Any comedy lover is bound to have wondered what goes on backstage at stand-up shows. What do comedians talk about? Are they always so bold and self-assured? And are they actually that funny in real life?
In new Amazon Prime Video series Backstage With Katherine Ryan, fans are getting a peek behind the curtain of live shows at London’s Roundhouse to see what the world of comedy is really like.
Canadian comic Katherine Ryan, 38, has lived and worked in the UK for nearly 15 years.
Her career began in Toronto comedy club Yuk Yuk’s, where she’d perform after working shifts at the Hooters next door, and she’s since had two Netflix stand-up specials, created and starred in her own Netflix series The Duchess, appeared on a number of comedy programmes including 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Taskmaster and toured the country with her live shows.
“I think there has to be an element of trust for everyone to deliver their best authentic truth,” she says, “and I think everyone agreed that I was the person with the intuitive, curious nature and investigative personality to host something like that.”
Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Sue Perkins, Russell Kane, Sarah Millican, Nish Kumar and Seann Walsh are among those appearing in the Roundhouse gigs for the series, providing plenty of heart-warming and hilarious behind-the-scenes moments.
But what exactly can comedy fans expect to discover about their favourites?
“Comedians don’t do small talk, and that’s my favourite thing about my community,” Ryan explains.
“We get straight into ‘how did your father die?’. We talk about big subjects right away, and I love that.
“I get intimacy from hearing people’s deepest, darkest secrets, or very intimate stories about a colonic or being a late virgin.
“Comedians are a little bit strange, and not always in the way that people think.
“We dive straight past the small talk, and I’m so excited for an audience to see that.”
Viewers are also privy to touching conversations between stars, insights into how the comics work together to nail down the punchline for jokes, and a glimpse at the various pre-show rituals they indulge in.
While some of the comedians reveal they get very nervous, almost dreading the moment they crack their first joke and apprehensively hope for that first ripple of laughter across the audience, Ryan, who is performing live shows in Hull and York later in the year, says that she’s actually “incapable of feeling anxious or nervous”.
“Maybe I have some type of endocrine imbalance where I don’t have enough cortisol or something!” she quips.
“I don’t have pre-show rituals. I’ve seen jumping jacks, I’ve seen certain socks that people wear, athletic sort of rituals. I don’t.
“I just do my make-up in the dressing room, chat to my tour manager – I can be having any conversation, stop that conversation and walk out on stage.”
When it comes to riders – the food, drinks and treats requested backstage – Ryan’s also pretty low-key.
She says that on Backstage With Katherine Ryan “we could have takeaway from any restaurant”, and most of the guests went for “fried chicken or a Pret from down the road”.
“Jimmy definitely asked for Nobu,” she reveals.
““And they got it for him! But he wasn’t a diva about it, he just likes Nobu.
“My tour rider is so bleak. I just have water, tea and coffee. I don’t think it’s the glamour that people imagine.”
Instead, Ryan says she saves that glamour for the stage.
She’s become known for her glitzy costumes – a different one for every tour – because she feels that “you should dress up, because it’s an honour and it’s a great privilege to have people come see you on purpose”.
“I’ve done it purposely from the beginning, because women in comedy were told not to accentuate anything feminine that might be distracting,” she says.
“They said the boys will not take you seriously and the women will hate you. Wear a hoodie, wear jeans.
“And then you see the men who get the big jobs, they’re wearing suits because they’re on television, and you think: ‘How are we supposed to do that in a hoodie and jeans?’
“So very early in my career, I started dressing for the job I wanted, not the job I had.
“I see everyone dressing up now. I’m not going to say I started it, but Joan Rivers got the ball rolling – pass me the ball!”
Between the performances on the programme, Ryan introduces the next act with an affectionate but sometimes eyebrow-raising roast, which she says is made possible by the close relationships and consent she’s established with her fellow comedians.
She’s no stranger to a comedy roast: she appeared on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle for four series and has participated actively in the genre throughout her career, but it’s a category of comedy which, she says, is often misunderstood.
“Roast comedy is such a demonstration of consent,” Ryan explains.
“But in a roast scenario, it’s just so wonderful because it’s liberating: everyone’s in on the joke, everyone wants to do it.
“I think there’s a lot of release and safety in being able to laugh at yourself, because you’re not being bullied, it’s coming from an inclusive place.
“And you’ll see in the show that I don’t go as hard on people that I don’t think will enjoy it.”
Ryan says she’s excited for audiences to see the other side of comedy and to learn more about the community of the UK’s thriving comedy scene.
“The comedians who came on, they weren’t worried about saying something that they wouldn’t want an audience to see,” she reasons.
“I was really glad to show audiences that part of comedians.
“Everyone says: ‘Is it funny backstage?’ – I think they’re so funny in their real lives, but in such a different way.”
Backstage With Katherine Ryan is on Amazon Prime Video from Thursday, June 9.
Ryan will visit the Bonus Arena, Hull on Friday 30 September with her Missus live show. She will also be at York Barbican on September 29.