Fern Brady: “Power & Chaos”

Arts writer Angelina Torre sits down with Scottish comedian Fern Brady to discuss her career and her comedy special “Power and Chaos.”

By Angelina Torre

Fern Brady’s recent comedy special, Power & Chaos, was exactly that—a show of Brady’s powerful presence on stage and a chaos of thoughts that one could easily argue are completely unrelated.

Going into the show, I knew I was in for a wild ride, considering the tagline of its press release was “Buckle up, and don’t watch this special with your kids.” I don’t have any kids, so I thought I was fine. And I was fine, don’t get me wrong, but boy did I have to buckle.

Themes of the show included Scottish porn (pet cameos and all), politics (shoutout to the Democratic Unionist Party’s “closeted” leader), and parenthood (on having children, Brady says no, thank you: “I’d like to keep my lovely money to myself”). Even so, the show never felt disjointed. Brady brings a confidence to her performance that reassures the audience that she’s in control, though this perception is not entirely unanimous, as Brady remarks in one of the show’s opening bits.

“People still look at me and go, ‘That’s just a mentally ill woman that’s been allowed on stage. Why is she embarrassing herself like that?’” Brady quips. ”Whereas Boris Johnson doesn’t even need to brush his hair and gets to be in charge of the country.”

Fern Brady is a Scottish (regrettably—in her words, “It’s terrible being an intelligent woman trapped in a Scottish accent”) comedian quickly rising to fame. Since starting her career in comedy 10 years ago, Brady has received several accolades including a feature in Vogue as one of the “Five Best New British Female Comics.” She has a (comedic) voice that is both scathing and incredibly entertaining at the same time—one of just many contradictions you can say about her and her performance. You want to be both her best friend and her enemy, perhaps if only to see what kind of hilarity she’d be able to draw from your relationship.

After watching Power & Chaos, I had the opportunity to speak with Brady about her recent special and life in comedy thus far. Her answers were almost as entertaining as the set itself.

Angelina Torre: In Power & Chaos, you had mentioned how people have described your comedy to you, but how would you describe your comedy?

Fern Brady: Catholics like to pretend nothing bad happens, so I guess I should have called the show “Here is a collection of topics my parents don’t want to discuss.”

AT: Do you usually have a general sense of your audience before you get on stage? Do you find you have to modify your set mid-performance based on audience reactions? How did you find the audience that was featured in Power & Chaos?

FB: Yeah, I’ve a good sense of them based on what town or country I’m in, but certain towns still surprise me from time to time. The audience for this show were lovely, but I was torn on whether to record in Glasgow, because I’m Scottish, or London, where I live, as I knew Glaswegian audiences consistently gasp at my abortion jokes whereas London audiences are cool about it. I was right.

AT: I really loved Power & Chaos for how seamlessly you transitioned between wildly unrelated topics…from Scottish porn to parenthood to politics. Can you talk a little bit about your thought process when writing this set? Was there a specific thread you wanted to pull through the entire show?

FB: Not really. I dislike the UK comedy tradition of saying, “Here is the theme of my show” as if you’re giving a presentation or writing a [university] essay. I prefer American stand-up, which is more, “Here is an assortment of funny bits.” Themes emerge at the end of it, and for me, I’m interested in why it’s wrong for me to be straightforward and communicate honestly and what that says about others.

AT: You spoke a lot about friends, your mom, and especially your boyfriend in the show.… How do the people close to you usually react to you using them in your sets?

FB: My mum still doesn’t know about this show or that it was on TV or anything as she’d be pretty upset by it and [she] generally doesn’t get my stuff at all. [With] my boyfriend, I always check if I can do a bit on him. He hates people coming up and calling him the little Irish man.

AT: What would you say the hardest part of being a comedian has been for you thus far? What is some advice you’d give to yourself when first starting out in comedy?

FB: I guess just bombing repeatedly and having people hate you and being compelled to do that over and over again hundreds of times. Advice I’d give myself now was something I read from Doug Stanhope: “Everyone is just giving you advice telling you how to be more like them.” I got really, really dumb advice from old men who thought they were the godfathers of their little circuit early on, and the only useful info I got was “keep gigging and gig as much as possible.” If I was to give myself advice now, it’d be to stop eating bread.

AT: And finally, when’s the next time we can see you perform virtually or in person?

FB: If you’re in Chicago, then never, as I can’t get a work visa? You can listen to my podcast Wheel of Misfortune, which I cohost with my tiny Irish friend Alison Spittle.