Interview: Riches to Rags star Jojo Sutherland on castles to caravans and being the only woman on the bill

Divorce, a brain hemorrhage and losing your home overnight. A list of things that you might argue don’t sound like the recipe for an evening of laughter.

Jojo Sutherland begs to differ. In her first solo stand up show in five years – named Riches to Rags – she’s ready to prove you wrong.

As part of Manchester’s Women in Comedy Month, Jojo’s upcoming performance this Friday at TriBeCa has a catchy title but it’s more literal than you might think.

“The show is about how I grew up in a castle until I was 14 but then moved overnight into a caravan and my circumstances changed overnight. I contemplate how different would my life have been if I still lived in a castle in comparison to real life.

“It’s my first solo show in five years. There is a reason for that and the reason is revealed in the show. I explore how we can use comedy and your sense of humour to make yourself laugh and actually make yourself feel better.”

After suffering a brain hemorrhage at the age of 34, Jojo finally decided to pursue what was then a dream of acting. At the time she was divorced, with three children and on income support but her near-death experience inspired her to pursue her dreams.

“Having a brush with death like that I think your mortality comes really sharply into focus because I was very lucky to survive. It made me dogged and determined and I thought this is what I want to do and I’m going to try and bloody do it.

“I saw an advert for a stand up comedy course, I never wanted to be a stand up comedian. The thought had never crossed my mind. I just thought it would look good on my acting CV. That was 16 years ago and I’ve never looked back. It’s been a journey.

“My comedy and my life experiences go hand in hand, whatever happens in my life then gets transferred through some kind of comedy funnel and then said on stage. It all stems from the truth of my life.”

When asked about the significance of her decision to weave her difficult experiences and dark subject material into her comedy, Jojo replied: “I don’t think there’s anything that you can’t laugh at!

“I talk about death, I talk about suicide, I talk about domestic violence and all those kinds of things. A lot of things happened to me that I wasn’t in control of. But this happened to me, it’s my story.

“Context is always key. But if we start to say you can’t laugh about that or you shouldn’t joke about that, as a comic I find it insulting, but as a human being I find it terrifying. You’re literally cutting my oxygen, humour is what keeps me alive.

“And to people saying you can’t laugh about that – well, I can and I will.”

Riches to Rags is being performed as part of Women in Comedy month, a festival encouraging the promotion of female comics and gender equality on the UK comedy scene.

Having worked the circuit for almost two decades, Jojo has witnessed a shift in attitudes towards women in comedy first hand.

“It’s definitely getting better. But it’s like trying to turn an oil tanker, it’s happening but it’s happening slowly. For years I was the only woman on the bill and to be on a bill with another woman was quite extraordinary.

“People will assume a man is funny until he proves otherwise. For a long time an audience would assume the opposite of women, that she wasn’t funny until she proves otherwise.

“But there’s some fantastic women on the circuit. Sometimes I think that women on comedy bills tend to be stronger than men because we’ve had to work really fucking hard.”

Summarising her comedy with a chuckle and a pinch of salt Jojo professes herself as “a bad-ass mum who’s brutally honest about the realities of life, but who’ll make you laugh about it at the same time.”

You can buy tickets to Riches to Rags for 8pm this Friday at TriBeCa here:

Image courtesy of What’s On Lanarkshire via Twitter, with thanks.

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