Big Interview - January 08 Jo Enright

Stand-up comedienne Jo Enright is building an excellent reputation on the comedy circuit, and is following up TV appearances in Phoenix Nights, I’m Alan Partridge and Time Trumpet with a part in forthcoming BBC2 sitcom Lab Rats, writes Russ Bravo

I caught up with her at this year’s Greenbelt, where she was making her first appearance at a Christian festival, playing to an appreciative audience of 1100 plus in one of Cheltenham Racecourse’s sizeable venues, and popping up on the late night fringe the same evening.

Petite, yet commanding the stage with an ease belying her years of stand-up experience, Jo soon has the audience chuckling with tales of her days as a supermarket shelf-stacker, anecdotes from her Irish family childhood in Birmingham and more. She even manages to encourage the odd, polite Christian heckle.

“It’s a different dynamic to what I’m used to,” she admits, “but I really enjoyed it. It’s certainly one of the biggest audiences I’ve played to.”

The sparky Brummie did a degree in performing arts and moved from Birmingham to London to try to forge a career in acting. After a while, she found herself working in a supermarket by day, and trying her hand at comedy by night.

“I did a 10-week comedy course and started off with just five minutes of material that I worked at and improved. That’s as long a slot as you get when you start out at comedy clubs.”

Ironically, on coming offstage after her first ever stand-up slot at a comedy club, she found a fellow stand-up giving her useful feedback and advice. She later realised he was Eddie Izzard (“I didn’t know who he was at the time!”)

Mixing teaching with writing and performing comedy for a while, she finally went full-time as a comedian in 1994, when the agent of stand-up and actor Alan Davies offered to take her on. And as a committed Christian, she very much sensed a calling into comedy.

“I was raised a Catholic, and my faith really took off when I went along to an ecumenical community and learned about the Holy Spirit. My relationship with God became much closer and I began reading the Bible for the first time.”

Jo received vital support and encouragement from the arts team at Kensington Temple, including Cynthia Stith and David and Carrie Grant. “I really sensed God leading me into comedy, and needed people around me who understood that world. We were able to pray together and I received a lot of encouragement that my future career would involve TV.”

Now living in Brighton, she attends a Vineyard church and says “I tend to find a church in every major city, as I travel around so much – I use it to my advantage!”

Her early years in comedy provided plenty of challenges: “Most comedy clubs are run by men, and it can be lonely as a woman stand-up, often the only woman on the bill. In my early twenties I found it quite intimidating but you gradually gain more confidence.

“My faith feels integrated into who I am, and I consistently try to pray and ask God to be in what I’m doing. I try to surrender it to him.”

I asked Jo what kind of difficulties she’d encountered as a Christian in comedy. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve asked to take out language, or not do a particular scene. People are very open to that, as you’re just being you.”

And has she ever had Christians questioning how she can do the work she does? “Not really – it seems strange to me that someone would question why you were working in a particular field. If God tells you to do something, you do it, no matter what.”

She has an acute ear for people’s verbal tics and foibles, and clearly her life experiences have given her material aplenty for her observational, anecdotal style: “I’ve only ever been able to write about the things that make me laugh,” she says.

Judging by Jo’s rising reputation, she’s going to be making a lot more people laugh in the days ahead. As well as a busy stand-up schedule, she is co-writing a sitcom and keen to write more comedy “about being working class, and based in Brum”.

“I’d love to do more acting,” she adds, “but I’m grateful for the work that I have!”

  • Jo Enright appears in Lab Rats, a forthcoming new BBC2 comedy by Chris Addison and Carl Cooper, and is a regular on the comedy circuit

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