.

To kick things off, here’s the first of our preview ‘Soapbox’ pieces, in which a member of team TVO takes a moment or two to reflect on the work of a Fringe-going comic talent, and why we feel they’re worthy of your attention.

And so, with a passionate plea for the case of Katy Brand and her new show I Was a Teenage Christian, our editor in chief Paul Holmes has this to say…

Katy Brand is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

That’s a sentence we never thought we’d be able to utter in the present tense again, but amazingly, that’s exactly what’s happening: Brand is back, and she’s got a blinder of a show for everyone.

Still, this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, and not just because of the calibre of her past work. Looking back over Katy’s career to date, there’s a strong sense that she has often strived to switch gears, never resting on her laurels for too long.

A former member of the Oxford Revue, working in TV production, Brand decided 12 years ago to return to her love of performing and write a comedy monologue. Before long, she had joined a ragtag bunch of up-and-coming alternative comedians who ran a weekly sketch show at Ealing Film Studios, and anyone who knows anything about TVO will know what happened next.

© John Hopkins

© John Hopkins

Ealing Live, as it became known, was a focal point for the cross-collaborating, fresh and innovative fusion of a new style of character comedy that doffed its cap to the alternative talents of the past, whilst forging ahead with sensational energy, creating the most exciting live scene since the Comic Strip gang descended upon the Raymond Review Bar. Together and apart, this team – and the interconnected folk behind The Boosh, Garth Marenghi and Dutch Elm Conservatoire – have changed the face of alternative comedy in Britain over the past decade, and quite frankly, they’re why we do what we do.

Like most of her contemporaries, Brand found herself at the Edinburgh Fringe, with her 2005 character comedy sketch show Celebrities Are Gods gaining the interest of Channel 4. Whilst appearing alongside Lucy Montgomery and Tony Way in BBC Three’s Tittybangbang, Brand developed a pilot for the rival broadcaster, recruiting Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones, James Bachman, Ben Willbond, Miranda Hart and Katherine Parkinson for good measure. And although Slap, as it became known, did not lead to a direct commission, ITV were interested in developing the concept, and the result was a three year run of Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show.

© Katy Brand

© Katy Brand

Again featuring a host of TVO regulars (including Parkinson and Jones, alongside Dan Skinner, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Alex Kirk and Paul Kaye), Big Ass Show was a fast paced, madcap sketch show in which Brand would shamelessly transform into just about any celebrity she fancied becoming. Skits on Kate Winslet, U2, Lily Allen, Kaiser Chiefs and the Queen are just a handful of those that have stood the test of time. With a British Comedy Award win for the show, Brand took the concept on tour in 2010, just as her TV series was coming to a slightly un-natural end.

And, with the odd guest appearance notwithstanding, she’s stayed off the live scene altogether since then. Not that she’s been slacking! First came the role of psychotic pigeon Kali in the much loved, sorely missed Mongrels (why isn’t that show still on the air, eh?) and Brand has also been seen in the likes of This is Jinsy, Walking on Sunshine and the sublime Psychobitches, portraying a variety of famous women from history including Emily Brontë, Diana Dors, Joan of Arc, Medusa and a deliciously wicked Mary Shelley.

© Sky Atlantic / Tiger Aspect / Scott Kershaw

© Sky Atlantic / Tiger Aspect / Scott Kershaw

As we’ve discussed, Brand is not one to rest on her laurels. In 2012, she wrote her own edition of Little Crackers – a brilliant entry in Sky’s festive anthology series in which Katy reminisced about her attempts at climbing a tree one Christmas Day. The following year, she wrote and starred in an edition of Dave Lambert’s Common Ground as the new-age coffee shop owner Eleanor. And that’s not even getting into her large body of radio work, her regular appearances on QI, and the downright fantastic novel Brenda Monk is Funny she released in 2014. Also let’s not forget that she is now part of the Merman family as a Comedy Development Consultant, helping shape the hit shows of tomorrow.

© Andy Hollingworth

© Andy Hollingworth

More pressingly, however, she’s returning to Edinburgh with a brand new stand-up show, telling the true story of her brief but potent brush with Evangelical Christianity as a teenager. Religion is a subject which has fascinated Brand ever since: she studied theology at university and recorded a pilot panel show for radio, And God Laughs, early last year. It even became a plot point for her avian character in Mongrels, complete with a Biggins cameo for good measure, and now it has rather fittingly brought about a resurrection of her career on stage.

There are some who are touting Brand’s return to the Fringe as a big comeback. This gifted performer is finally starting to get the recognition she truly deserves, and that must be extremely gratifying.

But for TVO, and for many of our readers, Katy Brand never really went away, and the string of great projects she’s been involved with during the years since her last tour ended are documented on our pages for all to see. If you’ve never seen the projects mentioned above, do yourself a favour and dig in deep. You will not be disappointed.

Those curious enough to seek her out at Edinburgh on name alone may not quite know what to expect… but we guarantee that if it’s even half as good as her genuine track record, it’s going to be one hell of a show. We can’t wait to find out!

Katy Brand: I Was a Teenage Christian is at Pleasance Courtyard at 16:45 from August 3rd-14th and August 16th-29th. Tickets are on sale now.

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