A nice chat with Kate Smurthwaite: Edinburgh Fringe

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Kate Smurthwaite may be the busiest comedian at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, doing three shows a day. She tells SSP about them, her life as a BBC pundit, and why headbutting your audience members is a bad idea...

 
Tell us about the News at Kate.
This is the third year I've done it, and it's about what's been in the news this year. And it's also about me being in the news, because I do a lot of punditry, particularly for the BBC. I think I must be on some BBC list for people who like arguing with idiots, it seems to be every week they give me idiots to deal with. Sometimes it'll be a religious fundamentalist person, sometimes it'll be Peter Stringfellow or Hugh Hefner, or I've even been up against the BNP.
 
Do you think you might just be on the same list?
Well, yes. The BBC do have a list of experts and I'm always curious what they have me down as being an expert on, because they definitely have me down as a comedy expert or for women's rights issues. But then one time they rang me up and said, we're going to have an item on teenagers having sex. And I thought, I haven't had sex with any teenagers, I deny everything. 
 
If you're show is about news this year, you couldn't ask for more material.
Absolutely. I'm not going to go making wisecracks about disasters, but certainly the News of the World is rich pickings. There are the royal weddings. And aside from the obvious things like the cuts, you've got Berlusconi, who has had an amazing year for comedy writers everywhere. It sounds like a satire that is a factual true story.
 
It's interesting browsing what's written about you that you get labelled as radical political humour, that could mean anything up to and including the English Defence League.
I don't mind the word radical. The word radical means actually doing something about it, rather than just voting against something. There's lots of people who would look at David Cameron and say, I'd disagree with that, but they won't chain themselves to railings or start a protest. My position is, I own a microphone and I will travel. When I believe strongly in something I will get up and do something about it. It's lucky that doing standup I only work in the evenings, so I'm free by day to do things at a grassroots level and get out and meet people. 
 
Were you involved in the cuts marches this year?
I was in bringing some of my own groups there, London Feminist Network and Abortion Rights UK, saying women seem to have been massively shortchanged by the cuts. And the NHS looks like it's being privatised. I was going through Parliament Square with my megaphone recently to one of these things and a policeman said, excuse me, why are you carrying a megaphone? And I said, my iPhone's broken. And he just said, alright. 
 
On Twitter you mentioned the preview hadn't gone great in Watford...
Oh, that wasn't a preview. It was in a Highlight, what used to be Jongleurs, and I'm not a fan of those sort of gigs but they are the ones that pay the best money, so every so often I bite the bullet and go, right, I need the money. On this occasion they asked me to do my highbrow stuff, and I told them this won't work, and then I proved to them this wouldn't work, so we're all in agreement now that trying to do highbrow material for a crowd that wants knob gags won't work.
 
And how have the actual previews gone?
I've done six so far. Five have been friendly crowds, in the sense they're the sort of people I'd expect to see at my show, and one I did on Tuesday night I was a last minute substitute. It was really good for me actually as it put me in front of a crowd who don't know who I am and don't necessarily agree with my politics. It was all blokes in suits in the City, an office crowd. I can perform all year to feminists in cardigans and no-one will disagree with me, but it went well on Tuesday. It's good to know it can work for a different crowd.
 
Did you go very on the nose with banking jokes at all?
Although I'm this uber-leftie politically, I actually used to work in banking. So not only do I want to make jokes about bankers, I've got a lot of inside secrets as well. In fact most of this lot was telecoms people. But also, we make this assumption that bankers are all right wing and in favour of cuts, but a lot of bankers I worked with thought the banking industry was being given much too much freedom. There's quite a lot of left wing bankers who think they should be taxed more. That might sound like turkeys voting for Christmas but in actual fact these are people who can see what's going on in the country in a wider scale and think that things should be done differently. 
 
That's one show down, the next one, Comedy Manifesto.
It's a political panel show, I get four comedians in and quiz them about the news, and then I get them to tell me what they would do if they ran the country. That's been running for four years at Edinburgh and I believe it's Edinburgh's most popular political panel show. I believe we've had a string of five star reviews, it's a big hit.
 
Who's coming on?
I'm particularly excited about Paul Sinha coming down. I was offered him and trampled across oceans to make sure I have him. I think he's going to be my all time favourite guest ever.
 
And your third show is...
I host Midnight Hour. It's a long running thing, it's the free Fringe's late variety show at the Canongate, from midnight til 1am. For a lot of people it's the last thing they drop in at on the way to bed. It's noisy and loud and there may occasionally have been headbutting. I've been MCing it for three years and last year I took a night off, and for the first time we had a guest compere come in, and one of the acts headbutted someone in the audience. I had to leap out of my early night and my pyjamas and come rushing down to talk to the police. It was an absolute nightmare. David Whitney has not been on any show I've been in charge of booking ever since, and nor will he.
 
So people don't have to be afraid of coming to the show and getting headbutted.
No. Even if I'm not there we certainly won't be booking anyone with a history of violence.
Person(s): 
Kate Smurthwaite
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