Jo Brand: ‘Not all kids want to happy-slap you’

The comedian talks about her new BBC2 talent show, The Speaker, teenagers and being Britney…

So, what’s your new show, The Speaker, all about then?

“It’s a search for the country’s most talented young public speakers, and I’m on the judging panel.”

What did you think of the contestants?

“My expectations were that most them would be privately-educated kids who’d be very self-confident. I was surprised by the mix; they were from very different backgrounds. We tend to get swayed by the tabloid image of teenagers. They’re not all trying to stab or happy-slap you.”

What were you like at that age?

“I was like the majority of teenagers: hypersensitive to any sort of criticism, abuse or teasing. If I had to speak in public the physical symptoms would take over. I’d get dry mouth, sweating, wobbly legs.”

Do you get nervous doing stand-up comedy?

“I get more nervous the more unfamiliar the situation is. If it’s a theatre or a club I know well, it’s easier to handle, but if I’m catapulted into a corporate event for heating engineers I’m more anxious. When I started out I was nervous for two weeks before a gig. Now it’s more like 15 minutes.”

Were you disappointed that your Britney Spears routine didn’t win Let’s Dance for Comic Relief?

“I knew Robert Webb was going to win. There was no point lying on a chaise longue afterwards sobbing my heart out because I hadn’t won. My main concern at the time was not being incontinent, because I was sewn into my outfit hours before and not allowed to go for a wee.”

Do you watch much comedy on TV?

“I like to see what the competition is like. I thought Pulling with Sharon Horgan was great, and it’s a shame they didn’t recommission it. I also like Outnumbered and Gavin & Stacey.”

What’s next for you?

“I’ve just done a three-part comedy-drama for BBC4 set in a backwater hospital on the south coast where loads of old ladies get dumped. It’s called Getting On and I play a nurse, would you believe. Well, they say you’ve got to play to your strengths.”

Do you have happy memories of your career as a nurse?

“It’s a very stressful job. The staff who’d been there twice as long as me were very jaded or completely withdrawn. I didn’t want to be either of those. I did it for 10 years and threw everything I had into it. You’ve only got one life, so you should do as much as you possibly can.”

So what are your remaining ambitions?

“I’d quite like to be Prime Minister. I’m left-wing, kind of halfway between old and new Labour. I would bring back school milk.”

What are your hopes for your own children?

“I’d like them to be happy with their lot. I wouldn’t ever want them to feel pressurised into being something they don’t want to be. If that means they end up working in a biscuit factory, so be it.”

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