JoJo Smith on comedy, hard times, and why she thinks she's "bitter and twisted"
“I didn’t think I’d get away with it for this long,” comedic force JoJo Smith tell us, “I started doing comedy in 1993…
It was the end of June and Glastonbury weekend. [And now] I’ve just had my 24th anniversary.”
It’s this sort of self-deprecating, straight-talking honesty that makes Smith so charming. The London-based comedian from Preston, Lancashire, is a force of sardonic wit who has lived a life full of stories worth telling – from starting a fake fanzine so she could interview bands, to becoming a financial assistant to Mick Jones of The Clash and a PA for Dexys Midnight Runners. Yet none of it has gone to her head. “At the Evening Standard, people used to say, ‘You’re so funny, you should go on stage’.
All my life I’ve had that, but actually I was just saying how I felt.”
So how did she take the plunge into comedy? “I’d been a journalist for 15 years,” she tells us ahead of appearing at The Laughter Factory next month, from Thursday September 7. “And in 1991 it was the first Gulf War. I got a repetitive strain injury in my hands from the computers at work. Even though I was only writing about TV, the schedule kept changing due to the news and I hardly took my hands off the keyboard.”
The injury caused further problems and, after a year of struggling with her health, she was eventually let go. Following a stint living off £60-a-week (Dhs282) benefits, she started doing stand-up because “there was nothing else to do, really – it was a night out”.
Her brand of comedy is very personal, based on the world as she sees it. “You know, none of us are that unique,” she says. “Other people identify with it. There’s always common ground – mainly a bit of bitterness, a bit of angst befitting a 56-year-old woman.”
Smith’s heroes include Tommy Cooper and Jo Brand, and we can’t help but see similarities between Smith and the latter, in attitude as much as name. “[Jo] made it okay not to be a glamour puss. Before her, every female comedian wore a frock and had their hair done. Jo came along and did it the hard way – she did the circuit when there wasn’t much of one, but what there was was tough. She had furniture thrown at her, not because she wasn’t funny, but because men weren’t used to seeing that.”
And Smith, too, has done her fair share to battle the oft-repeated line of, “Well, I don’t normally like female comedians”.
Asked to sum herself up in three words, she goes, laughingly, for “bitter and twisted”. Except she’s not. She’s fantastically interesting and has fought hard to be where she is. “You can say that I’m nice, really…” From Dhs140. Thu Sep 7 to Fri Sep 29, times and locations vary. www.thelaughterfactory.com.