Comedian Katherine Ryan on navigating the line between comedy and vulnerability

The Canadian-Irish comedian shares insights into her comedic journey, ahead of her performance at the Dubai Comedy Festival


Husain Rizvi

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Published: Thu 11 Apr 2024, 5:14 PM

Last updated: Sun 14 Apr 2024, 2:01 PM

Canadian-Irish comedian Katherine Ryan reflects on her comedic journey, citing her family's humorous upbringing as inspirational.

Initially pursuing stand-up as a hobby, Katherine, who is set to kick off Dubai Comedy Festival with a show on Friday, April 12, got into it professionally during maternity leave.

Despite the transition, Ryan considers herself fortunate, having encountered few significant challenges along the way, attributing much of her success to gratitude. We speak to the comedian to find out more about her journey and what attendees can expect from her show.

Share with us your journey into the world of comedy. What inspired you to pursue a career in comedy, and what challenges did you face along the way?

I always valued having a sense of humour and nobody in my family ever took themselves too seriously. We were honest about flaws and loved to turn anything into a joke. But I didn’t set out to be a professional comedian at all until I was already in the UK at age 25 when I had to take maternity leave from my sales office job after my daughter was born. I’d done a few gigs and I loved stand up as a hobby, but I decided to take the craft more seriously so that I could be home with my daughter all day instead of going back to work full time. I haven’t faced many challenges, or at least I don’t focus on those or remember them. I’m one of the lucky ones in that everything has been pretty smooth sailing for me and I’m so grateful. I think gratitude continues to bring wonderful things into my life.

You've been described as having a biting comedy style often compared to the Joan Rivers. How do you develop your unique comedic voice, and what influences have shaped your style over the years?

Even as a little girl, I loved Joan Rivers. I also loved American late night chat shows where the host would appear from behind a curtain to audience applause and make fun of the news and current events. I decided early on that my favourite way to digest pop culture and politics was through jokes, so I suppose my style comes from that. I just talk about my life and the things I’m interested through the lens of my unique world view and people seem to like it. I don’t set out to be provocative, but I suppose I’ve always been drawn to provocative comedy myself.

As a multifaceted talent excelling in various roles such as comedian, writer, presenter, actress, and singer, how do you balance these different aspects of your career? Do you find one role particularly more challenging or rewarding than the others?

I think stand up comedy is the most challenging performance genre because you can’t really learn it. People are either funny or they aren’t. If you’re already a comedian, you can fake your way into being an actor or a presenter but not the other way around. So I find that craft to be the most rewarding.

Your Netflix specials "In Trouble" and "Glitter Room" have been highly acclaimed. Tell us about your creative process when developing these specials? How do you decide on the topics and themes to explore in your stand-up specials?

I just gather notes in my phone all year. Quick snippets of things I might find funny, and then I expand on them and ‘mine’ them for funny angles. Eventually, a show comes together on its own and then it’s just about shaping it so that it tells the audience a story. You can sort of feel where the beginning, middle, and end should be and you want to space out all the laughs pretty evenly. Start and finish strong. Try not to leave a slump in the middle where people lose interest.

Winning the 2008 Funny Women Award and the Outstanding Female Comedy Entertainment Performance award at the National Comedy Awards in 2023 are remarkable achievements. How do these accolades impact your career and creative process?

I think awards are silly now because winning or not winning them has very little actual bearing on your level of success. Comedy is so subjective so it’s strange to think that anyone might be more deserving of an award than anyone else in this community.

Your comedy often includes relatable anecdotes and stories of your failed relationships. What draws you to share personal experiences on stage, and how do you navigate the line between comedy and vulnerability?

I love oversharing because I appreciate it when people overshare with me. I’m nosey! When I open up about my own life, it invites others to do the same and I like that intimacy with strangers. It’s how I make friends.

Performing at the Dubai Comedy Festival 2024 must be exciting. What are you looking forward to the most about performing in Dubai, and what can audiences expect from your show here?

It’ll just be a great night out and I want everyone to leave feeling lighter, brighter and a little more empowered. I’m so thrilled to be performing in Dubai for the first time ever and I would love for people who don’t know me to take a chance and come have a laugh.


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