If you want to know who Katherine Ryan really is, it’s probably best to use her own words: “I’m like Taylor Swift, but with a soul.”
And with that, a line from her stand-up special “Katherine Ryan: In Trouble” that launched recently on Netflix, you’re off and running, on an insightfully hilarious journey through the mind of a British comic who’s worked her way through the London comedy club and panel show circuit in the U.K. for a solid decade, but is just starting to scratch the surface of the U.S. market. Thanks to the new special and her recent late-night debut on Conan, it appears she’s not wasting any time.
In her special, Ryan covers topics ranging from accidentally falling in love with a British celebrity, to mildly stalking Taylor Swift on social media, to accidentally pissing off the entire nation of the Philippines: All topics that prove her special was pretty aptly titled. And with the massive reach of the streaming service — the special’s available in all 190 nations that Netflix services; a distinction Ryan shares with only one other British comic, Jimmy Carr — it could propel Ryan into another stratosphere of name recognition.
Luckily, that’s not going to change the way she approaches her material.
“I’ll only censor, or rethink things, for the sake of clarity: I’ll ask myself, Am I being clear about this? But I don’t shy away from things because I might upset someone — I might never speak again in my entire life!”
It’s safe to say Katherine Ryan is having a moment. The comedian spoke with us on a recent visit to Los Angeles to talk a little more about her background and comedic influences, the benefits of being a Hooters Girl, and which Golden Girl she most relates to…
You grew up in a small town in Canada. What made you want to get into comedy?
I didn’t want to get into stand-up comedy. For a long time all I wanted to be was pretty and liked and soft and gentle, and I didn’t want to have the sense of humor that I had, because it made me disliked, so for many years I tried to not be the way I am. But I valued comedy in my home from a really young age: I knew that if I made my mom laugh, I’d get out of trouble, and I loved teasing my sisters — and was always curious why they weren’t in on the joke.
As I got older I got really into shows like “The Golden Girls” and “Seinfeld” and “Martin.” I would recreate those shows, and satirize them and force my sisters to be in my little plays. Basically I just made Martin Lawrence fan fiction. And then I would watch late-night chat shows with my mum, and that’s how I got into old episodes of Carson and Letterman. And my mom would say to me, You could do that, and I just thought she was mad as a box of frogs! It’s funny how there are little clues about your life everywhere, isn’t it?
So when did you actually start doing stand up?
I moved from my small town [in Ontario] to Toronto for college. And I worked as a Hooters Girl there for about six years, and there was a comedy club right next door. So it was this very gradual progression: Hooters was this great matriarchy of strong, interesting women working together, and they would always tell me that I was funny — but there’s a limit to the bits you can do in front of your tables. So I would go to the comedy club next door and very quietly do their amateur nights, almost to exorcise the comedy out of me.
I thought well, I’ll go next door and say what I want to say there, and then I can go back to Hooters and be a good girl. I gradually grew to love it, and then moved to the U.K. shortly after, where I really got into the scene. And by that I mean, got paid.
And you’ve been touring there for a while?
I’ve done 3 nationwide tours in the U.K., the first was in 2013. And before that I did a special for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010… And it was terrible. It had a very small cult following of 1.
Did that Festival help you gain confidence on stage?
Well, I was also a young mum when I did that, which I think was really lucky because that’s when humility really kicks in, and you stop caring so much what others think of you. It gave me this bravery to say what I wanted to say on stage, because it was the only time I got to talk to other adults. It really… I didn’t get above my station, if you will, because I could have a really great show — but then I’d have to go home and deal with poop and stuff.
There’s a line in your special where you say you’re often labeled as a “nasty comic.” Do you find that true? Are you a nasty comic?
I was labeled that before Hillary was! It did hurt my feelings a little at first — but then that whole “Nasty Woman” thing came out and I love that women reclaimed it. It’s very progressive and empowering now, so I don’t mind that label anymore.
But I do think maybe people are too quick to label things as nasty. If a man was saying what I was saying he wouldn’t be labeled like that. [For example] Amy Schumer is often labeled a sex comic, but she’s really not — she talks about a host of things. She talks about relationships, and politics, and pop culture and everything. But people really zero in on the sex.
The title of your special, “Katherine Ryan: In Trouble.” What does that mean?
Specifically, it’s in relation to one incident where I upset the entire nation of the Philippines. But getting in trouble is not exclusive to that, I get in trouble all the time. It’s always been a theme for me. Even as a kid, I was the type of person who was always offending someone or upsetting someone or putting my foot in my mouth.
But I’m attracted to the type of comedy that is provocative, and maybe a little inflammatory. I fully understand that things I say may be taken out of context or not understood, but now I feel like that’s when I know I’m doing things the right way. If I go to sleep and I feel a little on edge about what I might see on Twitter the next day, that’s when I’m like “Yeah, that’s what I have to do.”
Is anything off-limits for you, in terms of what you’ll talk about or cover in a routine?
I think it’s all fair game. I think that as a very privileged white woman who happens to have been born in Canada in the ’80s, I’m one of very few women in the world who has a voice. So I talk about issues that maybe don’t affect me personally, but invoke a reaction in me. And I think you have to be a little vulnerable, so I talk about myself and relationships and things like that. I guess I just like to talk about the world around me and try and make sense of it all. At least that’s what I think I’m doing.
I’m thinking the most important thing people will want to know: Which Golden Girl do you claim?
I’d love to be a Rose — but I’m probably a Dorothy…
In our opinion, the world could always do with a few more Dorothies.
Katherine Ryan’s stand-up special, “Katherine Ryan: In Trouble” is available now on Netflix.