Kemah Bob: ‘I get so much bad advice from men who’ve never done comedy before’

The comedian and podcaster on the charms of British sitcoms, starting her own club night and hot new talent on the circuitWhat drew you to British comedy?Probably Skins or The Inbetweeners. Growing up in Texas I watched my fair share of BBC America – those sh…

What drew you to British comedy?Probably Skins or The Inbetweeners. Growing up in Texas I watched my fair share of BBC America – those shows introduced me to the UK and the word “minge”. Now that I’m here, I’m disappointed that every day of my life doesn’t feel like being at a secondary school where the kids are completely unhinged.

What’s your process for writing new material?I used to take just an idea, a single bullet point, to the stage and give it a go. See if it goes anywhere. Oh boy, have I seen many an audience member suffer from this method! These days I try to be more intentional and not take anything up there unless I have an idea of where it’s going.

Can you remember a gig so bad, it’s now funny?When I started standup, I was living in Los Angeles. Broke, confused and studying improv with the little money I had, I didn’t know what to do for a job and had three horrible interviews to be a bikini bartender before my second ever gig. I didn’t have jokes back then, so I just told the audience about my day. Which I thought was hilarious, but their eyes and silence showed me just how sad my day had been.

Best heckle?Once during a Black History Month show, there were two white men talking while I was on stage. I was already on a soap box, so I used it to get on my high horse and tell them that they were not going to speak over a Black woman at her own show. Not during Black History Month! Not ever! Turns out one of them only spoke Spanish and the other was translating. Startled by the un-wokeness of my own actions and unable to find a solution on the spot, I asked them to whisper. They did not. It was incredibly distracting por mí. Pero ellos se divirtieron.

You created, curate and host the FOC IT UP! Comedy Club. What was the vision of the club?When I got started in 2018 the vision was simply to create a space where comedians of colour who aren’t cis men would not be tokenised, and offer audiences a comedy night where they can get a heaped handful of perspectives that are usually lightly sprinkled on lineups.

Who are some up-and-coming acts audiences should look out for?Too many to name, but one name that comes to mind is Fathiya Saleh. She is a joy to watch, she’s so silly it makes me so excited to witness her journey. Aisha Amanduri is another one – her comedy is clever, edgy and unexpected. I’m also excited about Krishna Istha, who’s a performance artist turned comedian with some really fun stuff to say.

Any bugbears from the world of comedy?I’m annoyed at all the comedic heroes I’ve had to de-pedestal because they’ve said or done harmful stuff. It’s just like, please stop showing people your dick, I’m trying to look up to you!

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from being a standup?We’re less alone when we talk. So many of the weird thoughts we have or things we do are relatable. There’s a special feeling that comes from sharing something that feels specific to you and finding out a bunch of other people are on the same page.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?To be who I want to be, not who I think people want me to be. Also, when playing Countdown, to write the given letters out in a circle, because it’s easier for your brain to create words than if you write them in a line. Shoutout to Louise, the lovely woman who gave me that hot tip.

Worst advice you’ve ever been given?This question is such a tough one because as a woman in comedy, I get so much bad advice. Mainly from men who’ve never done comedy before. And you know what, I take it. I take it all and look where it’s got me! All I can do is be grateful to my unsolicited advisers. They are the real Kemah Bob.

What are you excited for right now?I’m excited to grow and expand! I’m excited about the Femmes of Color Comedy Club being back and better than ever. I’m excited about the FOC IT UP! podcast, which is approaching the end of its first season. I’m excited about things I can’t share just yet because I’m superstitious. But stay tuned and you can get excited with me!

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