Kate Smurthwaite

I asked Kate Smurthwaite a few questions about life under COVID-19 for the people who make life worth living.

Tell us how the pandemic is affecting comedians and others who perform to live audiences.

The live entertainment industry no longer exists… Every comedian, musician, actor, magician, burlesque dancer I know as well as all the people I know who are sound engineers, front of house staff, dressers, bartenders, venue managers, promoters, publicists, poster-designers and stage hands are now all unemployed people and likely to stay that way for months and months to come.

There’s a widespread sense of panic and desperation. Few will qualify for government assistance, despite Boris’s big claims. For most of us turning professional is the result of years of hard work and sacrifice. Going back to jobs you tolerated on the way to building your dream grates and isn’t always possible, especially in a suddenly crowded market. I’ve been doing bits of online maths tutoring.

And there’s also a lot of activity in online communities. Comedians are making jokes, musicians are writing songs, people are talking politics, sharing survival tips and rapidly fluctuating feelings.

On top of this lots of performers appear to have the virus. Unsurprising considering how much we travel and how many people we meet. It’s literally our job! Well it used to be…

How is it affecting you personally?

First up – I’ve had it. Well extremely likely I’ve had it. After performing at the Perth Fringe in Australia I flew back via Hong Kong at very much the wrong time and subsequently had symptoms including swollen glands, fever and muscles aches. Of course I wasn’t offered testing, just sent back to the sofa. But that is over now, my health is back.

Emotionally it’s been tough. I’m not a stay-at-home kind of person. All my joy in life is on the road. Professionally of course but also personally. I like to travel and be wildly promiscuous. Both cancelled until further notice. The next person on Facebook who tells me to practice self-care by meditating is not going to come out of the situation well. Not my jam, never has been.

Financially I lost £14,000 of work out of my diary in a matter of days. Basically all of it. And in many cases I’d booked travel and accommodation and paid registration fees or for advertising which I am unlikely to get back.

My Patreon account, News At Kate, where generous people have sponsored me to make online political comedy videos has by necessity become my focus where once it was my sideline. And people are amazing. I’ve not lost a single sponsor, which would be totally understandable, and actually gained several.

Is it hard to write comedy in such a fast-changing situation? Remarks that seem edgy but ok one day can make us cringe the next – do you find it inhibiting or a welcome challenge to take that on?

I’ve been writing comedy for fifteen years, including for other people and TV shows, so that includes on topics I knew very little about and felt no particular connection to. So writing the comedy is not the issue. Its longevity, yes, is highly variable, but that is always in the nature of talking about political and topical issues.

There is a new and unexpected issue though. The nation is utterly split into those who are coping and those who aren’t. There are people ready and keen to discuss the long term implications of the crisis and there are people who really can’t cope with any more focus on it and just want some silly distraction. For the first time ever this week my News At Kate video offering will have two videos so my audience can choose which they want to hear.

Tell us about your show.

By genuine coincidence just as the crisis kicked in my solo show from last year, Clit Stirrer, finally came out of editing and was ready for release on download and streaming. I was already excited to be able to bring the show to fans living in places I can’t tour to. But now I’m also ridiculously grateful for the income boost.

Clit Stirrer is the most ambitious show I’ve ever written. It says something that I’ve had boiling up in my head for a long time, about what is and isn’t considered controversial, and it says it in a way that breaks a lot of the conventions of one-person comedy hours. It’s a multimedia mix of stand-up comedy, dramatic story-telling and sketches that draws heavily on my experiences of participating in TV debate and discussion shows from Question Time to This Morning.

When I opened the show at the Edinburgh Fringe I was mightily relieved to discover that it “worked”. My audience “got it”, they were as excited about it as I was. By the end of the first week the venue had a sign outside letting people know where and when they should start queuing if they wanted to get in to see it. We were full until the end of the run.

Two reviewers came, they both gave it five stars. After the Fringe I toured the show around the UK in small and independent venues (I’m far too “controversial” for the mainstream places of course…hahaha). There were several London shows, including one that had to be moved after the pub decided I was (you guessed it) “too controversial”.

The final date of the tour was in the beautiful Tara Arts Centre in Earlsfield in West London. It’s a really intimate venue, audience on three sides of the stage and that’s where we filmed it. It was edited by Flavio Buonerba, who also wrote the music we use in the show. He’s done a great job of keeping the “live” atmosphere. It really feels like being in the audience for an intimate event, not a staged TV special.

Do you think live performance will change radically after this nightmare?

I think live performance won’t exist at all for a long time yet. I expect the lockdown may be eased and then tightened again as the progress of the virus fluctuates but I don’t imagine live shows will be allowed for a long time. Perhaps at some point small venues will be allowed to open, with capacity limits and rules on spacing and sanitiser on every surface.

The big shift will come in a few years when there is a vaccine. Only then will people genuinely feel unafraid. I think it will bring with it a new era of decadence. A post-millennial roaring twenties. A new generation will grow up feeling, as we once did, as young people always should, that they are invincible. The rest of us will have been changed by the experience, shaken and unsettled, but also bloody grateful for the chance to sit in a pub and have a laugh together.

I hope to see you there xxx


3 Responses to “Kate Smurthwaite”

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting