Jo Brand is returning to the Fringe after 13 years’ absence, paying tribute to old friends and giving her own, acerbic perspective on life. She explains to Jasper Rees why she’s hitting the road again.

“It was a really exciting experience,” says Jo Brand of her time performing at the Fringe in the early 90s, “with the whole comedy community transplanted here – audiences on tap, endless partying, cruel reviews, crowded accommodation and drunken late-night shows.”
In 2015, it’s accepted that rising comedians head to the Fringe like wildebeest to a watering hole. That ritual migration was established in the early 1990s, at the start of the stand-up boom. One of the comics jostling for attention was Brand, who came to comedy via ten years in psychiatric nursing.

“It was a bizarre experience,” she recalls, “doing the same thing every night for a month like a theatre show. Also, of course, there was the element of ‘getting noticed’ by telly people. A Perrier nomination helped.” It worked. Jo Brand’s Through the Cakehole was on Channel 4 for three years from 1993, and Edinburgh had worked its magic. She returned once more in 2002. “It was when my children were really young, and that was hard. I think I felt that as a parent and a performer I’d probably shot my bolt Edinburgh-wise, and I haven’t been back since.”
But this year she will be bringing her unflappable drawl and nihilistic dress sense back to the Gilded Ballroom for three nights only, as part of the venue’s 30th anniversary celebrations. It’s by way of a favour to its artistic director Karen Koren: “of whom I am very fond,” Brand says. In terms of material she promises “a hotchpotch of political views, stories from my younger days that relate to current news, personal stories, random unclassifiable jokes and the experience of being a woman growing older on telly”.

She will also, she says, “reminisce about people in my life who are no longer around and whom I miss, like Linda Smith, Malcolm Hardee and Addison Cresswell.” Smith and Hardee were of course fellow comedians. Cresswell, who died at the end of 2013, was the super-charged agent credited with founding the comedy boom and guiding the careers of several top stand-ups, including Brand.

How has she changed since she last graced the Fringe? “I think my style is more relaxed,” she says, “although I don’t believe that I’ve softened in my outlook or been ‘tamed’ by my husband. Preoccupations change as you age. But I haven’t metamorphosed into a Tory, or become bland in my views.”

Jo, bland? Never.

Where & When
Jo Brand, Gilded Ballon-Debating Hall, 17, 19, 21 August, 7.30pm, £15 Tel: 0131 622 6552
Jo Brand: Talking Comedy, Assembly Hall, 19 August, 12.45pm, £12 Tel: 0844 693 3008

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